Sunlit Water

March 29, 2012


Filed under: Internship,Job Search,Personal,Planning — by teofilo @ 9:55 pm

Today marks the first six months I’ve been in this position. Since it’s a one-year internship, that also means I’ve got six months left until it ends. It’s been a great experience so far, and I’d ideally like to be hired on as an actual employee when my internship is up. It looks like there’s some chance of that happening, but it’s still up in the air, and if it’s going to happen the process needs to start pretty soon. I’m taking off the next week to go to Philadelphia and New Jersey, and hopefully I should know when I get back whether staying on is a possibility.

If it isn’t, and really even if it is, I’m going to have to start furiously applying to jobs again. I’ve been monitoring job posting sites for a while now, and I’ve begun sending out a few applications, but especially for federal jobs the lead time is such that to have something lined up in six months I have to start applying in earnest now. There have been a few interesting jobs I’ve seen, and hopefully more will start to be posted in the next few weeks.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time in Alaska so far, and it should only get better when summer comes and I’ll start going out to parks. Even if I only get the one year here, it will definitely be a memorable one.


August 23, 2011

Big News

Filed under: Job Search,Personal,Planning,Transportation — by teofilo @ 2:13 pm

So obviously I didn’t end up chronicling my cross-country road trip either here or on any other blog.  I did make it to Albuquerque, though, and saw a lot of stuff along the way.  Being in Albuquerque again is interesting in some ways, and I’m glad I have the ability to stay here with my mom for a while, but it’s not really a place I would want to stay permanently.

Luckily, however, I don’t have to.  Soon after I arrived here, I finally heard back from an SCA internship I had applied to back at the beginning of July.  They interviewed me and then offered me the position, and I took it.  It’s with the Alaska Regional Office of the National Park Service in Anchorage, and specifically with their planning division, so it’s actually a planning position (a rare thing among SCA internships).  This is exactly the kind of work I want to do, and this position will give me some great experience to use as a stepping-stone to a permanent position afterward.  The position itself is for a year, starting in mid-September.  It pays a stipend and provides housing and health insurance, so it’s really ideal for my purposes.  I’m very excited about this opportunity.

I’ll be in Albuquerque until September 13, when I leave to drive up to Anchorage.  I figured I should have a car up there, especially since I do in fact have a car and would have to figure out what to do with it if I didn’t bring it.  I hear Anchorage is the sort of city where it’s really best to have a car, and it would also mean I could take all my stuff with me instead of having to ship it, which I’m sure would be extremely expensive.  The easiest (though probably not the cheapest) way to go is on the ferry, so my plan is to drive from Albuquerque to Bellingham, Washington (where we happen to have some good family friends I could stay with), then take the ferry from Bellingham to Haines and drive up through Canada from Haines to Anchorage.  There is a ferry that goes across the Gulf of Alaska almost to Anchorage, but it’s all booked up for vehicles through at least the end of September, so only going as far as Haines and then driving seems like the best way to go.  It should be quite the adventure.

So anyway, things are going great for me right now.

April 25, 2011

Not The Best Of Times For This

Filed under: Job Search,Personal,Planning — by teofilo @ 12:23 am

I graduate in less than a month, so I’ve been applying for jobs like crazy.  The problem, of course, is that with the economy the way it is there are very few jobs being advertised, especially in planning, which is a field that very closely follows the real estate market, which hasn’t come close to recovering from its epic collapse a couple years ago.  This isn’t actually that big a deal for me specifically, since I don’t have much interest in doing the sort of local government land-use planning that is particularly closely tied to real estate and that still forms the heart of the profession.  The kinds of planning I would like to do, mostly environmental compliance and so forth, don’t seem to be doing all that well either, however, and there I’ve been running into the additional complication that a lot of the jobs, especially in the private sector, that do get advertised seem to really want a science or engineering background rather than a planning one.  And why not?  Planning is very much a generalist field; anyone can do these jobs, so if someone with a technical background wants to, that’s so much the better for the employer.  Pretty tough for me, though.  I’ve been applying particularly to federal jobs, but those are few and far between and I hear that a lot of agencies have been increasingly contracting this stuff out to the private sector, which does indeed seem to be where most of the jobs are.

