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Internship profile: City planning department

January  09, 2014

Alan Sabat's work for a city planning department made him think he'd enjoy working for citizens.

Geography major Alan Sabat wore a lot of hats in the City of Moline, Ill., Department of Planning and Development. He shadowed and assisted staff, sat in on conference calls and planning commission meetings; researched state lead requirements, ordinances and fees in other municipalities, and residential and commercial demographic information.

He wrote the narrative summary on an enterprise zone application; completed an application for a landmark award; performed site plan reviews; completed a request for qualifications/proposals form; proofread zoning ordinances; and directed a downtown parking lot occupancy study.

"City planners are geographers who study, analyze, and guide the distribution of man-made and natural features within the city," he said. "Both physical and human geography is at play in an urban environment and the courses I took at Augustana gave me a solid background and appreciation for both sides of the discipline."

The highlight of his work was filling out applications or creating documents that would be sent out with the city's name. "It was more pressure than I'm used to, but the extra focus and careful attention created rewarding products and left me feeling accomplished," he said.

"I think the experience affirmed my interest in planning, but didn't exactly affirm my plan to become a planner," Sabat said. "More than anything else, the internship got me interested in municipal work. I think working for a city, especially the one you call your hometown, has more soul than working for a business of any size.

"What goes on in city hall shapes the city - the space that is shared by citizens who care enough to pay to live there. With so many stakeholders involved, municipal work is blanketed in red tape and politics which many would find frustrating. The fact is, someone has to navigate it all and city workers are the ones with the directions."

He was surprised by the ways a department approaches planning: Beneath the director, there are a number of specialized positions including city planner, land development manager, property management coordinator, housing program manager, and housing grant compliance analyst.

"Backgrounds range from city planning to criminal justice to accounting, which is something I would have never expected to find," he said.