By Dom Nozzi
November 15, 1999
- What made you choose this particular profession?
When I was a young boy, I found tremendous satisfaction and pleasure by playing in the woodlots near my home. As I grew older, I started noticing that these lots were rapidly being converted to subdivisions, which apparently created a passion in me to adopt a career that would allow me to protect and create similar play opportunities for future children. I simply could not imagine how it would be possible to grow up without such opportunities.
Since I am an “information junkie” and love to provide information to decision-makers to help them make good, public interest decisions, and because I am adept at preparing plans and regulations that promote quality of life, and because I have strong opinions about how to create a quality of life, I felt that city planning and urban design would be a proper career path for me.
- What classes best prepared you for this position?
Environmental science (ecology, chemistry, soils, etc.), urban design, economics, sociology.
- Please describe your profession.
I am given policy direction by elected and appointed officials and department supervisors to prepare or amend land development regulations and long-range comprehensive plans (recreation, transportation, urban design, solid waste, conservation, land use) that protect and promote the local quality of life. I do this primarily by combining my own personal wisdom with information/concerns from citizens and elected officials, gathering research articles and ordinances from other local communities, evaluating local conditions, and information/advice from related professional staff. Much of the work includes making staff recommendations on these issues (both written and oral) at public meetings. I also answer a great deal of citizen/developer questions about city land development regulations and plans.
- What do you like/dislike about this job?
Enjoy: Gathering and presenting useful information/plans/regulations, being looked upon as a professional expert on many important local issues (including issues that are important to my own life as a city resident), and meeting and working with a large number of interesting and intelligent people.
Dislikes: I am bothered by how often my supervisors and elected and appointed officials make what I believe are foolish, uninformed, spineless decisions that will result in a less pleasant future. It is painful to have knowledge that allows me to see what needs to be done, and observing that we are not doing it. I dislike having to spend long hours at public meetings at night where boring issues are discussed endlessly. I dislike how often I am not given any respect or recognition as a professional, and how much we try to squeeze more and more out of our public sector staff as a way to save taxes, instead of hiring more staff. I am annoyed that there is no support in my department for using techniques that make our planning/technical information more understandable to our audience. Instead, we focus on strictly following the rules or following tradition.
- Do you have any suggestions to help me prepare for this career?
Increasingly, transportation is the key driving force to sustainability and quality of life. Traffic engineers have become defacto urban designers, because they are respected when they speak, and because their decisions profoundly determine how the community will develop. I would recommend obtaining a fair amount of knowledge in this field, especially one that focuses on making people instead of cars happy — one that promotes transportation choice. (new urbanists such as Walter Kulash and Peter Calthorpe are good). I’d also recommend obtaining education/training in architecture, since the design of buildings is important, as is the ability to draw a vision. Obtain a thorough understanding of, and appreciation for, new urbanism, since this will be the paradigm we’ll use in future decades. Also important to do some environmental science. It is important to understand human behavior, so I’d recommend economics, anthropology (esp. Marvin Harris), psychology, and sociology.
- What do you think it means to be successful in this career?
Playing an integral role in creating a community that is designed to make people instead of cars happy, to create real-world models for establishing transportation choice, to gain the admiration and respect of the citizens of your community, and to give citizens the awareness of how to sustain such a community without the need for professionals.
- Would you choose this profession again? Why or why not?
Yes, I would choose it again. Urban design is the love of my life. The only thing I would do differently is obtain more transport and architectural education (from the masters) to be a better urban designer. Mostly, I love it because I enjoy engaging in a profession that is connected to my own quality of life, the quality of life of my friends and family, and because I find myself wanting to talk or read about it in my spare time.
- What is your background (education, etc.) in this career?
Mostly answered above. I have a BA in environmental science and an MS in urban and regional planning.
- What is the future in your profession? Great demand?
The demand is currently high in rapidly growing areas of the country, and is certain to be an increasingly sought-after skill in the future by communities trying to save themselves.
- What skills are involved?
Mostly answered above. Important to be a good public speaker, a good writer, passionate about making the community more livable, a good typist and editor, good at doing drawings, a visionary, in love with learning, and wise about how to make things happen politically.
- Are you happy with your career?
I’m deliriously happy and proud of my career — especially after learning about new urbanism and urban design.
- Do you have anything else to add?
Persistence almost always pays off more than wisdom. But wisdom still needs to be the background foundation. The best ideas in the world will not save us unless the time is right.