Urban Planning as a Satisfying Career

The following is a reply to an email from a College student in Colorado Springs interested in the Planning/Landscape Architecture field of expertise.  I have received a few of these since opening my company and I always take the time to reply and help assist the future designers of our country.  I believe that it is our duty as designers to provide input outside of what can come from academia.  I am posting this to the blog to assist other student who may have similar questions.  I have removed all names and identifying characteristics from the email below to preserve anonymity for the student.

Hello Mr. Olson,

My name is —— ——, and I am a rising senior at ———- here in Colorado Springs. I study ——– and ———. I am very interested in pursuing a career in urban planning or landscape architecture. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your job and the field of urban planning.

What is a standard day at the office like?

How did you break into the field?

What do you enjoy and dislike about your job?

Do you feel like urban planning is an intellectually and creatively satisfying career?

I would really appreciate any feedback you can give me.

Sincerely,

—— ——

Response:

Good evening ——,

I apologize for the amount of time that it took to get back to you, I am making my way through emails as I write this. The following are responses for you, hope that they are not too late for your needs.

1. What is a standard day at the office like?

A standard day for me actually includes very little time in the office. As a business owner with multiple responsibilities along with my involvement on miscellaneous boards and activism groups in Colorado Springs, I spend very little time actually in an office. I do have an office downtown at 409 N Tejon, where on a typical week, I might spend 20 hours. (I also spend a lot of time working from home in the evenings)

2. How did you break into the field?

I went to school at Kansas State University with 100% of my intentions to become an architect. At KSU, there is a minimum 5 year requirement for all students pursuing Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Interior Architecture for a Bachelor Degree. The first of the 5 years includes a rigorous program where all programs are together as one. It is both an exploratory year and a year that provides a glimpse of what the future 4 years will be like in any of the three disciplines. At KSU, as is the case at most schools, most do not continue to make it beyond year one.

It was in my first year that I discovered what Landscape Architecture really was and that it was truly my passion. My first full-time salary job introduced to me to the world of Planning, Urban Design, Smart Growth and New Urbanism. The combination of all of these drive my passion for urban design and landscape architecture today.

3. What do you enjoy and dislike about your job?

There is very little that I dislike about my job today, but I am self-employed so it’s hard to be mad at the boss. When I worked for others, I did not like to work on tedious design work that was not challenging. I always enjoy a great challenge and when I am told that something cannot be done, I get really excited about solving the problem. I have always been quite competitive in this way and it comes with great professional fulfillment.

4. Do you feel like urban planning is an intellectually and creatively satisfying career?

Absolutely. However, you should be aware that the field of urban planning is a very diverse discipline. Many people with the title “Planner” are policy planners, whereas a policy planner’s responsibility is to administer a code or verify compliance. This type of planning typically falls in the public sector, whereas the planner would work for a city, county or region. I get involved, and most excited about, the actual design segment of planning. Both are very important disciplines but you should know that there is a significant difference between the two types.

If you have any further questions, please let me know. Good luck in your future pursuits!

John W. Olson, RLA|LEED AP|CNU-a

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