Urban planning jobs in developing areas?
February 23, 2006 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Help me combine my interests in Latin America, urban planning, and not being unemployed.

I recently (last year) completed a master's in international relations/economics and, upon finishing, realized I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with (or without regard to) this generalist's degree. Prior to grad school, I worked for a couple of years in urban planning with a small (mostly-domestic) consulting firm. (My bachelor's was in geography with some urban plannning stuff, but no real design practice--just cartography.)

At the time I left to go to grad school, I thought I was done with planning, but in retrospect it was probably just the annoyance of dealing with petty stakeholders in relatively affluent areas: in that job, I spent a fair amount of time working on zoning regulations (specifically, sign dimensions and other relatively unimportant design standards), which I find pretty boring. I think if I were working on projects in developing areas (more focused on housing, transportation, public services) instead, where good policy and projects can actually make a difference in people's standard of living, I would be much more interested.

So the question (finally!) is: where/with whom should I be looking for work? I'm interested in organizations like ITDP, I am young and mobile enough that it doesn't matter if I'm working from the U.S. or based in other countries, and I have the resources to work pretty cheaply for a while. For reference, I speak Spanish pretty well and I've studied Portuguese*--I'm most familiar with Latin America, but I wouldn't rule out other regions.

(For those who see an obvious blind spot in my question: unfortunately, my school's career services office is not the most helpful, and it takes about a month on average to get an appointment to talk to them. The school's international development department focuses more on rural issues, government accountability, and economic development...urban planning sort of falls through the cracks.)

*Also, can anyone recommend a good Portuguese-language news podcast? I can read pretty well, but I want to work on my listening comprehension, and every tool helps.
posted by kittyprecious to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could try the United Nations.
posted by JJ86 at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2006

You could try organizations like the World Bank or OAS.

You could try international firms like RTI or Aecom.

Another suggestion might e to get some more specific urban planning experience by working for a city government.

Are you interested in China at all?
posted by Pollomacho at 12:19 PM on February 23, 2006

isn't latin/south america all up in the wild new experimental urban planning methods? watch out, though, a feminist theory professor i took a class from last year originally majored in urban planning and spent a ton of time in venezuela, so it sounds like a recipe for drifting off into boring ol' academia!
posted by soma lkzx at 12:25 PM on February 23, 2006

AskMe is a surprisingly good networking tool
I have some specific connections and leads you may be interested in, primarily in Rio de Janeiro. Feel free to email me.

somalkzx: Definitely look up some of the major planned cities (e.g. Brasilia and Palmas) - okay, Palmas isn't that major, but it's uber-planned - and some of the ones that have just done an awful lot of interesting urban set-ups and architecture (e.g. Curitiba).
posted by whatzit at 12:35 PM on February 23, 2006

if signal doesn't reply here email me (andrew@acooke.org) (i don't know if he can help, but i think he does something to do with urban planning here in chile - at least, he once wrote some cool software about it).
posted by andrew cooke at 12:44 PM on February 23, 2006

I have connections in this regard in Chile, specifically with the urban planning department of the Catholic U.'s architecture school (which develops a lot of the zoning plans around the country) and URBE, big developer around here. You'd probably need and architecture degree or specific urban-related masters, though. Drop me a line if you're interested, I'm working on a few related projects and know a lot of people in the field.
(waves to a.cooke, thanks for "cool software")
posted by signal at 1:21 PM on February 23, 2006

whatzit: have any links? anything neat i've found in the past i've really just stumbled upon, and can't for the life of me wield google well enough to find good resources.
posted by soma lkzx at 1:59 PM on February 23, 2006

Pollomacho: I've looked at RTI (and I'll be chatting with them at a job fair tomorrow), so at least we're on the same page. I'm a little hesitant about China mainly because of the language barrier, but I'd be curious to know what kind of work there would be for non-speakers. (And yes, I'm looking at local govts here in the DC area, but they tend to be strict about the planning master's requirements. Also: Unfortunately, though I'm well-placed to pester WB, it's famously an ordeal for U.S. citizens to get their attention.)
posted by kittyprecious at 2:02 PM on February 23, 2006

Here's some places to start. Hopefully someone else can fill you in on urban planners outside of Brazil...

The idea of having an interior capital in Brazil had been around since the end of the 1800s, but only really came into being in the mid 1900s. The goal being that having a capital in the interior would open up development and population growth, taking the focus away from the coasts (this hasn't worked so well in practice - around 1970 Brazil reached 50/50 urban/rural population, and now it's somewhere around 80 or 85% urban). Most of the city was laid out by Niemeyer, and he designed many of the government buildings and original monuments.
Wikipedia on Brasilia's planning
world's most striking capital city
The history of Brasilia
Brasilia: A livable, drivable city
The Futurist: Building Utopia - Lessons from Brasilia

In 1989 or so, Brazil took parts from a couple interior states to establish a new state, based on some mutual political changes and goals. The new capital was set in an area where there wasn't much of anything, and a planned city was built from what was almost nothing. Planned for around 2 million people, only a couple hundred thousand live there now. It's almost creepy to be in, with how big it is and how empty it is. This actually wasn't that uncommon - throughout the 20th century Brazil was creating new capitals from nothing. Belo Horizonte was one of the first, but Palmas arguably looks, still, more planned than the rest of them!
Palmas: Sistema de IdentificaĆ§Ć£o Urbana de Palmas (PT)
Boom time in Brazil
A nova frontera brasileira (PT)

Curitiba I don't know personally, but they seem to be a hotbed for really interesting urban and architectural projects. Some of the ones I can think of off the top of my head:
Curitiba - Brazil's Urban Experience
Curitiba's Bus System is Model for Rapid Transit
The Revolution in Curitiba (it's a forum, but it has lots of good links)
posted by whatzit at 3:55 PM on February 23, 2006

I'm sure I'll get culled for this comment, but if you are into the salsier side of things and urban planning...

Could you please fix Santa Ana, California? Plenty of work there.

It really needs help! I like its Latin roots, but too much of it resembles the tarpaper strewn hills about Tiajuana.

I used to work in architecture. Something along Legorreta Architectos would be nice...

posted by roguescout at 1:49 AM on February 24, 2006

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