Whether we like it or not, the role of planners in local government is usually administrative. Planners are foremost responsible for enforcing the local regulations and are only secondarily responsible for strategic plan-making. The degree to which planners are solicited for strategic guidance/leadership by elected officials differs greatly between jurisdictions. Some rely heavily on planners for policy formulation and long-term planning guidance, but these organizations are generally the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, politicians make decisions without seeking the input of planners or go against staff recommendations. This, of course, begs the question: why do politicians ignore the advice/input of planners?
I got to thinking about this issue the other day after a staff recommendation went down in flames when the developer “got political”. It was a site plan for a signature commercial building and staff had requested some improvements to the architecture and site design, reasonable things that would’ve resulted in a better project (and one doesn’t need a planning degree to come to this conclusion). There is a neighborhood plan for the area and the project will get all sorts of tax breaks/incentives. After the call came in from the Mayor’s office I just buried my head in my desk, thinking: Does the political leadership think nothing of the opinions of planning staff? Why do they hire us in the first place? Couldn’t they at least hear our side of the story? What the hell is going on here?
I have been in this field long enough to know that special interests get what they want, particularly developers and politically-connected engineering firms. But this time I feel blatantly disrespected and sold out, and I'm seriously thinking about a career change.