Often the experiences we learn most from are those where things didn’t go as we expected. Nothing gives one insight quite so much as being a victim of misplaced trust or naivety, or having misjudged a challenging situation, or having realised that accepting other viewpoints would have given a better outcome.
Planners with insight:
respect other viewpoints.
from a graduate planner in local government
I recall serving a customer at the counter where a provision in the planning scheme was not making a lot of sense to either of us. My position as a graduate was to defend the scheme at all costs, so I continued to try to explain the nonsensical clause. My customer, one of the big developers in town, got more and more aggravated by my approach. As he raised his voice, I offered to ask the opinion of a senior planner. My biggest lesson came when a more experienced planner took one look at the provision and said simply, ‘That’s a mistake in the planning scheme.’ At that moment I realised that the scheme was not the bible, nor was it a blunt instrument with which to beat customers over the head. I learned a valuable lesson about professional integrity, honest communication, plan administration and scheme flexibility.
My advice from this experience is that administration of a planning scheme is an exercise in flexibility and judgement. The most important thing is to understand the outcome being sought and if that outcome is desirable, how it may be facilitated. Your professional integrity and standing comes from how you deal with people and issues not from the planning instruments.
My first job after university was with state government in another country. In that role, we attended every planning appeal to provide impartial advice to the Town Planning Appeals Board. This particular site was one that I drove past every day on the way to work. When I wrote my report prior to giving evidence, I didn’t do a site inspection, believing I knew the site and the locality very well.
At the appeal, I stood up and expounded my view with great conviction. About halfway through my presentation, the judge looked over his glasses and asked me, ‘… what about the school across the road?’ The existence of a school across the road from the site completely invalidated my argument. I stood speechless, realising I’d made an utter fool of myself in front of colleagues, solicitors and barristers.
My advice from this experience is always, but always do a site inspection, even if you think you know the site. The context of the planning matter in question will greatly influence what you see and the way you perceive the site.
I can’t exactly recall when this happened, perhaps I was a second-year graduate, but I remember the moment very clearly. I was working for a developer, project managing one of their development applications through a particular council. A number of issues were raised throughout the process and we proposed a number of alternative solutions, such as reduced car parking rates and variances to setbacks.
We met with council officers to discuss the application. My client, my manager and the relevant officers were in attendance—it was very much an us-vs-them atmosphere. The council officers were adamant that regardless of the supporting reports that helped to justify the reductions, they would not accept the alternatives, as the proposal didn’t comply with the code. I said, ‘Well if that’s the case, what’s the point of having a performance solution?’ I was met with complete silence. They didn’t have a response. It was the first time that it clicked for me that as planners we always need to focus on outcomes. This was certainly not something I learned at university through my course.
My advice from this experience is to focus on the outcome. Ask yourself, ‘Is this the type of development I will be proud to tell my kids I was involved with? Or to let my grandmother live in?’
This particular experience goes back to a time that I was assessing a development application for a proposed multilevel apartment building in an area where medium- and high-rise residential complexes were gradually replacing detached dwellings. I recall reviewing the objections council received following public notification and being amazed that the majority were from people living in units nearby. They were objecting on the grounds that the new building would block their views and seemed to be oblivious to the impact of the buildings they lived in on nearby residents, especially those of the adjacent houses.
My advice from this experience is to be prepared to be amused and amazed by community input! People need to have their say but make up your own mind based on objective reasoning. It’s somewhat embarrassing to consider that at the time I thought I knew it all. I had a degree and was continuing to study. It was empowering and rewarding to have a job and some degree of responsibility. Looking back now, I realise how much I still had to learn and experience. I think that as I gained experience and learned more I realised how much I didn’t know and will probably never know about town planning.
Winner of the 2017 PIA National Award for Planning Excellence in Cutting Edge Research and Teaching category, the book contains advice and reflections of many of Australia’s most experienced planners on the joys and perils of being a planner.
“Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice”:
“This assemblage of on-the-job learning experiences from many practising planners offers an invaluable resource of grounded, thoughtful and ultimately empowering insights for all young – and even not-so-young – planners”
Rob Freestone Professor of Planning UNSW Australia
In presenting the Cutting Edge Research and Teaching Award to “Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice” the Judges said:
“…an invaluable resource which will help to give new planners perspective and reassurance in confronting challenges…”
“…content and approach highly original and innovative..”
“…addresses early career anxieties and challenges in a very accessible, thoughtful and constructive way…”
Judging Panel 2016 PIA (Qld) Awards for Planning Excellence
Category - Cutting Edge Research and Teaching
The judges were unanimous in their decision to present the Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Planning category to “Town Planning for Everyone.” Available online, this initiative provides a continuous link to both the planning community and the general public. The judges felt this web based service facilitates public interaction which is a priority for planning particularly during a time of significant growth.
Judging Panel, Queensland Division 2011 Awards for Excellence in Planning
“Town Planning for Everyone” went on to win the PIA National 2012 Award for Excellence in Planning (Promotion of Planning)
“Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice” is a terrific collection of reflections from planners across the country and from all walks, ages and disciplines within planning. I hope many students and individuals who may be seeking a career in planning access these reflections.
Leo Jensen FPIA CPP, Principal – Leo Jensen Consulting, Vice-President, PIA (Qld) Committee 2016.
I recommend Robin King Cullen’s latest book “Mastering the Art of Planning. This book is a must read for planning students and graduates who are just embarking on their planning career.
Robin uses 100 stories recounted by a number of planning practitioners who talked about the highs and lows throughout their careers. Everything is covered from developing confidence in your own ability to give advice, to dealing with ethical issues.
Program Leader Regional and Urban Planning University of the Sunshine Coast
‘Mastering the Art of Planning – 100 Stories from Urban Planning Practice’ provides valuable insights on planning practice in Australia and is an essential reading for students embarking on the planning profession.’
Bhishna Bajracharya Associate Professor of Urban Planning Bond University
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