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Where should a geek go to grad school to study urban planning?
May 14, 2008 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Where should a computer science geek go to grad school to study urban planning?

I've just graduated with a BS in computer science, but realized not so long ago that it wasn't really where I wanted to be in five years. What I really want to do is study urban planning, a pretty radical departure from my past academic career. That said, computer science is still where most of my skills lie, and I'd like to pursue a path that merges the two interests. I'll probably never escape technical work entirely.

Aside from MIT and Berkeley, I'd love to know if anybody has hints on where I could find a fairly nerd-oriented course of study in planning. I've heard good things about Waterloo, but I'm mostly working blind at the present time. My grades as an undergraduate engineer were OK (not good enough to guarantee MIT/Berkeley or anything), and at a well-regarded institution.

Thanks in advance!

[P.S.: I'm an American who also holds Schengen citizenship, so schools within either the US or the EU are definitely within the realm of possibility -- if they're taught in English, Spanish or Dutch.]

[P.P.S.: This is my first try at Ask, so if I'm breaking protocol please feel free to abuse me appropriately.]
posted by zvs to Education (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Edward J. Bloustein School at Rutgers is where I studied Urban Planning, and I can't speak highly enough of the professors and their connections. The most important part of a planning program is their connections in the real world. That field is all 'who-you-know' and not 'what-you-know'. Feel free to email me if you want me to talk more.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 12:43 PM on May 14, 2008

Well UW Seattle has UrbanSim.
posted by sandking at 1:19 PM on May 14, 2008

Well in geek-orientation translates into an interest in the use of data & maps, you might want to browse through the organizations involved in the Urban Institute's National Neighborhood Indicators Project - many of them are connected to universities & planning schools. Also, they don't seem to be part of that network, but these guys at Carnegie Mellon do some interesting stuff. Actually, I think of the Heinz School there generally as being kind of nerdy (more quant-oriented than other places).
posted by yarrow at 2:36 PM on May 14, 2008

posted by signal at 3:00 PM on May 14, 2008

not good enough to guarantee MIT/Berkeley or anything
can't offer you more schools, but can confirm that MIT's program is sufficiently nerdy and doing cool stuff. What I want to add, from knowing MIT's Course 11, is that if you can bring your own funding, it will really really change your prospects there. So if one of these is your dream school (hell, for any school), you should be putting as much time into finding outside funding sources as finding the right school.
posted by whatzit at 3:05 PM on May 14, 2008

University of California, Irvine Department of Planning, Policy & Design
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:30 PM on May 14, 2008

IANAUP, but by way of general advice, I'd probably say to go someplace that excels in a substantive urban planning topic that appeals to you, and take your computer science skills as assets that will set you apart from many of your peers and help kick open doors and land you spots on interesting, innovative projects. I kind of fell into my current graduate study (publc health), but much of what I've been able to do has directly related to my experience in other fields.

(And I'll put in a plug for CUPPA, just because Chicago is such a great urban laboratory.)
posted by j-dawg at 4:10 PM on May 14, 2008

Some notes from a friend in the field, with the proviso that it may be a few years out of date:

John Landis at Berkeley is probably the chief guru of computer modeling of urban growth and land use. Richard Klosterman in Ohio has a similar reputation. Berkeley and Cornell are known as the hotbeds of left/critical planning. John Forester and Bill Goldsmith at Cornell both came out of pretty heavily quantitative backgrounds at Berkeley but are doing much more qualitative work now. Walter Isard, a professor emeritus at Cornell, has been trying to work out a quantitative "Regional Science" for years now. Folks at U Texas Austin are doing some interesting work on green cities. MIT's program leans more heavily toward design and architecture as far as I know, but there are folks in other departments doing some interesting/creepy maps of things like tracing cell phone use. UNC Chapel Hill has a solid reputation for land use planning. Also, some of the most interesting things happening with GIS are not in planning but in urban geography.
posted by RogerB at 7:53 PM on May 14, 2008

Thanks for the tips! UIC, OSU, UNC and UCL were all on my radar, but CMU, UT and UW weren't and definitely should be.
posted by zvs at 7:44 AM on May 15, 2008

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