Jobs Involving Cities, w/o math + grad school
November 4, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I love cities, I love walking around in them, I love learning about them, and I would like to make a career out of this. Caveats: I do not want to deal with math/science, and I would really rather not go to grad school.

I am currently a junior undergrad majoring in Peace Studies (haha stereotypical liberal arts school major but I don't regret it at all), and with one more year to go I have started to really consider what it is I want to do. A recent conversation with a friend made me realize that all that I have wanted to do is live in and learn about cities - that is what fires me up inside.

What how can I make this love of cities into a career? What options do I have?

1) No careers overwhelmed with math/science, e.g architecture, urban planning - this is non-negotiable.
2) I had an internship where I was doing research and policy all day concerning transportation. I hated it. Policy work is not for me.
3) I will go to grad school kicking and screaming. If there is no other choice, fine. But surely there are other choices - that's why I'm asking Metafilter!
4) I'm an international student (not American), and I do not want to go back to my home country, which leads to #3 below...
5) Fluent only in English (I plan on being fluent in Mandarin in a few years).

1) I have rock-solid experiences and skills in non-violent communication and peace-building. I have been trained as a community mediator, done some mediations, and I am part of my school's phone-hotline-kind-of service.
2) I have interned at a few NGOs, and I realized that what I enjoy is really getting to know people, getting involved in their lives and communities. For a while I was interested in being a community organizer.
3) I would be ok going anywhere in the world. Anywhere. As long as the city is large enough and there are skyscrapers I can lose myself in. An anglophone/largely anglophone country/city would be preferable.
4) I can definitely write.

I read on Cyburbia that sometimes private firms are hired to be immersed in an urban community and find out what they want out of urban policy-makers, which seems interesting.

As a junior, I know I have time to think about this, but I'd rather have a goal first so I can coalesce my studies and research around it. Metafilter! Do any of you have jobs concerning cities that are a little off the beaten track? Tell me anything and everything!

Thank you.
posted by facehugger to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A Tour Guide. And you can also start your own Tour Guide company. Tours often specialize in something and you can specialize your tours on the Skyscrapers of a particular city and their history.

Construction- you can be a part of helping build skyscrapers.
posted by manderin at 5:58 PM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

real estate agent, travel chaperone, sales/account representative, event coordinator, city councilperson
posted by txtwinkletoes at 5:59 PM on November 4, 2013

Civil engineering is off the table based on what you've written here, but you can definitely pursue options in urban planning without quantitative skills or a graduate degree. Your background makes you sound like the rare person who would really enjoy running public meetings. Many design/communication skills can be put to good use in this universe as well.
posted by ndg at 6:05 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

1) No careers overwhelmed with math/science.

3) I will go to grad school kicking and screaming. If there is no other choice, fine. But surely there are other choices - that's why I'm asking Metafilter!

4) I'm an international student (not American), and I do not want to go back to my home country.

I'm worried that there's a possible conflict here, and I would encourage you to reconsider #3. Here's my concern: as a rule of thumb, the easiest way to be able to legally work in an developed country that you don't hold citizenship in is to be what in U.S. immigration parlance is called a "skilled worker". In practical terms, this usually means that you have to have either significant work experience, some kind of professional training, a graduate degree, or a bachelor's in a STEM field.1 As a fresh college grad you probably won't have the first one; the second and third are ruled out by your requirement #3 above; and the last is ruled out by your requirement #1. So I would worry that the three points you've stated above are going to make it difficult for you to live in a "developed" country other than your home country, which (given the tone of your question) seems to be what you're angling for.

However, there are many, many exceptions to this rule of thumb, depending on your particular citizenship; so if you don't mind telling us where you're originally from, then we might be able to offer more constructive advice. Where you can work is going to make a big difference in what you can do.

1These conditions are usually necessary, but not usually sufficient.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:40 PM on November 4, 2013

Police officer, in an enlightened type of city where your mediation skills would be valued.
posted by lakeroon at 6:40 PM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

You could work for city government, for a real estate developer, for a NGO (in a non-community-organizing role), for a social services agency. If you like getting to know people, community engagement or public relations roles might be a good place to start.

Off the top of my head, I'm thinking of a few people I know who have jobs that might appeal to you: one works for a community foundation - he spends most of his days working with community organizations and securing grants for them to do their work. One is a community liaison for the mayor of a large city - he makes sure important parts of the community are getting their needs met and understand service and policy changes. Still another runs an immigrant advocacy organization. Yet another friend runs her city's sustainability programs. (Most of these people do have graduate degrees, but none of them got them right out of undergrad. You're right to avoid grad school before you get some experience under your belt).

None of these are jobs you could have when you graduate, but they're the kinds of things you might want to think about as goals.

For the short term, well one of the first thoughts I had was "community organizer." Hard job, for sure, and not something most people can do permanently, but a pretty decent starting-out job for someone who is interested in urban issues - is there a particular reason besides the usual suspects (low pay, long hours) that you're not interested anymore?

