The job title for what I want to do…

The job title for what I want to do, I’m coming to realize, will probably have to be one I make up myself.

This week, I had back-to-back coffee dates with two people who have both been wonderfully supportive of Transit Camp and the stuff I’ve been doing, be it academically, professionally in other ways or just in the community. They also both happen to be have oodles of firsthand experience and information on my latest crazy idea, a last-minute application in for grad school – specifically, the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC.

My conversations with them were extremely enlightening, cutting to the heart of what I have been doing, what I would be doing as part of the Master’s program, and how I would leave the program. I have been beta-testing the following statement when people ask me what I want to do:

I want to change the planning profession using social media to support values of broad-based decision-making, transparency and accountability towards sustainability.

There are some really wicked problems behind this – that people do what makes them feel good before they’ll do what’s good for them; that sometimes planners themselves feel torn between supporting the status quo or just fighting it in vain; that the value proposition for the public is competing with so many other things that all want their input, and have such lower barriers and lower stakes (not that I think voting in American Idol is time not well spent or anything). I feel like I’m not able to tackle any of this with any basis of domain knowledge or credibility without, well, becoming a planner. But if I head down this line of thinking, I may soon also be justifying working in the field as a planner, and on and on down the line. I also should not discredit the possibility of really good collaborations.

Others have suggested that what I bring to the table is based more in the interaction of society and the Internet, and that transportation is a case from which other things can be abstracted from broader examinations of the networking effects. I know I’m not alone in looking at social media, networks and the planning profession – I’ve already found the journal article that talks about this, and it was written in 2003! I suppose the main issue remains that I want to position myself to be doing in at least a somewhat tangible sense (though I don’t think I’ll ever be writing APIs), because that’s the crowd I’m hanging with, and that’s what I think I bring to it. That’s yet another area of practice, however; I’ll admit some intellectual skittishness around actually, really, head-on engaging with network theory, and perhaps applying that as an outsider is what I don’t think I want to do so much. Theory and practice are, I’m aware, not the fraternal twins I like to think they are.

I remember when I was finished banging out my first draft of my statement of interest, I sat back and thought, “I would do this even if I don’t get accepted!” That’s when I knew it was just right, and I still think that holds true – that I will do this however I can even if School doesn’t turn out to be the avenue for it. It’s just too much darn fun, though the way things are looking it certainly needs to be a lot more than just fun – it must also get stuff done better than the other ways people have been doing it.

Anyway, best way to go about this is to make a lunch date with someone else who made the Communication-Planning jump.


  1. Richard Smith

    I like your plan (“I want to change the planning profession using social media to support values of broad-based decision-making, transparency and accountability towards sustainability.”) but wonder if you’re really that dedicated to change in the planning *profession* or whether you’re more interested in fostering change in *planning*. The former is an indirect route to the latter, but leads to a job either teaching planners or being a consultant/adviser to planning departments. Is that what you want? Just wondering.

    Posted December 1, 2008 at 11:33 am | Permalink
  2. Richard,

    Thanks for pointing this out, it’s a very useful distinction to make and I have rolled on it in my mind. I think I’m taking a hint or two from my friend Sacha Chua, who manages to spend something like half or a third of her time sharing, connecting people and teaching through blogging and speaking as a presenter, while being fundamentally rooted in “doing” – in her case, programming, making mash-ups and concocting tools. Would I make teaching or consulting my primary activity? A great question, and the answer probably hinges on whether I can nail down the context in which I feel I am the most effective.

    Great food for thought.


    Posted December 11, 2008 at 11:35 am | Permalink

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