Choosing the Planning Profession
Planning Is About Collaboration
Planning is a highly collaborative field, and planners spend much of their time working with others.
A planner's day may start with a staff meeting to discuss the management of a planning project. Other meetings might include a team meeting with engineers, architects, health professionals, and landscape architects to review the specifics of a plan. Yet other meetings might take place with developers as part of a pre-application process.
The planner's role is to provide the big picture and to relate the project to various goals and guidelines, such as ordinances or design review, in order to achieve a final project that meets the needs of the community. This might include appropriate design, environmental considerations, support for the local economy, or equitable access for all members of the community.
Planners are also responsible for knowing state and federal legislation and court rulings that relate to the project, plans, or guidelines. For example, planners must know how the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution relates to sign controls or how street designs relate to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Once again, planners are responsible for providing this technical knowledge to the projects. In complex projects, a developer will likely consult his or her own legal experts.
Research and Data Analysis
Some part of the planner's day involves working on his or her own. Planners may conduct research and gather data from a variety of sources, including economic development or market research studies, from census reports, or from environmental studies. The planner tests assumptions about the meaning and importance of the data by using a variety of technologies.
One common tool used in planning is Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which links data and electronic mapping. Other tools may include scenario building visualization tools, electronic polling systems, financial analysis spreadsheets, and demographic databases.
Planners prepare reports on their findings and analysis. Often, they will provide alternatives for policy makers to consider. Writing and synthesis skills are necessary for this part of the job.
Reports and Presentations
Planners also do presentations. Presentations are made by mid-level staff, department heads, or the planning director. Planners frequently provide presentations to the city council, business groups, neighborhood groups, and professionals. These presentations place the specific project or issue in the context of the community's plans and guidelines for development and change.
Today, planners are proficient in using PowerPoint and other visual technologies to present information and ideas in planning. Presentation skills are very important for private sector planners who have to present projects at various stages to clients, officials, or the public.
Project management is another important skill for planners, especially for those working in the private sector. Planners manage a variety of projects from neighborhood planning programs to the design and development of a new bike path to much larger scale projects. They also oversee grant programs, such as historic preservation or community development block grants.
Planners also engage in more lengthy processes of public participation. In these projects, planners call upon their skills as facilitators working with a broad spectrum of community members. These processes have become very creative and planners often use exercises, charrettes, visualization techniques, and group work in the development of the plan.
The Planning Commission
A planner's day often extends into the evening as he or she provides staff support to the monthly planning commission meeting. Public sector planners provide reports to the commission and provide support to the public meeting. Private sector planners present projects to the commission.
It is not uncommon for a planning attorney to present proposals to the planning commission or, on occasion, to provide legal counsel to the planning commission.
Other evening meetings may include meetings of neighborhood groups or boards, such as a historic preservation review board.