Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tales of a City Planner


City Planners tend to be the Jack or Jill of all trades and masters of none them. I know a lot of professions say this but I think this holds especially true for city planners. We have to know a little about architecture, landscape architecture, civil engineering, historical preservation, sociology and cultural history. Knowing all these different fields of study often puts us in contact with a wide range of professionals, community groups, liaison groups, activists and semi-government institutions. Now getting all these different entities that sometimes have conflicting interests to cooperate for a common purpose can be difficult. But do you know who often presents the most difficulties in cooperation…your own government.

That’s right, this tale of a city planner will deal with the cooperation (or lack thereof) of the local government. One of the most challenging issues to deal with is when we have complete unison from the community and all it’s stakeholders to move forward on a particular project and one of your local government agencies refuses to budge or even listen to your concerns. Why would one government agency just totally ignore another government agency from the same government, you ask? Let me back up here a second.

There is a popular belief out there that government agencies group together to conspire grand plans of its own desires. Nooo. Local government agencies are run like autonomous agencies that fight each other for funding from the golden faucet like newborn pups fighting to get milk. In fact you may be saddened to know that a lot of times government agencies have no idea what the other agency is doing or if they are replicating the same work. Agencies work a lot like families. There are some family members that you are really cool with. Then there are family members you avoid and when they ask you to do something, “you’ll get back to them.”

But you really can’t explain to the public that the reason their request got denied is because another agency doesn’t agree with your position or just flat out ignored you without making government look incompetent. Because if you do, they will look at you like you are an idiot….”what do you mean this government agency wouldn’t allow you to do it…you are government!” *Sighs* If only it were that simple.

In defense of other agencies, Planners are usually the only agency who consistently coming up with new ways on how to do other people’s jobs. For example, to employ New Urbanist principles, a public works agency would to have make changes ranging from minor to radical on how they regulate their traffic policies and safety. This could possibly require increased planning for individual projects and the elimination of boilerplate comments for that agency. If you work for public works you most likely feel that your current process for regulating traffic is fine and why change your process for the wacky whims of a planner to make communities walk better.

And you know, we get it. We wouldn’t want some other agency telling us how we should do our jobs. All we ask is for a little cooperation. The job of planner is not typical, it is wide ranging. We can not only just focus on traffic or just open space or just land use. We have to focus on the whole picture…which means we may aggravate more then a few agencies. Although some of them are cool, you know who you are, “
you’re cool.”

So how can we make other agencies cooperate more to ultimately achieve our wishes or the community’s wishes? Well there is no silver bullet but I believe that as planners we probably have to take the step of being more accessible and transparent to…our own government. And by that I mean we have to show how recommendations are tied into a bigger picture and show that there is community support. Whether this is done by a Facebook page or a blog, we as planners have to do a better job in selling the message. The reason for that is that our message is complicated. We can not “boilerplate” our comments. The solution for one failing solution may worsen the problem for another failing intersection.

To add on to planners’ complicated message, we are the clearing house for messy government problems and random citizen inquiry. We may not be able to fix the problem but we probably know somebody who can fix the problem…with a little cooperation. Well, I hoped you enjoyed this tale of a city planner and please feel free to let me know if you have had any similar experiences and how you have dealt with cooperation in your profession. And as always,

Thanks for reading!

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