Secrets about becoming insightful

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:

  • are discerning
  • respect other viewpoints.
  • Story 35

    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.

  • Story 37

    from a graduate planner in state government

    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 Id 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.

  • Story 40

    from a graduate planner in private consultancy

    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 thats the case, whats 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?’

  • Story 53

    from a planning assistant in local government

    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.

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