Culture Online


What degree could I take if I like and am good at History, Geography and Math?

Thank you for the question.

Frank Hebbert, son of Michael Hebbert, with students

13 September 2022

A town planning degree offers excellent opportunities to pursue interests in history, geography and maths. Our environment is a historical product and much of the day to day work of planners has to do with understanding past legacies and balancing them against the claims of present and future. My own first degree was in history and all my academic research has involved applying a historical time-frame to the topic , whether it's building heights, urban railways or agricultural land protection.

My second degree was in geography and that led me directly into a planning career. If geography is the science of spatial variation, urban and regional planning represents its most direct field of application. Each map of proposed actions and policies - for example in the Mayor's newly approved London Plan, or the 33 local plans of the London Boroughs - represents a brazen attempt to shape geography. And anyone who lives in the East End of London and looks out on Canary Wharf, as I have done over the past forty years, knows how transformative this shaping process can be.

Thirdly, the relevance of mathematics to planning. Let me give you the example of my son Frank who went to America to study planning at MIT, specialising in what was called 'plan-tech' which meant taking some advanced statistical modules at Harvard. Any planning intervention in the modern city - such as the building of London's Elizabeth Line - involves elaborate simulation and modelling. Increasingly data are sourced in real time from the cloud rather than derived from previous surveys or censuses. Frank's planning career has taken him into the development of apps for bike-share systems first in New York and then across the USA : in 2022 he is developing the software for a new bike-share system in Mexico City. It's an exciting way to use his mathematical skills. 

By the way, Frank's career also illustrates another important point about planning degrees, that they lead to a great variety of professional roles in the private and voluntary sectors as well as the traditional route into employment as a town planning officer in a local authority. If you visits planning schools, be sure to ask for information about the career paths of recent graduates. I suspect the answer will come as a surprise. 

(Pictured above: Frank Hebbert, son of Michael Hebbert, with students at work in a design studio)