Many of the really valuable lessons I learned throughout my planning career were gained on the job, rather than from tertiary education. The theory and breadth of thinking learned at university are the foundation blocks for good planning, but applying them in practice is where we either master the art of planning or flounder. Planning is very much an art—part theory, part relationship management, part technical expertise and part something we come to know instinctively through experience.
This book records early experiences of planning practice of many senior and well-regarded planning colleagues, in the hope that planning students and new graduates might learn from their successes and mistakes.
The result is a treasure trove of acquired wisdom about becoming a confident, insightful and resilient planner—a collection of real-life situations and reflections from some of Australia’s most respected practitioners. Their stories are both ordinary and extraordinary, involving power, corruption, intimidation and scandal, as well as the mundane. Some stories are alarming, some are amusing and some are puzzling, but all are instructive.
Here are just two of the stories about the journey to becoming a confident planner:
Story from a graduate planner in private consultancy:
I was tasked with writing a Statement of Environmental Effects to support a development application for a 30-storey building in the middle of a golf course, miles from any other development. While I didn’t think the development was appropriate, I didn’t realise I could question it, as my employer had accepted the job. It was only on a subsequent project I realised I had the right to say, ‘I can’t support that development’, and it would simply be handed on to someone who could. Thirty years later, I still cringe when I go past that development that I had felt uneasy about from the start.
Story from a senior planner in local government:
Council was about to consider a significant and highly controversial development application, which, as the assessing officer, I had recommended for approval. The council chamber was at capacity with those who opposed the development as well as representatives from all the major TV networks who were there to report on the meeting. I was seated immediately behind the councillors and was preparing for my presentation.
At the last minute, before the discussion commenced, a councillor who I knew strongly opposed the development turned to me and said, ‘Provided you don’t argue with me there won’t be any problems’. I had never experienced that level of political intervention before and was taken aback. I had thoroughly reviewed the proposal against all relevant provisions, considered competing interests and views and felt confident with my recommendation for approval and the conditions to be imposed.
Having also done a lot of research and preparation for the meeting, including preparing responses to likely questions, I felt confident that I could provide a strong rationale for the council to support the recommendation.
Each story in the book also includes the lesson learned and resulting advice for young planners.
Looking back over the years I can’t say exactly when I began to feel confident in my ability to handle most situations, but individual experiences are etched in my mind as milestones to progress. It is the same for most planners; they achieved mastery of the art of planning through the cumulation of a series of incremental steps.
When you face your own challenges in the workplace,it can be helpful to reflect on how other professionals handled similar situations. The 100 stories in this book include wisdom and advice about many aspects of planning practice.
Nothing will replace the learning and insight that comes from your personal experience, but I hope this book will inform, challenge and excite you about what lies ahead.