So, it seems networking is really the way to go, since so few jobs are being advertised.  This is unfortunate for me, since I hate networking and am pretty bad at it, but I’ve been doing my best.  I got some business cards printed up and have been giving them out to anyone who seems like a plausible connection.  I’m sure I’ll find something eventually, but I’ve increasingly resigned myself to just having to hang around here for a few weeks after I graduate to focus on the job search.  Which wouldn’t really be that bad, actually; my lease on this apartment runs through the end of July, and I have enough money saved up to live on until then, so it might not be too bad to just be able to focus on the job thing without having to worry about school.  Especially now, at the end of the semester, school is keeping me very busy, so I can’t focus as much on finding a job as I would like to anyway.

So anyway, that’s what’s going on with me, in case anyone was wondering.

January 17, 2011

From Tel Aviv To Jerusalem

Filed under: Culture,Land,Personal,Planning,Politics — by teofilo @ 7:37 pm

One of the most often repeated tropes about Israel is the contrast between its two major cities.  Tel Aviv is portrayed as the embodying the more cosmopolitan, secular, modern side of Israeli society, while Jerusalem embodies the parochial, religious, traditional side.  There is a great deal of truth to this characterization, and the two cities definitely feel very different, but the contrast is really more complicated than people often imply.  For one thing, as one of the Israelis who accompanied our group was very vocal in insisting, both cities are more diverse and complicated internally than the caricature has it.  There are plenty of synagogues and religious people in Tel Aviv, and there are plenty of secular people in Jerusalem.

There is nevertheless a real difference in feel between the two, and one thing that I found somewhat surprising in visiting them was how much I preferred Jerusalem.  I’m a pretty secular, modern guy, so I had kind of thought Tel Aviv would be more my kind of place than Jerusalem, but that was definitely not the case.  It’s not that I disliked Tel Aviv; it’s a very pleasant city, but it’s also a very mundane city.  Tel Aviv feels like a very typical European city, and this is no accident.  It was deliberately founded 101 years ago by a group of Zionists who reasoned that Jews had basically always lived in cities founded by other people and who wanted to see what a city founded by Jews would look like.  So they founded one, and it turns out a Jewish city looks and feels like a medium-sized European city along the Mediterranean coast.  Pleasant, but not particularly distinctive.  Indeed, Tel Aviv feels like it could be anywhere, and that’s sort of the point.  The Zionists who started Tel Aviv were those who saw Zionism as a secular nationalist ideology, and while Palestine was the obvious place for their desired Jewish state full of Jewish cities, it was by no means necessary to them that it be there.  The important thing was just that a Jewish state exist somewhere.  When the British offered Herzl Uganda instead of Palestine these are the people who wanted to take it.  Herzl himself was one of them, of course.  Because of my lack of adherence to Zionism, I don’t have any particular love for Tel Aviv just because it’s a Jewish city, and there’s nothing else about it that would make it particularly appeal to me more than any other city.

Jerusalem, on the other hand, is amazing.  Whereas Tel Aviv could be anywhere, Jerusalem couldn’t be anywhere else and it could never be mistaken for any other city.  It’s unique in a way that Tel Aviv very much isn’t.  Today it’s identified more with the religious portion of Israeli society, the ideological descendants of the religious Zionists who refused to accept Uganda and would settle for nothing but Palestine.  Within the context of Israel, then, Jerusalem tends to stand for a religious rather than a secular outlook, and its position right on the border of the West Bank makes it an ideological flash point for more general issues of security, identity, and the peace process as well.

