The Jam: “In the City” (In the City, 1977)

I’m back in school this week, headed into my second year working on a master’s degree in urban planning. I have ten credits on top of an internship with a local city planning department, so I have no idea what this place is going to look like in the months coming up. Probably sparser updates than usual.

I love what I’m studying, though. Urban planning is a kind of thankless field to go into—if you’re working in local government, you pretty much have to resign yourself to the fact that your advice will often be ignored; if you’re working for a consulting firm, you have be prepared for the fact that no one you work for will ever be satisfied, and even if they are, the people they answer to most likely won’t be.

You spend two or three years (three, in my case—Wayne State University’s program is longer than most) building up a suite of professional knowledge, and then you take that knowledge into the world and do your best in whatever situation you wind up in, knowing full well that you’ll never have enough power to affect all the change you want. 

I’m okay with this, though. If I can just do a little good in whatever career I have coming up, I’ll be happy.  if each of my classmates does the same, we’ll be on our way to something. Don’t get me wrong—I’d also love to be the guy who thought up some magic bullet that solved the problem of urban sprawl and kept everybody happy while doing it, but I don’t need to be that guy. I think this is why I’m glad I waited until I was in my early 30s to go back to school. In my 20s, I wouldn’t felt more pressure to try and do something big and would’ve missed the importance of the details and the stuff that no one gets a medal for. I would’ve been much more easily taken in by theory than practice, certainly—my radar for dogma wasn’t as finely tuned.

I have no idea where I’ll wind up working or what I’ll be doing, but I do know that I value the health of cities, and that working to make them better places to live is important. I take my classes in the heart of Detroit, so the magnitude of the work that needs to be done in some cases weighs on me all the time.  

I chose this Jam song to go with this post mostly for the fact that I hadn’t listened to it in a while an wanted to hear it again. It has the energy of a new band jumping into the game and getting its hands dirty. When I start this internship on Thursday, that’s what I’ll be doing, too. I’m looking forward to it, work and all.