Seeking summer projects

As the glee of summer’s relaxation wears off and I find myself anxiously pacing I hope you’ll keep in mind that I will gladly dance for your money. In particular, I’m looking for freelance cartography jobs this summer, in Cincinnati or elsewhere. Do you know of any? I’d love to hear about them!

Here are some things I would like to work on in the next few months:

My prices are LOW LOW LOW for a professional cartographer, as I’m really just trying to get started here. I’m excited about what I do and I guarantee better work than any established agency can deliver at a similar price.

I’m also unusually familiar with open-source software, meaning that anything you get from me(all data and source files included) will still be useful to you after the job is over.

Check out my portfolio/freelance business here and please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions or want a quick quote on anything you might have in mind.

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Posted in: Psychological
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A job for urban planners? Part 1: the problem

Greater Cincinnati has a lot more urban planners than it cares to employ as such.

If you’re thinking about going into the field, all you current or aspiring DAAP kids, you should know that you aren’t likely to find the job you might expect here. Of all the people I personally know in the area with degrees in urban planning, probably at least a couple dozen, I can think of four who are actually employed as planners. The rest of them are by and large doing interesting things, but not in a way that uses their degree to earn money, or if they are it’s not even remotely near Cincinnati. DAAP churns out about 40 planners a year, about one of which on average will find a planning job here after graduation.1

This is more than a little frustrating for many of us locally cultivated planners, and really, really good for the region. I’d like to begin here to explore ways the situation could be better for planners, and better still for Cincinnati.

First, why planners are good for the region: I think you can think of us as a civic-minded type of bohemian. Like artists, the younger among us are poor, grossly underemployed and tend to cluster together for mutual inspiration. Like classic bohemians we’re often very interested in producing change. Unlike classic bohemians, we tend to have very concrete ideas of what that change would entail.

Urban planners are, in my opinion, by nature some of the best citizens you’ll find in the republic2. We’re wonderfully knowledgeable about governmental and social structures but decidedly apolitical. Planners are reasonable, sometimes to a fault. Trained to handle potentially riotous public meetings on sometimes controversial topics, we know how to calm and deflect, to find agreement, and lead civil conversations toward tangible common goals. We understand, like architects how the subtleties of our physical environment affect people’s perceptions of the world and of each other and are often very conscious of how our own actions indirectly affect others.

Young, underemployed urban planners tend to start interesting and very civic projects. This website, Spring in Our Steps, UrbanCincy, or the People’s Department of Transportation (Columbus) provide a few interesting and fruitful examples from local planning grads that I know personally. Many other young planners are regular fixtures at public meetings of all sorts, providing in some sessions I’ve seen most of the thoughtful(as opposed to uselessly naive and self-interested) input on everything from SORTA’s route changes to the Cincinnati Master Plan.

These are generalizations to be sure, but to the extent that generalizations can be made about any group, I think they’re fairly accurate ones.

So what’s the problem? Normal planning jobs are absurdly secure for the few people who have them and the whole profession has been shrinking if not simply failing to grow. There is almost no chance of getting paid for any of this work. That means people will eventually leave the field or never get into it to begin with. As far as I can see, earning a planning degree is a big gamble; either you end up as one of the few people to get a secure municipal job for as long as you want it or you don’t get any work at all and you give up on planning to do something else. A planning degree is a 5 year, $100,0003 bet against the odds.4

urban planners looking for work in a tough job market

We need to learn to hunt.

Planners seem to still be hanging around and doing interesting stuff though, right? We must be paying the rent somehow. Here are the problems with getting by with pay from another industry while doing planning projects on the side, unpaid:

An illustration: UC’s Niehoff Studio6 seems like it might offer a good model for bridging the gap between planners and the real, paid world, but as I’ll describe the results, the program is typical of the all-too-common corporate exploitation of unpaid creative work.

In a nutshell, the studio attempts to pair up outside organizations (like a transit agency) with a group of student planners, engineers and architects who will work (unpaid and actually, paying when you count tuition and time) for a semester on a ‘big problem’ that the organization might face (like “How might bus rapid transit be implemented?”). The problems are usually local and a low-level representative from the outside agency comes by a few times through the course of the semester to provide guidance to the students as they develop their projects. Through most of their work, a DAAP professor sets the guidelines and requirements. At the end there’s a presentation before the projects are graded and filed away.

One might be temped to think that this arrangement could offer public agencies and non-profits an excellent chance to get valuable ideas from a pool of creative young talent from which they might later hire, and for the planners, a chance to meet and learn from people in their field while working on real-world problems; sort of an interning-lite.7 The ‘from which they might hire’ part I hope I’ve already adequately addressed the possibilities of, so let’s go straight for the ‘helpful new ideas’ and ‘real-world problems’. Planners are deeply interested in affecting the world positively, and the ability to contribute to building a better city is as big a goal as the paycheck for most people.

In the case of Niehoff students, the remove from the agency itself, the fact that planning students are not actually working within the agency, means that the solutions planners come up with are almost completely unmoored from reality and thus unusable. The professors encourage this, egging the students on to ‘think big’ and come up with ideal solutions. The proposals that result are pretty much entirely ignored by the agency because they’re either blatantly illegal(usually in the form of wanton property takings) or financially impossible(new multi-billion-dollar subways bored through bedrock). This problem could be remedied by having each student work in close collaboration with the people from the agency for which the work is being done. Students can’t reasonably be expected to know what the agencies expectations are andd how far they can push them if the two aren’t talking regularly…but that would get too close to being a job or an internship–something the agency would reasonably be expected to pay for. The work done in the Niehoff studio stays closer to the abstract than to reality, allowing everyone to think of the students as students rather than as consultants and devaluing their work to the point where they must pay for the privilege of doing it.

