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Thread: Making the switch from Planning Director to Parks/Rec Director: Is this possible???

  1. #1
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    Making the switch from Planning Director to Parks/Rec Director: Is this possible???

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

    I started my Municipal career in parks and recreation, where I spent a combined 7 years working as a park leader then code enforcement/park ranger before making the move into Planning and Community Development. My Planning experience spans over 11 years and I currently manage a Planning Department in a fast paced, growing City on the west coast.

    There is an upcoming opening in a very nice city that's close to home for a Parks and Recreation Director. The City is looking at planning for new parks, setting up a trail system, and evaluating security at parks and recreation facilities. Given my background, I'd feel pretty comfortable tackling the aforementioned as well as already having a handle on supervision, managing contracts, budgeting, etc.

    Is it too far fetched to attempt a change like this given I've been in Planning for so long? It just seems like a good opportunity to not only grow professionally, but to also reduce the stress level slightly by stepping away from the high paced and political development realm.

    Thank you in advance for your wisdom.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan B View post
    The City is looking at planning for new parks, setting up a trail system, and evaluating security at parks and recreation facilities. Given my background, I'd feel pretty comfortable tackling the aforementioned as well as already having a handle on supervision, managing contracts, budgeting, etc.

    Is it too far fetched to attempt a change like this given I've been in Planning for so long? It just seems like a good opportunity to not only grow professionally, but to also reduce the stress level slightly by stepping away from the high paced and political development realm.

    Thank you in advance for your wisdom.
    Parks and Recreation Departments can be equally political, they sometimes can be different monsters

    In college I interned for 2 summers with a Planning Department within a Park District (which was a separate local government apart from the City, sometimes they are the same) as well as another position with a Planning Department for a Forest Preserve. The first planning director at my first internship had a planning degree and led a staff of about 6 landscape architects and 1 planner. The second planning director at the first internship and the planning director at the second internship both had landscape architecture degrees, having moved up from project manager positions in their department.

    What is the role of the department in planning new parks? Is this open space master planning and park site review (which can be done by both LA's and planners?) or is this project management/construction observation work for the actual building of parks (which is usually done by public-sector LA's). The same would apply for trails, security, etc.

    If you are doing both types of work, you will probably have both planners and LAs within the department. The LA's in the Park District I worked at did more contract administration, construction observation, and administrative work, whereas the LAs in the Forest Preserve job did all of that plus some design. However, it is not uncommon for smaller Park staffs in growing communities to have the planning director be able to juggle but planning and LA tasks (which is why some planning director positions may require a landscape architecture degree).

    Hope this helps-
    Last edited by nrschmid; 19 May 2008 at 5:23 PM.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I agree, parks and planning can be a very frustrating position, although can be very beneficial considering the all the environmental shifting that seems to be going on right now.

    Maybe do a little research and talk to some LA's in the public sector, might help you gain a better understanding...

  4. #4
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I know two people who have made that switch. It sounds like you have the right background.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Transition from planning director to parks and rec director - possible?

    Just wondering if any of you in the Planning field have either considered or have seen a Planning Manager/Director make the jump to Parks and Rec management?

    Seems that one would be dealing with many of the same issues (budget, staffing, park master plans, contracts, etc.). Also, Planning/Development always seems to be the political fireball as where Parks and Rec seems "a bit" less heated from that standpoint.

    Thanks for your feedback!

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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    No reason why you could not do it. So long as you do not mind running the summer day camp for 500 five year olds when the program director calls in sick.

    Parks and Rec is very heated; and very vocal. Dog park? Skateboard area? or Frisbee golf? And you only have funds for one.

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Don't forget they are the first department to get their budget cut when revenues fall. Running a parks program is a different animal. You have to manage many more employees than a planning director would, including many part time employees and after school workers. Also these employees are not professionals like a planning staff. There are similarities but there are also differences. Do you have any experience working in a parks and rec department?
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

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    Excellent points by both of you. I can see where the controversy may lie.

    I began my career working as a recreation leader during college before going the Planning route.

    As for the first to suffer cuts during a budget crunch, as far as California goes, I've seen Planning/Community Development taking the biggest hits this time around as construction and land entitlement has slowed to a crawl given the economy.

    Any other feedback is appreciated.............

  9. #9
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Brocktoon View post
    Don't forget they are the first department to get their budget cut when revenues fall. Running a parks program is a different animal. You have to manage many more employees than a planning director would, including many part time employees and after school workers. Also these employees are not professionals like a planning staff. There are similarities but there are also differences. Do you have any experience working in a parks and rec department?
    I would say this is the key difference - personnel management is different in a parks & rec setting. Most planning departments are entirely white collar professional, whereas P&R has a mixture of blue with it. The budgeting is more intense compared to planning, with you having to worry more about things like fuel consumption, major equipment, etc. Also, you'll probably get more familiar with on-the-job injuries and risk management.

    Also, things are still heated, but its a different kind of flame. You get lots of single-issue folks involved with parks & rec stuff (see above reference to battles between dog parks, skate parks, special needs parks, passive rec. vs. active rec., etc.).

    I'd also recommend brushing up on your grant research & grant writing skills. Also, you should check to see if P&R is also responsible for facilities maintenance/construction, etc.

    I've known two people to make that change and both excelled.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Moderator note:
    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    It has, so the two threads have been merged.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I've been on both sides basic Parks Director and Community Development/Planning Director. Parks can become very political as well, but in my experiences tend to take a back seat to other development related issues. My favorite aspect of parks planning is the ability to develop a project in a relative short amount of time compared to that in planning where the impact of an ordinance change might take years before it is seen on the ground.

    I believe there is a bit of overlap in the two positions, like many positions. In smaller cities you will be expected to wear multiple hats and understand different aspects of each position. Good managerial skills will probably relate well in larger cities with more staff. Your ability to delegate and rely on existing staff will help in that scenario. I've worked in one of the ten largest cities in the US where the department head's education was not related to the department he managed. However, he worked well with people and relied on his staff to provide him information. He then made decisions accordingly. I thought he was an excellent manager even though he had limited direct experience within the field.

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