Just like any profession, there are the clockwatchers and there are clockmakers in urban planning. You can guess which ones are preferred, though I figure the clockwatchers would avoid this article like the plague. This article is intended for planners and aspiring professionals who want to up their game. Below is a list of tips that has worked for me...
1. Know things
Yes, you know things, but you may not know things that you don’t know you don’t know, ya know? You should have a fundamental understanding of urban affairs, sociology, geography, GIS/CAD, politics, economics and more, but you may still not know the things that matter in the planning grind. Do you know project scheduling, real estate processes, construction management, clouded titles, lending practices? The people you come in contact as a planner will, and the quicker you understand where they’re coming from, the better you can serve their needs. Any warm body planner can regurgitate the code or best practices, the best urban planners put it all together in a tight neat little bow and are the complete package. Here’s how you do this: join this site and observe the conversations/concerns from people who are pretty much your customers/applicants/clients and/or attend local business luncheons/after hour events.
2. Learn from other planners
The planners in your office will be great resources. But they may not always be the most experienced. The best planners know things before they need to know them, and therefore are able to give quality advice when called upon. You do this by learning how other planners approach things, what they consider, and where potential landmines are and mistakes get made. Here’s how you do this: frequent this forum board or connect with your local APA Chapter/Section.
3. Get certified
Sure, you can be a good planner and not be certified. That being said, it makes me ask why. Why aren’t you certified (if you’re eligible)? Is it because you aren’t all-in on planning? Strike one. Is it because you don’t think you can pass the exam with ALL THE RESOURCES out there? Strike two. Is it because [lamesauce excuse is lamesauce]? Strike three. Make no mistake my planning Peeps, the AICP is sexy. Earn it, live it, love it. You will be a better planner for just learning the material! Here’s how: prep for the AICP with Planning Peeps for free and/or pay a little bit and have Dr. Jennifer Cowley teach ya something about something!
4. Get creative!
When you’re assigned a task, think about your audience. Then over deliver! Get on that next level! Present the information in the medium that it deserves. Default tables and charts are for the boomers, partner! Think about it for a bit, then ask yourself, how can I do this in a way that is going to blow everyone away. When you operate on that level and that headspace, your portfolio, influence, skill set, and career will thank you for it. Here’s how you do it: use Canva for infographics (it’s mostly free), play around in Microsoft word for quick image manipulation/styles, photoshop, SketchUp, or revisit old templates and ask yourself, ‘would I get excited by this?’
Yes, planning is serious. The problems are wicked, and we are just humans. Do you want to know the best way to produce bad planning? Not being your best self which makes you unable produce the best results. If you’re stressed, your quality suffers. If you can’t get your head right, you can’t think logically through relatively simple problems, let alone the highly complex ones that us planners face. It’s science. Decompress, treat yo’ self, and be the best you for what you do! Here’s how: enjoy a good laugh (tv, movies, memes, whatever), start a hobby (drone, Pokémon Go, EDM mixing, gardening), volunteer your time!
Is this an exhaustive list? No. Do you need to agree with it? You probably won’t. But it works. It’s a start. It is time to get your planning game up my friend because your community, region, and planet depends on it!
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