SATISFACTIONS AND DISCONTENTS
Planning is both anticipatory and reactive. At times planning will be devoted to anticipating and developing responses to problems that have not yet presented themselves. At other times planning will be devoted to responding to problems that are here and demand solutions. In either case, planning is about trying to serve that elusive and controversial—but very important—item known as "the public interest." It can be a profoundly satisfying field when one feels that one has succeeded in making a contribution to the public good. Because much of planning is concerned with the physical environment, the planner can often have the satisfaction of seeing the results of his or her efforts on the ground.
However, the field can also be frustrating, as planners are basically advisors. Sometimes they are heeded and sometimes they are not. And sometimes the planner's brainchild gets more than a little battered during that long trip from drawing-board to reality. In general, it is not a good field for someone with a short time horizon or very low frustration tolerance. It is also not a good field for someone who cannot tolerate ambiguity, since many issues that appear black or white at a distance have the dismaying quality of becoming gray as one gets close to them. The field can also present the thoughtful practitioner with ethical ambiguities. For example, both the APA and AICP have professional codes of ethics that enjoin the planner both to serve the public interest and also to render loyal and diligent service to his or her client. Many a planner has wrestled with the question of what to do when, in his or her view, the public interest and client loyalty are at odds with each other.
For someone considering a career in planning, salary is a consideration. Each year the APA does an e-mail survey of its members.1 For 2014, the median annual salary was $76,000 and the median respondent was 44 years old and had 15 years of planning experience. About 21 percent earned over $100,000. Salaries were highest for planners employed by law firms, development firms, and the federal government. The lowest salaries were for planners employed by smaller nonmetropolitan-area municipalities. For planners with five or fewer years of experience the median salary was about $45,000, suggesting that entry-level salaries were in the $40,000 range.
About 70 percent of all respondents were employed by public agencies and about 23 percent were self-employed or employed by consultants.