Mitch Silver famously challenged planners to fall in love with planning again! Planning is often times a thankless job especially if you are working in the public sector. Most days we feel like regulators more than anything else. One of the reasons we feel this is way is because in many respects, planners have become the “dreamers” rather than the “doers” or “implementers”. It is as if our only involvement in the development of cities is to create guidance documents but serve in a reactionary role to the will of the market and the private developers.
City governments are formed with the intent to collect tax revenue that is in turn used to provide basic services for the population. Sure, people can use septic tanks, dig water wells and bury their own trash, but the idea is that pooling resources for these services and others improves their quality and uniformity. It is not hard to know which cities are highly focused in simply services and not much else. They lack a plan, they are reactive, and they don’t do great things. Cities staff planners to do great things. Don’t forget that your role as a city planner is to be a unique blend of a service agent and a change agent. Here are a number of inspirational thoughts about city planners that will hopefully help you fall in love with planning again (even if all you do right now is approve sign permits):
1. What you do now has a lasting impact on the community in which you work. Your work might not be sexy, but if you don’t do it, it likely won’t get done correctly.
2. People depend on you to maintain their livelihoods. Property values are fluid and real estate investments are the largest that anyone will ever make. Your enforcement of the zoning ordinance provides them peace of mind. Though they may not always appreciate it, they know that you have their backs!
3. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your city won’t be Portland in a day, nor should it be. But incremental improvements in the built environment rooted in equity will result in the advancement of the community and the well-being of its residents. Being part of a community-wide planning process for even the smallest of cities is so instrumental in how that city will function long after you’re gone. This is what you do. This is your role. Don’t forget that YOU will plan, champion, and facilitate the great things!
4. Small, calculated steps can lead to large, meaningful change. You might not be working on climate action plan in your community, or planning for the transit-oriented developments that your planning education told you that you would, but you are expected to recommend tweaks and changes to your zoning ordinance from time to time. Use these opportunities to help tackle the issues of our day without the fanfare of grandiose and often times polarizing plans. Make it happen if you can!
5. Remember that you have allies and be sure to use them. Collaborate with city staff that share similar visions and priorities. Champion and support innovative ideas, it is pretty much what you were hired to do.
6. If your city wanted another engineer, they would have hired one (no offense engineers). Your role is to operate in the gray areas and find win-win solutions to complex problems. Don’t forget that you were hired because of your ability to see the whole picture. Use this to help build a better community!
7. Your heart is always in the right place. Planners have no self-interest in their work. Remember that if everyone cared as much as you do about the biggest issues of our time, there would be a whole lot more planners. As a planner, you will be knocked for the big ideas that you don't share rather than the ones that you do (unless of course you lack tact...).
urban planning blog