How do you get your feet wet in Urban Policy?
October 6, 2007 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm pondering a graduate program in Urban Policy at the New School. I'm wondering where to get my feet wet. As always, more inside.

After my Peace Corps service I'll be eligible for a Fellows program. Most of the Fellows-associated programs are in community development, politics or ag, but there's one in particular in "Urban Policy". I've been interested in city development and public space issues for years so it seems like a good direction to head in. My fiancee is a graduate student enrolled in a PC Master's International program for Community Development, so our interests overlap nicely.

I did some homework and selected some texts to see if this was at all my thing and I've been devouring it ever since. I've been cruising through the Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck book, Suburban Nation, as well as The New Urbanist Charter and A Pattern Language. I've picked up some Witold Rybczynski books for context and I've started on Jane Jacobs and Margret Kohn, etc etc. I've been just trying to get a feel for what the problems are with current planning, where they stem from, yadda yadda. And I adore it.

But to make myself more attractive to a program I'm hoping to get a little bit of experience, even if it's as a gofer or photocopy dude at an office. My fiancee and I will be living in Milwaukee for about 6-8 months before deployment and I was hoping to fill some of that time with some actual on the ground experience.

So the Q: Where do you go for that sort of thing? Who should I be calling? Is it unusual to intern in this field?

Bonus Q: If you've been through the program at the New School, what do you make of it? I've been in touch with them, but I'm always on the hunt for other opinions.
posted by GilloD to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bonus bonus Q: Any reading recommendations are well appreciated!
posted by GilloD at 4:20 PM on October 6, 2007

If you want to intern in this, the place to start would be with the planning department in a town or city. I don't know where you would start in New York, but there are plenty of opportunities and also non-profits that are always doing programs with urban policy themes. One I know of is the Municipal Arts Society. They have a good public program and occasionally have courses. You might show up at one of their events with a resume and a kitchen table proposal and see if they can offer anything. Networking is really a key and luckily there are places that on the weekend will make business cards in New York. If you don't have business cards, you are really fucked.

There is also the Project for Public Spaces, which does internships. They are really about Placemaking, and I would read up on that concept before you decide to give them a call.

For experience with neighborhoods (this might be informed by your experience in the Peace Corps, but that is a generalization) you should look into the many Business Improvement Districts in New York. Gotham Gazette has a good listing.

I really recommend that you start hanging around planning meetings of every type and expressing your interest to get involved in some capacity. There are meetings everywhere. The Gazette has a good diary, as does The Architects' Newspaper (my dad and I wrote for it.) There are three good things coming up that you should go to listed there already in the following week. If you need further help, my e-mail is in my profile.
posted by parmanparman at 5:23 PM on October 6, 2007

More reading recommendations:
From Amazon:

The Geography of Nowhere
Home from Nowhere
Both by James Howard Kunstler along the lines of Suburban Nation.

The Image of the City
By Kevin Lynch about wayfinding and how people understand the city.

The City Shaped
The City Assembled
By Spiro Kostof, both nice historical references on city development.

Great Streets
By Allan Jacobs also along those lines.
posted by Jeff Howard at 7:18 PM on October 6, 2007

Parm- Thanks for the heads up! But I'll be in Milwaukee and not New York next year. I guess it's time I updated my profile! I'll check out the links and try to see if there are analogs nearby. Thanks!
posted by GilloD at 7:30 PM on October 6, 2007

Interning in that field is both normal and expected -- you just need to find some contacts to help you get a foot in the door.

Is there any way to find out who in the Milwaukee city government is a RPCV? Maybe a local RPCV group, or calling the local PC recruiter, or some other way? A RPCV would (hopefully) be sympathetic to the specifics of your situation, and be willing to either help you directly or direct you to someone who could.

Oh, on rereading your question I'm not totally sure if you are about to be a PCV, or if you just got back. Either way, I think that the network of returned volunteers is going to be your best bet for finding someone who is interested in helping you out. Call the recruiter, poke around the "returned volunteers" section of the PC website, and contact at groups like this one for the "Milwaukee Peace Corps Association."
posted by Forktine at 9:25 PM on October 6, 2007

I have a degree in urban planning from UW-Milwaukee, so I know the lay of the land.

Local internships are frequently posted here - Wisconsin chapter of the American Planning Association. I also get a gazillion e-mails about jobs and internships from SARUP - you might want to e-mail the urban planning department chair and see if you can get on their list. (The distribution list you want is called mup123 - I don't know how feasible this would be for a non-student.) Maybe bug the public administration or urban studies programs too, but I don't have contacts there.

Check out the Public Policy Forum or WISPIRG. Check out the DCD (Milwaukee) website.
posted by desjardins at 9:26 PM on October 6, 2007

Addendum: Madison also has plenty of returned volunteers, and lots and lots of city and state governmental offices to perhaps intern at; if you are willing to commute back and forth, consider expanding your search to there as well.
posted by Forktine at 9:30 PM on October 6, 2007

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