Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What are You Going to be When You Grown Up? For the Longest Time, I was Going to be an Urban Planner

I love cities. I love the way people interact. I love things that are still around, like hotels, and things that pretty much aren't, like grand old department stores. I love public space, and also semi-public space, which is one of the reasons why I'm in the retail business.

Over the years, when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do after bookselling, I returned time and again to getting a planning degree. At one point, David Schwartz even pushed me to apply. Alas, graduate study just didn't seem to be in the cards for me.

Instead I read as much as I could on the subject, from Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of American Cities) to William Whyte** (City: Rediscovering the Center--alas, this is now a textbook and our price would be higher than the one listed here) and authors obscure enough for me to not remember their names. Two seminal books I do remember were Tony Hiss's The Experince of Place, and The Geography of Nowhere, by James Kunstler.

I also did a lot of traveling, and could be passionate about the best guidebooks* and city histories. My informal education made me quite passionate on the subject, and I could be known for discussing (or arguing) the merits of public transportation or the evils of megadevelopments. I was very much Mayor Norquist's new urbanism camp, the pure version, before it was coopted by developers.

One friend who beared the brunt of this passion was Michael Bayer. Michael wrote some for the Milwaukee Sentinel, and later wound up in a small paper outside Fort Wayne, where I once visited him. After a number of years pursuing journalism, he broke the news to me--he was going back to school to get an urban planning degree.***

Michael earned his degree and has gone on to be a successful planner. I'm happy for him, mixed of course with a tinge of jealousy. But not really--this bookstore stuff actually speaks to a lot of my interests with third places and community building. Michael works at a company called Environmental Resources Management. Here's their website.

Michael has made it easier on me to live vicariously through him by writing, with Nancy Frank and Jason Valerius, a new book called Becoming an Urban Planner. They interviewed more than 80 planners in all areas of the field. It's a book that's perfect for folks thinking about school, students making the decision, and perhaps the biggest market, amateur fans like me.

Come hear Bayer, Frank, and Valerius at Boswell this coming Monday, February 22nd, at 7 PM. There's a reception beforehand sponsored by WUWM's School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

*The single best guidebook I ever read was Barringer Fifield's Seeing Pittsburgh, now out of print. It was a series of walking tours that mixed art, architecture, history, planning, and a bit of gossip.

**One of William Whyte's students was retail guru Paco Underhill, who adapted Whyte's research techniques to helping retailers improve sales.

***Michael was not my only friend to make this decision. My college friend Eric worked for many years at the DOT. I once visited his office. It should be no surprise to you that there were a lot of tall piles of paper.

No comments: