Job Title: Associate Planner
Education: MS in Community and Regional Planning, University of Texas at Austin
Previous Experience: I held two internships, one as a research assistant for a study on growth management techniques and the second as a staff member of a statewide organization that supports the construction of low income housing and economic development in impoverished areas. After graduation I took a job with a transportation planning firm.
Job Tasks: My company obtains grants to fund planning and community development work in rural cities. I work on implementing the planning grants, actually creating the comprehensive plans for these cities.
A plan takes about three months to complete. It starts with the collection of data and the creation of field maps. We contact local, county, and state agencies for the data. Next I travel to the city with a coworker and drive every street to rate the condition of the housing, streets, land use, recreation, drainage, etc. It's a long day and requires a lot of focus to get everything on the map. This stage can take from one to four days. We also hold a public workshop to get input from the residents on what they think is a priority for their city. I meet with the utility director to discuss the water and sewer systems and get maps of the lines. I also rely heavily on the city manager or city secretary to get information on subdivision codes, city ordinances, and other data.
Once we've gotten the data from the field I come back to the office and assist with mapping the information and putting it in a database. I also start to pull historical data from the Census and begin to look for trends in population, housing conditions, land use, etc. I work with an engineer in the office to get the water, sewer, streets and drainage elements planned out. Then I write the plan.
Once the plan is complete I go back to the town for a public hearing in front of city council. At this point I show them the maps and explain what we found and what we recommend. The city will then pass a resolution to say that I completed my contract and I'm done.
Work on plans overlaps, and I may be helping another planner with their city. In a typical day I could be making phone calls to get data from one city, writing on the plan for a second city, and scheduling the final meeting for a third city. Most of the day is spent on essential tasks, however it may require a lot of effort to obtain the data (phone calls, online research, email requests, etc). I travel about once a month for up to 4 days.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is meeting the people in the cities and helping them make a plan so that they can improve their infrastructure and quality of life.
The worst part of the job is when you can't find the data you need and no one who may have any information is interested in helping.
1. The biggest suggestion I have would be to train yourself to be a good listener. Remember that the real experts are the people in the city.
2. Get a diverse background in different subjects (English, History, Psychology, etc) so you have a greater understanding of how people are different and how you can relate to them.
3. Practice giving public presentations that also have question and answer elements so you learn to think on the fly.
4. Learn the fundamentals of land use planning, how to use the Census, and how to evaluate a local economy. Learning the technical aspects of GIS is not as important as understanding how to analyze the town's data. Learn how to use Excel - you will depend on it every day.
Additional Thoughts: This is a job for someone who is curious about how other people live, is not judgmental, and wants to feel like they are doing something good for the world. You have to be able to work in a team.
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