THE SAD STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY DEGREE FOR PLANNERS & DESIGNERS

A guest article by Rick Harrison 

For the past four decades, technology has improved nearly all aspects of our life - except for the physical land development patterns of our cities. The 1960's suburban pattern, still in use today, is unsustainable. However, the 'architectural' answer to the 'planning' problem of sprawling subdivisions has been to simply go backwards to the gridded past.

Without a high degree of architectural and landscaping detail, this model, known as New Urbanism, does not work. As such, there are few (if any) affordable New Urbanist non-subsidized developements. The Congress of New Urbanism (CNU) boasts of their success in gentrification, but instead of reinventing 'design' to address the problems, the architect's answer is to make site plan function as if it as a simplistic rectangular floor plan.

The CNU objective is to create a pedestrian oriented society and do everything possible to do away with car ownership. To combat suburban sprawl, they attack those who invest in suburban homes even though they represent 80 percent of the housing market growth. Even with the nearly three decades New Urbanists have promoted this singular solution, there are relatively few actual CNU projects.

One of the largest groups of CNU followers are university professors who teach young, impressionable minds that suburbia is terrible and only high density is the answer. These students go deep into debt thinking that they will be part of a vast new era of change, however, when they look for employment in the real world, they are miserably unprepared. The technical skills taught in Urban Planning and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) revolve around software and training supplied by ESRI, and for architectural or civil engineering students, most likely an AutoCAD targeted module like Civil3D or Revitt, the current industry-leading software products.

To understand why this is a problem, I will share experiences with graduate students hired as interns, not mentioning the school. I am based in Minneapolis.

I interviewed a graduate from the Urban Studies program a few years ago who did not understand what an easement or a right-of-way was. He had no classes on how a plan or plat was put together, along with no design courses, no knowledge of surveying or civil engineering which is the basis of all redevelopment and growth. I decided to take on the challenge and hired the student to teach him basic things you would think would be taught to a graduate student.

A few months ago, I took an intern (same university) graduating this spring in GIS and mapping. Again, you would think the basic premise of mapping would be an intricate knowledge of surveying and subdivision planning, at least. But nay, nay - none was taught. I asked, why a career in GIS? He said that his first intention was to become a civil engineer, but they immediately placed him in the mathematically demanding structural side of civil engineering, which proved too much for him. 

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The Sad State of the University Degree