You can also work on a political campaign - if you work for a city candidate (mayor, city council) in a large city, or in a city office of a state-level or federal candidate, you will spend a LOT of time out and about in that city.

Now that you're still in school, it's a great time to talk to people and explore your options. Take some urban geography classes, and talk to the professors about organizations in your community. Are you in a city? Get an internship with the mayor's office or with a community foundation.

Oh, and I don't know if you're planning on studying abroad since you're already an international student, but I knew a bunch of people who did urban studies-related programs, including one in Chicago. Let me know if you want more info and I'll try to dig it up.
posted by lunasol at 6:43 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

not that it's a growing industry, but local reporter would fit.

if you love it so much then i think you can do it already. with 18 months until you graduate, you could start a blog/research project as a kind of local historian. i'm sure you could find some professor who would sponsor you for it like a senior project. this will actually help you get a job doing what you say you want to do. also, getting deeply involved in the minutiae will help you learn if it's something you like to do as a hobby, or really want to do as a full time job.

or, if you like to get to know people, then any kind of sales job would be great.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:56 PM on November 4, 2013

Perhaps you could get involved with one of the transportation startups, car or bike share, home-sharing, etc?

Every city has dozens of departments that a person can dig into and thrive. Arts, commerce, transportation, parks, there's no end to it.
posted by padraigin at 7:10 PM on November 4, 2013

I have a good friend who is the Bike/Pedestrian coordinator for his area's Regional Planning Comission (he mostly does stuff in his city but it's funded by the city and surrounding counties). He works to make the city safer for people walking or biking, including public service campaigns, getting bike lanes put in, etc. He didn't go to school for it in particular - his undergrad was business and history (or was it polisci), and he was involved in some campus bike stuff which is how he got into this job. Networking!
posted by radioamy at 7:25 PM on November 4, 2013

Also agree that you should look into some of the startups and programs involving bikeshare, rideshare, etc. That's quite hot these days.

Oh also I met someone once who worked for the AARP (it seemed weird to me at the time that he was in his 20's) helping make the city more accessible for seniors.
posted by radioamy at 7:27 PM on November 4, 2013

Complete Streets is what radioamy might be referring to. The bike folks and AARP have joined forces to do multi-modal transportation planning. There's also the 8-80 Cities project, started by Gil Penalosa who is the Bogota mayor who first proposed ciclovias. But... since you didn't like transportation policy, I have a different suggestion.

I think with mediation skills you can help with community planning processes. The folks I know in Honolulu (where I go to school for urban planning) who do mediation and facilitation are highly sought after by government and nonprofit sector as consultants. They often have affiliations with the university's Peace and Conflict Studies program in addition to being adjunct faculty urban planning. If you can get recommendations from your faculty or get a graduate certificate (not a full MA) in facilitation or mediation that might be a useful leg up on jobs.

Also you may want to start by working on Better Blocks or Neighborland type projects that will get your feet wet on neighborhood-level planning processes.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:01 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to consider grad school, look at the requirements for a master's in leadership. No math (possibly slight quantitative research methods, depending on the program) and can build on your negotiation, communication and critical thinking skills - which is valuable for any field, really.
posted by ainsley at 8:29 PM on November 4, 2013

Development NGOs might be in this space. I have academic friends who study human society in urban contexts. Degree programs like sociology, anthropology, human geography. It is doable in a qualitative context if you are not a mathy person (though that limits you, certainly), but being uninterested in policy implications kind of nulls out most available careers.

Market research, maybe? Telling businesses how markets in certain cities work? I don't know about that space except that it exists. Try out some anthropology and business profs at your school and see what they think about this.

I would suggest aiming for skills and experience, rather than education, and not being too beholden to the ideal of the perfect career you have right now. You might have to work towards your goal over many years. Think more short-term and more broadly about what kind of opportunities are out there within reach, right now, that you could do, and that might be valuable to someone in the future.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:46 PM on November 4, 2013

I think you want a career like Alissa Walker's. I think she does what you want to do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:32 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

People who facilitate meetings for the public sector (as consultants or as NGO staff) have jobs that ping on your skills and interests: outreach, mediation and writing around matters affecting the urban realm. The consultants travel regularly. My work entails some civic engagement and it's a lot of fun... But therein lies the challenge: lots of urban planners, land use economists, etc. can do it well enough to get by. The most interesting assignments deal with big contentious equity issues, IMO. Google "public participation" or "civic engagement" to learn more.

Regarding graduate school, it's fun to be surrounded by other people who care about the same things you do and being immersed in your subjects of choice. After you've worked a few years, going to school and using your brain for your own ends, instead of renting it out to others, may seem like a luxurious sojourn.
posted by carmicha at 7:21 AM on November 5, 2013

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