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Five-Year Life Plan

November 14, 2008

I am currenly an environmental engineer working in a private consulting firm in Knoxville, TN. My area of specialization is in wastewater and drinking water treatment and conveyance systems. It’s interesting work, but not work about which I am particularly passionate. There is something, however, about which I have discovered I am incredibly passionate: placemaking, livable cities, public spaces, urban design, city planning…whatever you choose to call it, I am passionate about it. Why am I so passionate about this subject? I have lived in areas where the quality of the public spaces were superb, and I have lived in places where the quality of those places lacked. I know the difference I feel when I live in a great town with great public spaces, and I have a deep desire to create those places for others.

I have been giving much thought recently about my five-year life plan. Where do I see myself in five years? Well, if I look out five years, I almost certainly don’t want to still be doing what I’m doing now. It just doesn’t do it for me. Sure, it’s interesting, even incredibly important, but it is not for me.

I’ve been thinking seriously about going back to school and obtaining a Master’s of Urban Planning (MUP) degree. I did a little searching online and found the agency that accredits planning degree programs. It’s called The Association of Collegiate Schools of Plannning (ACSP). There are schools all across the country that have been accredited by this organization. Accreditation by this organization ensures qualified faculty and comprehensive and relavent curriculum, among other things. I, being an engineer, analyzed the locations of these schools with respect to the livability of the cities in which they are located. If I’m going to move to another city and enter an urban planning program, you better believe I am going to go to a school that is in a livable city. I obtained the Walkscore of the areas where the schools are located, and I cross referenced them to cities where the Zipcar service operates. Walkability and the availability of Zipcars are two very important items to me. The reason I consider them to be important is because the more walkable a city is, the more willing I will be to rid myself of my car and travel by foot or bike. However, I want to be able to get out of town every now and then; thus, the need for the Zipcar service. After obtaining the Walkscore of each city, I ranked them from highest to lowest. Below are the top five universities in walkable cities (Walkscore in parenthesis) with Zipcar service:

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (100)
  2. New York University (100)
  3. Hunter College, CUNY (98)
  4. University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (98)
  5. Portland State University (97)

A score above 90 indicates a “walker’s paradise,” according to All five of these universities are in walker’s paradises. Being an engineer and have such a high regard for MIT, I would probably die if I got accepted to MIT. MIT is the best engineering school in the country, hands down, but it also has one heck of a planning program. Of course, it will all come down to finances. Can I afford MIT? I don’t know. I will have to do some number crunching, but any of the five on the list would be excellent choices.

Now, back to my five-year plan. If I intend to go back to school, I could be complete with the program by end of 2011 if I went full time.  Then, I would apply to work for the Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization based in Manhattan dedicated to livable cities. If not, there, then any number of other organizations that are dedicated to the same goal. That’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it.

  1. November 29, 2008 9:39 pm

    Good plan, Chris!

    Of course, I’d love to see you move to Portland (such a great city, and relatively close to Seattle where I’ll be!), but I wonder if MIT funds its students in that program? When Dan got accepted to MIT for his Ph.D., they offered him full funding. It was only slightly more than GT pays him, and with the increased cost of living, it worked out to less than he makes at GT, really, BUT the tuition was waived and he could have lived off the money if he lived carefully. Of course, that was a doctoral program, so it may be different, but I wonder what’s out there. With you being an engineer who already has your P.E. AND being passionate about this area AND being old enough to have thought through what you want, I think you’ll make an excellent candidate for any school.

  2. December 5, 2008 10:14 pm

    I still can’t figure out how San Francisco beats NYC for walk-ability. I suppose if you factor in Staten Island and parts of Queens, it would drag the number down a bit. Manhattan is great for walking throughout the borough.

  3. chriseaker permalink*
    December 5, 2008 11:00 pm

    I guess since the area is smaller for San Francisco and more of that area is walkable than the vast area that is New York City proper. Just a guess. Agreed, the Manhattan borough is probably the most walkable place in this country.

  4. December 9, 2008 1:30 pm

    i just came upon your blog. i like it.

    and i like the audacity of your plan. go for it!

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