by Dom Nozzi, AICP
Occasionally, in my work, I will have a young person ask me for a suggestion about what line of study should be pursued for a person seeking an education or degree that would help them find a career that would allow them to help implement some of my recommended urban design principles (largely, to return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars).
Such requests are rewarding and immensely flattering for me to receive.
Below is a summary of some of the recommendations I would offer to a new student seeking a career in town planning and environmental conservation.
First, it is essential that a student thinking about a career in town planning identify what he or she is passionate about. When a passion is found, the student is able to be self-motivated to enjoy learning as much as possible about the field for a lifetime, and to find a career that is so enjoyable that the person is more than happy to pursue the work without even being paid to do it (of course, being paid is an extra bonus).
Admirably, many students seek a career that will enable them to promote and restore our natural environment, in addition to doing work that will improve towns and cities.
A crucial, counter-intuitive point for such a new student to understand is that in cities, fighting to reduce traffic congestion is detrimental to the environment (despite the conventional wisdom, which wrongly believes that less congestion means less air pollution and gas consumption – the reverse is true). Fighting congestion is counterproductive because nearly all the tactics to do so make driving a car easier (road widening, etc.), and that increases unsustainable driving and sprawl.
The beneficial tactic for the environment, economics and quality of life is to create ways to avoid the congestion that inevitably occurs in quality communities. More in-town density, mixed use, connected streets, etc.
Much of our future – particularly the future for planners, engineers and officials – will be to retrofit and renovate our roads and buildings and communities to correct our car-happy, unsustainable mistakes of the past.
The future lies in smaller roads and more compact, self-sufficient, lovable communities.
And that means it will be important for a student to emphasize urban design and drawing skills in their academic work. Other essential skills include diplomacy and negotiation, public speaking skills, and writing skills.
An important book for students aspiring to become a town planner would be Green Metropolis, by David Owen. An essay by him: http://www.walkablestreets.com/manhattan.htm
My other recommended books for new students are found at: http://www.walkablestreets.com/top.htm
To work as a town planner or urban designer, the student will need to obtain a master’s degree.
A master’s degree will require completion of a master’s thesis. Regarding suggestions for a master’s thesis, I would suggest visiting Todd Litman’s website. http://www.vtpi.org/
Another useful site for ideas: http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/
Assuming a new student finds passion in new urbanism as I have, it is obviously essential for a student to select a school and professors who are sympathetic to the concepts of new urbanism, transformational transportation concepts sympathetic to new urbanism, or those who strive to restore the tradition of designing for people rather than cars.
A summary of new urbanist schools which emphasize the traditional, sustainable, people-happy design I recommend can be found at this web page: http://www.walkablestreets.com/NUschools.htm
I envy the new student of town planning these days, as these are very exciting times to be starting off in the field. Our society, for a number of reasons, is seeing a paradigm shift in how towns are designed, and how transportation between and within our communities occurs. We are entering a time where a transformational “Plan B” is needed in order to contend with troubling energy, economic, and resource constraints.
The result is an explosive growth in the need for planners and designers who are skilled in the principles of restoring towns to the timeless, people-centered traditions. The design of towns that are sustainable. Towns that we can love.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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