I rattled off this list the other day after a frustrating day of dealing with repeat bad behavior from another agency I regularly work, or attempt, to work with.
I'm almost 3 years into my first job out of grad school, so I'm wondering how much of what I'm experiencing is endemic to Nashville, TN vs. fill-in-the-blank govt. agency city planning job. I'm especially curious to hear compare/contrast between my impression/experience of Nashville and that of those in the Denver and Charlotte metro areas. So, without further ado, here's my Top 20 Questions so far.
Questions to Keep in Mind for Next Job/Place to Live Interview
1. How much transparency is there in local government, development process? ( My experience here has been lots of pettiness, arbitrary decisions, overall smoke and mirrors)
2. How much predictability and professionalism is there amongst departments, development process? (I'm a PLANNER working in a planning dept., caught between the gears of a hip, New Urbanist/Sustainability-focused Planning Dept. and old-school Public Works Dept. that's keen to keep a low profile. Overall, planning has a younger, more progressive staff (plus leadership, which promotes questioning and innovation) vs. public works (leadership rules by fear, discourages innnovation, staff is generally older and coasting to retirement, wanting as little to do with other departments or the Public as possible)
3. Are there impact fees, APFO (adequte public facilities ordinances), concurrency? How serious is growth management? (Metro Nashville has no impact fees, and exactions are otherwise done piece-meal with a resulting lack of effectiveness)
4. How much, or how often, is professional planning considered and/or followed in growth/development decisions? (the 40-member City Council makes the final call on zoning decisions, plus required street connections, the latter of which really grinds on me; you can re-zone anything, but rebuilding a coherent street grid is a real challenge after-the-fact)
5. How much local leadership exists? Mayor? Council? Is council unwieldy or workable? (see above, 40-member council)
6. How open are citizens to change?
7. How important is sustainability here? Economic, Social, Environmental?
8. How progressive is state legislature? Governor?
9. How progressive is the DOT?
10. Based on my experience in Nashville/Middle Tennessee, how does one PLAN in a leadership and funding vacuum? Especially when there’s overall citizen resistance to:
c. Infrastructure improvements, i.e. basic street connectivity
11. How firmly is your agency able to make REQUIREMENTS/REGULATIONS vs. RECOMMENDATIONS?
12. Does your community have Planned Unit Developments (PUDs)? They are the bane of modern, sustainable development in Nashville-Davidson County.
13. Does your community regularly require and build NEW streets in addition to simply widening existing ones? That’s a real problem when subdivision after subdivision simply tacks on a turn-lane here or there, but otherwise you’ve essentially got 2-lane, farm-to-market roads serving urban levels, speeds of traffic, plus total lack of pedestrian, bicycle, transit infrastructure. – THIS speaks to cowardice on the part of elected officials, plus ineptitude or apathy from reviewing agencies like planning, public works, stormwater, codes, etc.?
14. How active is the private sector in planning, overall civic life? Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), public-private partnerships?
15. How savvy are citizens with urban design, urban planning, sustainable development concepts? Do they appreciate and understand the idea that rural/natural and urban are ultimately compatible? i.e. If you’re in a wall-to-wall subdivision, that’s NOT a rural environment.
i.e. “You’re going to connect RS 7.5 to RS 10?!? Can we get some kind of buffer?" 7,500 sq. ft. single family vs. 10,000 sq. ft. single family; what's the difference?
16. How heavily is your community affected by social decline?
b. Codes violations
c. Petty crime
d. High rental vs. owner rates?
17. Does every e-mail require a 40-person CC list to ensure good communication between departments, agencies, etc.?
Ex. MPO-MPW-Planning Dept. on road projects
18. Is there a clear chain of command for projects? Is there any semblance of consistency regarding agency contacts, etc.?
Ex. Codes Administrator refuses to put things in writing, MPW is leary of transparency
19. Is there overall sense of ACCOUNTABILITY from various departments? Professionalism vs. pettiness? Predictability and objectivity vs. pandering or old-boy cronyism?
20. Is TECHNOLOGY standardized, unified among agencies? Especially for development review, records keeping?
Ex. Metro-Nashville has:
Register of Deeds
Scattershot paper records
That's 7 sources and counting.
Any thoughts are much appreciated, and yes, I realize no place is perfect, but I'm trying to get a relative sense of much worse or better my work setting could be.