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Thread: Hiring practices of regional planning agencies

  1. #1
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Hiring practices of regional planning agencies

    I've always sensed that regional planning agencies tend to employ a lot of activist-type, more ideologically-driven planners, often with very a specific focus in a particular aspect of planning such as housing advocacy, watershed protection, environmental justice, smart growth, etc. Committment to a specialization/ pet issue seems to be highly valued, and often the staff have academic backgrounds that are more peripheral to planning in nature - i.e. sociology, antropology, life sciences, etc. There doesn't seem to be positions in these agencies for more traditional, generalist-type planners with experience in local government dealing with physical planning- zoning, subdivisions, ordinances/resolutions, and the like. Often there aren't staff in these agencies with any local government or private sector experience, which I find curious. Does anyone have any familiarity with the hiring practices of regional planning agencies? Are my characterizations off-base?

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    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    You need to remember that regional planning agencies were born out of State level requirements. Many of them uphold state level programs and distribute grants (such as CDBGs). Some of the responsibilities of regional planning agencies responsibilities that aren't directly planning related are; aging services such as hospital and nursing home certification and monitoring, clean water research, you mentioned the housing/community development which often takes on a sociological flavor than a planning flavor, and legislative services for municipalities.

    I do think there are places for generalist planners, especially in some private practices and at many county level positions. Larger regional planning agencies that actually participate in planning such as those around DC, Chicago, and San Fransisco, will have generalist planners but the smaller communities just don't have the budget to hire a catch all and have specific roles to fill, often 1 person departments.

  3. #3
    Going along with Tide's comments, most regional planning agencies have specific charters or regulatory power that focuses what they do to a certain realm of planning. I'd say most of these regional agencies are clustered around two broad areas: 1) transportation (rail authorities, metropolitan transit authorities, state highway departments, etc.) and 2) the environment (watershed management, wildlife management, etc.).

    Local planning departments encounter a broader range of planning issues, because they have greater jurisdictional purview of development and land use, but over a smaller area. In plannig school we discussed the "home rule" concept, which is how most planning power has historically stayed at the local level. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but often those exceptions are in the form of those regional agencies above (e.g. Robert Moses and his use of the "Authority" to override local government and private property uses).

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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    In addition to the above regional planners in more rural areas often do city planning work for the smaller towns, like a circuit rider.

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    In addition to the above regional planners in more rural areas often do city planning work for the smaller towns, like a circuit rider.
    There's not much cooperation at all between the local governments and regional planners here in the northeast. Kind of a mutual distrust it seems, for whatever reason.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    "There doesn't seem to be positions in these agencies for more traditional, generalist-type planners with experience in local government dealing with physical planning- zoning, subdivisions, ordinances/resolutions, and the like. "

    In my organization at least, this is a little off base. Even our specialized environmental and transportation planner spend a lot of doing doing "general planning" like writing comp. plans and corridor plans. However we do tend to do a lot of stuff that a planner at the Village of XYZ probably never do.

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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    There's not much cooperation at all between the local governments and regional planners here in the northeast. Kind of a mutual distrust it seems, for whatever reason.
    I have noticed this to be the case in my area as well. There seems to be a major lack of progress due to their lack of cooperation. It would be great to see the local government showing more interest in working with planners, I think that would be best for their communities.

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by scorge View post
    It would be great to see the local government showing more interest in working with planners, I think that would be best for their communities.
    That's fair, but I think there are also many instances where the regional planning agencies are out of touch with the needs/desires of the local communities. For example, I used to intern in an RPA that produced a regional land use plan that essentially considered any new single family housing or big-box development sprawl. As such, it wasn't taken seriously by the suburban communities that were facing growth pressures.

    As far as the lack of cooperation issue, I'm glad you agree. And I tend to think this is more of a problem than the APA would like to admit. Too often it seems like the blue-shirts have this "planning can do no wrong" attitude, and are always trying to put a positive spin on every planning initiative, even failed ones. We have to be honest about what's working and what's not working in this profession if we're ever going to improve it (and improve public perceptions of it). Deluding ourselves into thinking planning can do no wrong is counterproductive IMO.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    There's not much cooperation at all between the local governments and regional planners here in the northeast. Kind of a mutual distrust it seems, for whatever reason.
    I wouldn't necessarily call it cooperation in that these small towns are required to do planning but don't necessarily have the resources to do it on their own. So these towns have the option of either going to the COG or hiring a consultant. The COG tends to be the cheaper of the two options.

    As for getting the local governments to cooperate with each other in any fashion, they're largely ineffective though.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    The roles of regional planning agencies across the country seem to vary a lot. In states like NY, CT, and MA, the RPAs have very limited authority. Many of them issue reports, operate loan programs, assist rural communities that don't have planning staff, and serve as clearinghouses for Census data, but they have no real power to effect change.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I worked for about a year as an entry level planner in a MA RPA. I don't think I ever met the planning staff for the city we were located in despite being right across the street. None of the people there seemed to be anti-sprawl extremists although I have known that type.

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