In a very fundamental way, however, Jerusalem is not a Jewish city the way Tel Aviv is.  It’s governed and inhabited primarily by Jews today, of course, and at various times in the past it has also been primarily Jewish, but for most of its long history it has been governed and inhabited by non-Jews, and that history is very visible in the physical structure of the city as well as in the symbolism and importance it has for all sorts of people, Jewish and otherwise.  Whereas Tel Aviv was founded 101 years ago as an experiment in creating a Jewish city as part of a Jewish nation-state, Jerusalem is thousands of years old, and no one knows who originally founded it, when, or why.  It has passed through many hands over the millennia of its existence, some of them Jewish but most of them not.  The way I see it, Jerusalem may currently be part of the State of Israel, but fundamentally it transcends that status and belongs to no one group.  It is a Jewish city in some ways, but in other ways it is a Christian city and in still other ways it is a Muslim city.  Overall I think it simultaneously belongs to no one and everyone.  It is an international city, perhaps the only one in the world.  It’s also just an amazing place to be and to explore, in a way that I can’t really articulate properly.  I’m not generally inclined to agree with the idea that it’s impossible to understand a place without seeing it personally, but in the case of Jerusalem I think that may be true.

In this context, while I think the most practical path to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would involve dividing Jerusalem and letting each side use its portion as its capital, I think the idea that sometimes gets floated of having Jerusalem be part of neither state but instead be an international city controlled by the UN or some other international organization is not nearly as unrealistic as it sounds.  Indeed, in many ways I think that would be the most appropriate status for Jerusalem given its history and importance.  Not that it’s likely to happen, of course, but at this point a divided Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution doesn’t look all that likely in the foreseeable future either.

December 1, 2010

Mandarinism And Cheating

Filed under: Academia,Culture,Planning — by teofilo @ 1:04 am

Tim Burke has some interesting thoughts on a cheating scandal that casts into stark relief the gatekeeping function of so much professional education these days.  I think he’s definitely right that churning vast numbers of students through low-value-added degree programs that provide little more than a credential that serves as a ticket to a white-collar job practically invites cheating, and that it’s probably a bad way for these professions to be selecting their members.  His proposed solution is to improve the education in these programs so that their graduates actually come out of them knowing something.  I wonder if it might be better, as long as we’re talking about wholesale restructuring of the higher education system, to just get rid of these programs entirely, at least in the universities.  If the professional organizations want to institute training requirements as barriers to entry, maybe they can set them up and run them themselves.  That might have the additional benefit of making what professional education there is more practical, as it would probably be taught mainly by practitioners rather than by academics with little connection to professional practice.

I think in a lot of cases, though, it would just mean lower barriers to entry to a lot of professions.  Some of the more ridiculous pseudo-professions could do with a lot less of this credentialing.  Planning is a prime example; I’m almost through a masters-level program at a well-regarded planning school, and while I’ve enjoyed the program and learned a lot, I don’t feel like I’m going to be much more prepared to do actual work in a planning job when I graduate than I was when I entered.  The degree is basically a credential, and while that’s fine with me personally I do wonder if there’s any real reason for programs like this to exist at all.  Planning is the sort of field where it’s very close to literally true that anyone could do the job with or without any formal education, and efforts to “professionalize” the field over the past several decades have had only limited success.  It’s still quite possible to get a lot of planning jobs without any formal education in planning, although it’s more difficult than it used to be.  While it’s obviously in my personal interest to keep the credentialing system in place, I don’t see much reason for anyone outside the field to support that.

November 12, 2010

We’ve Got Ours

Filed under: Culture,Planning,Politics — by teofilo @ 10:04 pm

I generally agree with Matthew Yglesias on immigration issues, and this post is overall a good statement of some ideas he’s been talking about for a long time, but there’s one thing he says that I think is just factually wrong:

America’s gotten into the odd habit of thinking of ourselves as a country that’s burdened by the desire of other people to move here. But nobody thinks that way about a town or a neighborhood. Being a desirable place to live is an asset that we should take advantage of.

I agree with the normative point here, and I think the analogy to the local level is apt, but lots of people feel that their towns and neighborhoods are burdened by the desire of other people to live there, especially if those people are different from the current population.  You see this perhaps most obviously here in New Jersey with the perennial mess that is exclusionary zoning and attempts by suburban municipalities to avoid affordable housing mandates, but it manifests itself in all kinds of situations.  The bottom line is that one thing that many people like about the places where they live is that not many other people live there.  How many is too many varies substantially with the situation, of course, and concerns about gentrification of urban neighborhoods are usually starting from a much higher “acceptable” baseline of density than concerns about “overdevelopment” in affluent suburbs.  Nevetheless, the underlying dynamic is the same: the people who are already living in a place like things the way they are, and they don’t want that to change, while people elsewhere see how nice the place is and want to get experience it for themselves, which inevitably means changing the place at least a little.