Wanting to stay in the field, how can us planners create our own jobs outside of the archetypical local government positions which there simply aren’t enough any of? We need money and we need authority to do good work here. How do we get these things?

Show 7 footnotes

  1. Source: my ass, which hasn’t failed me yet
  2. This is absolutely a self-selection bias, though the work reinforces the early inclination.
  3. In state tuition + moderate living expenses ( + time??).
  4. At least if you want to stay in Cincinnati, or really, any major urban area where competition is fierce.
  5. Planners don’t expect useful feedback from the public; their plans are mostly developed by the time they’re open for public comment. Getting comments at this point from (citizen )planners who have criticisms that are hard or impossible to dismiss throws a wrench in the works. The right time for comments like these is earlier in the planning process.
  6. I did indeed go through several studios in this program. This isn’t just hearsay ;-)
  7. Unpaid interning has it’s own…let’s say ‘issues’ that I need not elaborate on here!
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Posted in: Plans
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SORTA’s hiring a Planning Intern


I won’t vouch for the quality of this job, nor will I mislead anyone into thinking the application process is easy or fun. I’ve applied myself a couple time for past job openings at SORTA never to get more than an automated email in reply. This is not very satisfying after spending an hour retyping my resume for the clumsy and redundant online application form…

Still, for someone who isn’t me, this could be a good opportunity to see how a transit agency works from the inside. And it pays, which can’t be said of the City of Cincinnati’s planning internships.

Also, if anyone reading this ends up getting the job, I will literally bribe you for access to the (public record, surely) automated passenger count data you’ll be working with.

The job description:

DESCRIPTION The Service Planning Internship at SORTA/Metro is an excellent learning experience that involves exposure to actual projects and requirements found in the public transportation sector. This internship will focus on ridership data collection and complying with the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database program reporting requirements.
DUTIES Help Metro’s Service Analyst collect, enter, and analyze ridership data. The overall objective is to test the ridership and passenger mileage information being collected by Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs) installed on Metro’s buses. Manually collect passenger boarding and alighting data by reviewing onboard video and recording the required data. Prepare reports that compare the manually and automatically collected data to determine if any APCs need to be recalibrated to achieve specific confidence levels. Responsible for mapping routing patterns for Metro’s XTRA Service routes. This process will involve working with Metro’s scheduling software to trace designated routes throughout the service area. The intern will gain an understanding of how Metro designs bus routes and schedules. Learning opportunity regarding data collection and analysis, sampling procedures and report writing within the transit industry, while gaining practical work experience. Conduct real project(s) that will provide a better appreciation of the responsibilities of a Transit Service Planner and a greater understanding of this important job as you consider your career options.
QUALIFICATIONS Pursuing a Planning, Urban Affairs, Geography degree or related field. Two or more years of undergraduate studies. Demonstrated success in academics. Excellent MS Excel Skills and understanding of database programs. Self-Starter; ability to take the lead on assignments and work with limited supervision. Resourceful, energetic, goal-oriented. All qualified candidates should complete the on-line application and include a cover letter and resume.

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Posted in: Silly Bullshit
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Philosophy, grad school, and a challenge to ‘BRT’

Apologies for the slow posting here lately…grad school has been swallowing an outrageous amount of my time the last couple of weeks. I do have some interesting things in the works though, so I’ll just whet your appetites until they’re ready to fruit before leaving you with some methodological musings.

But I may also blame the slow posting on a rapidly developing understanding of my approach to such problems as the ones I’m trying to address through this blog. My rational side says I need to be positive and empirical, adding nuance and evidence to the general discussion of transit in Cincinnati, but the less rational sides of me want prankishness and a negative reproach to the nonsense I see going on all around me, particularly about ‘the streetcar’. As much as I want to tear down the populist John Schneiders and John Cranleys I want to take the high road and pretend that I might thereby climb high enough to avoid them. But would I then still be able to see the ground to which I must ultimately return for food and shelter? I’m torn. I wonder if a positive approach which strives for intellectual rigor first is more than an acknowledgement that practical political change in Cincinnati is hopeless (in the short term at least) and that my personal prospects lie in a different context with different values. Am I seeking validation from a group of elite critics and experts, popularly ignored, or actually trying to change a system largely run by demagogues and their uninterested employees? Is a synthesis possible?

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Posted in: Access | Events
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Work in progress

I apologise for the slow posting here lately. I’ve been trying to gather the money to pay for rent and beer and coffee and other essentials in the most complicated way possible: putting together a business along with website, logo, state registration, functioning online store and everything else that goes along with starting an altogether new enterprise.

I hope most of you will find that endeavor quite interesting when I unveil it, though for now I’ll leave you with a teaser: I’ve concluded that what I want to do with this business was the almost inevitable outcome of an urban planner dating an anatomist. It will be interesting stuff ;-)

I’ve got lots of stuff in the works for the blog too! Here are some big things you can look forward to that are currently in progress:

And much more!

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Posted in: Plans | Psychological
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