“Oh, Like SimCity?” Or What People think When You Say You’re A Planner

Yes, this is what video games looked like when I was a kid. Also, until SimCity has mixed-use buildings, I’m not interested.

University degree. Check. New job. Check. Business socks. Check. Okay, you’re officially a Planner, great work! Now comes the fun part – telling people.

Lucky for you, this has gotten better recently, but you’ll quickly find that no one knows what a Planner/Planning is. Hell, I was most of the way through a Masters degree before I knew (hence this blog to keep you from a similar fate).

To be honest, when someone asks me what I do, I’m still not sure what to say. City Planner? Urban Planner? Urban Designer? But regardless of what you call yourself, be prepared for one of the following responses:*

  • Oh, like SimCity? You’ll get this one when your subject has no idea what City Planning is, but kind of just put two and two together. In fact, they may just be trying to change the subject to video games. Anyways, Planning is like SimCity in the same way that playing Mario is like being a plumber. SimCity doesn’t even have mixed use buildings (don’t get me started), and the Mayor has absolute power (gulp!).
  • Oh, so you work for the City? This person’s a bit more knowledgeable, likely a neighbour or friend of a friend. They think they’ve hit the jackpot, and now have a connection on the inside to help get that pothole fixed, their street converted to one-way, or approval for their new (and illegal) garage. Don’t lead this person on, that’s not fair. Just politely say, “no, I work for a private firm,” and wait for them to say, “oh, like SimCity?”
  • Oh, we could use you down here. This person’s generally met while travelling, and appears at first to know exactly what Planning is (why else would they think you’d be useful in their City). Don’t be fooled, they are just one of the above people in disguise. Once you hear why they want you to work in their City (i.e. to fix density, traffic, garbage, etc.), you’ll realize what this person actually thinks (oh, you work for the City?).
  • Oh, you’re an Architect? This one’s my favourite. Generally reserved for close family members, friends, and people you see somewhat regularly (i.e. dentist, dog groomer, etc.), this person gets it while you’re talking, but quickly forgets by the next time they see you. Because you know this person pretty well, you may have lots of other things to talk about, so work may not even come up. Often, it is just a casual reference that reminds you what they think (“oh, you’re building a new house. You should talk with Matt, here”). Despite this persons shining recommendation, you should not, under any circumstances, design a house for someone!

Thats it. The responses you are likely to get when telling someone you’re a Planner. If you work for a City (or are also an architect), you’re set. Otherwise, you may want to work on that coffee table definition (or just run with the SimCity thing, that’s also fun). And whatever you do, don’t say you’re an Urban Designer.**

*In all fairness to the hypothetical folks above, we’re not the only ones with a job that’s hard to understand. My wife has been an Acquisitions Editor for six years, and I’m just finally starting to understand what that means.

**This is still a complete mystery to most. I told this to a friend once who may still think I’m an Interior Designer.

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