A Planner’s Post Secret

The end of the school year–or end of anything, really–often brings reflection. Two years ago, when I was a prospective student of DCRP, the second-year student who picked from the airport confided in me during the thirty-minute ride their “planning secret shame”; the student did not personally want to live the life of urban density and was making plans to live on a ranch far, far away from people. Everyone had one, I recalled them saying, though few were brave enough to admit it. Communicating these hopes, fears, insights, and admissions can be liberating and restorative, but it can also be rather scary. Unless it is done anonymously, of course.

In the spirit of the wildly successful PostSecret campaign, I asked the graduate students of DCRP to submit their own planning-related secret. All responses were collected anonymously, and any identifying information was removed.

To start, there are those observations with some levity:

I secretly love strip malls. SO CONVENIENT.

I’ve never read a Jane Jacobs book.

I think capitalism is great.

There was a theme of a fear of perceived incompetence, too:

I used to say the words “endogenous” and “heteroskedastic” in my first-year classes as often as possible to sound smart.

I still sometimes have trouble saying ‘CDBG’ in the right order.

Transportation was a popular area to voice hidden concerns:

I ride the bus, but I never talk to any of the other riders.

I think bike sharing programs are super overrated.

And for additional emphasis:

I think bike share programs are stupid.

Several entries addressed the dissonance between how we as planners are trained and our personal understanding of the world we shape:

As a soon-to-be planner, I support the new meters and time limits on street parking in Durham. As a person, I am filled with rage that my unlimited free parking options are gone.

I think character preservation is one of the strongest forms of exclusionary zoning, and I feel bad when I facilitate it.

I find it odd that this profession attracts so many people who place priority on “feelings,” when so much of this work is about hard numbers.

Sharing these “secrets” is both an exercise in humor and humility; I found myself nodding in agreeance more than I care to admit. In many of these instances, conflict arises from the struggle with personal beliefs and the false premise that planning maxims (e.g. higher density, transit everywhere, etc.) are always the right strategy. However, when we recognize that members of our department and profession are experiencing these same doubts, concerns, and internal dissonance, we create an opportunity to build a stronger community and have fruitful discussions about our profession. How exactly we achieve that level of comfort in disclosure, I am not sure, but I am confident we can move in that direction.

I would help if I could, but I am late for my strip-mall development lecture  focusing on the endogeneity of dying bike share programs. Just thought you should know.

Joseph Seymour is a second-year graduate transportation planning student at UNC DCRP. He’s planning on spending his last months at UNC trying to master the secondary market for meal-card swipes in front of Lenoir Hall.   

Featured image: “PostSecret Starbucks Card” Terry Bain, 2005; Flickr