It’s actually a little surprising to see Yglesias missing this point, since it’s very closely related to one of his other hobbyhorses, which is overly stringent barriers to entry to various occupations promoted by incumbent operators.  Basically, and this is a point I should elaborate on at greater length some time, everyone loves regulation when it protects their stuff and hates it when it protects someone else’s stuff that they want.  This dynamic operates in many different context and on many different scales, from decrying the gentrification of U Street to building a fence along the Mexican border.

April 12, 2010

I Haz A Job!

Filed under: Job Search,Personal,Planning — by teofilo @ 4:31 pm

So yeah, I managed to get a job for the summer helping out on a research project at my school.  It’s pretty much exactly the type of job I’ve been looking for, and it’s a very interesting project that fits particularly well with my background and interests, so I’m very happy about it.

March 22, 2010

Houses To Farms

Filed under: Culture,Land,Planning — by teofilo @ 3:24 pm

This is something that has come up briefly here before in a more hypothetical context, but now it looks likely to become very real.  Detroit, America’s favorite example of urban failure, is making serious plans to tear down many of its nearly abandoned neighborhoods and reconcentrate its population in a smaller area.  The resulting open space can be used for parklands or agriculture.  Industrial use is also a theoretical possibility, but as the article notes, there is unlikely to be much demand from industry.  This “shrinking cities” idea comes originally from the former East Germany, and it has been gaining popularity in the past few years in some parts of the Midwest.  Youngstown, which the article mentions, has been the most prominent example so far.  Detroit, though, is much bigger and better-known, so it’ll be very interesting to see how this experiment goes.

January 23, 2010

The Real Stuff

Filed under: Academia,Personal,Planning — by teofilo @ 10:46 pm

Last week was the first week of classes of the semester.  I’m very happy with the classes I’m taking.  The ones I took last semester were mostly basic background stuff, and those that weren’t were pretty theoretical.  I enjoyed those classes, and I feel like I got the opportunity to think about a lot of important issues, but I don’t feel like I learned a whole lot of practical things that I hadn’t known before.  This semester, though, all of my classes are mainly about teaching practical, useful stuff, though in different ways.  I’m particularly excited about finally taking a GIS class, since that’s a skill I really think I should have, both for its practical value and because it’s the sort of thing that I think would be really interesting to me.  I’m also taking some classes on the planning process, which will finally give me a real sense, I hope, of how this all actually works in the real world and where I can see myself in it.  It’s been a bit awkward so far to be getting a graduate degree in planning without having a sense of what I actually want to do with that degree.  Hopefully I’ll have a much better idea after this semester.  All these classes will involve a ton of work, of course, so I’ll be very busy, but I think it’ll be worth it.

November 16, 2009

Walkable Urbanism: Not Perfect

Filed under: Personal,Planning — by teofilo @ 6:48 pm

Like any self-respecting planning student, I am generally in favor of dense, walkable development, and I’m quite happy to be living in a town where I can easily walk to pretty much anything I need.  There definitely are disadvantages to this level of density, though, including a certain lack of privacy and an occasional feeling of being surrounded by people.  The latter may not be an issue for most people, but it gets to me from time to time.

Lately I’ve been dealing with a situation (hopefully now resolved) that really brings this home.  It seems that my downstairs neighbor, who has to get up early to go to work, can hear my rolling chair through her ceiling and it’s been keeping her up so late that she’s gotten way too little sleep in the month or so since she moved in.  I stay up really late, and I had no idea this was bothering her, so I’ve inadvertently been causing her problems for weeks now.  She finally told us about this a few days ago, and today we worked out what was causing the noise (my desk chair) and figured out a solution (I’ll switch to a different, non-rolling chair at night).

I think we’ve got the whole thing settled, but it’s a reminder that there are real costs to density and reasons that a lot of people like auto-oriented suburbs.  I still prefer the density, of course, but it’s a welcome reminder that urbanist evangelism needs to take these things into account.

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