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Thread: A disturbing trend: proposal to eliminate planning jobs

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    A disturbing trend: proposal to eliminate planning jobs

    This trend started in some of the suburban communities last year though I'm kind of shocked that a major city would think about making the same move.From today's Chicago Sun Times:


    Burke: Build on Daley consolidation idea, outsource city planner jobs
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    October 15, 2010

    BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

    Mayor Daley wants to merge the departments of Community Development and Zoning to put economic development and neighborhood planning under one roof, but the consolidation doesn't go far enough for the City Council's most powerful alderman.

    Arguing that development in Chicago has ground to a halt, Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) said it's time to outsource the jobs of scores of city planners who are sitting around with virtually nothing to do.

    Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) said it's time to outsource the jobs of city planners.


    "You have to look at how many applications there are for permits, for zoning, for planned unit developments. There's nothing going on. There's three cranes in the whole city. We have a whole bureaucracy there that is just kept in place with nothing to do," Burke said Thursday.

    Daley wants to shift zoning inspectors to the Department of Buildings, merge six city departments into three and eliminate 277 jobs, but lay off only 42 employees.

    Burke's proposal has far greater cost-saving potential. It would also remove redundant layers of middle-management to at least begin to confront the city's structural deficit.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Growing up in Chicagoland and practicing planning there for several years, this comes as no big surprise, actually. The City of Chicago, CMAP (especially after the NIPC-CATS consolidation), RTA, and others have laid off scores of planners over the past 3-4 years and will continue its downward spiral. Most suburban residential growth plummeted at the end of 2006 with additional commercial, non-residential, and institutional following in 2007-2008. Development in ChicagoLAND will probably not start again (at any large level) for at least another 3-4 years, and that is a conservative estimate.

    I don't know how long it would take for the City of Chicago, maybe shorter or maybe longer. The current mess with the huge budget gap will easily take 5-10 years to fix. I still read Crains Chicago Business and vacancy rates, rents, etc. fluctuate all the time. Chicago is also an international city, so the same rules don't necessarily apply. Even if Rahm or his successor(s) are successful at significantly paying off their debt, you will still have development come in regardless of how many staff are on payroll.

    However, I wouldn't call it outsourcing. Either he means consultants or eliminating vacant jobs.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

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  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I am curious how prevalent this outsourcing is in cities around the country. I know that in my city, much of the public space design work and what we call Sector Development Plans are outsourced to private companies. City Planners do a lot of enforcement and assist in these other activities by providing support to private contractors, but that is about it. It seems much of the more interesting planning work is in the private realm here.

    Is this the case in other cities, too?
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I am a consultant, but I don't consider myself an outsourced planner.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  5. #5
    The article doesn't seem to be differentiating between long range planning and permit processing. Plenty of cities and counties have successfully outsourced permit processing while retaining in-house long range planning capability.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by der Bebauungsplan View post
    This trend started in some of the suburban communities last year though I'm kind of shocked that a major city would think about making the same move.
    I suspect if you polled the participants here, the vast majority would not be shocked.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I am curious how prevalent this outsourcing is in cities around the country. I know that in my city, much of the public space design work and what we call Sector Development Plans are outsourced to private companies. City Planners do a lot of enforcement and assist in these other activities by providing support to private contractors, but that is about it. It seems much of the more interesting planning work is in the private realm here.
    A caveat that every community is different in the level of planning they do "in house." I have worked in communities that did downtown plans, land use plans, and some zoning code rewrites in-house.

    But, it seems to me the job of the municipal planner is largely to set the stage and "manage" consultants who do the "creative" work such as area plans. The role of the municipal consultant is often to set priorities, manage plan preparation, shepherd plans thru public process and council, and implement them. Hence skills as a generalist are needed. You get to know your community and get things implemented. Depending on expertise, you may do some plans in-house, such as nieghborhood plans, etc.

    The consulting firm often does the actual area planning, revitalization planning, zoning code rewrties, etc., and is meant to bring mutli-disciplinary expertise and a broader view.

    I am curious, however, as I seem to sense a small trend towards having neighborhood planners, urban designers, bike & ped planners, etc. on city staff. I sense those who have more skills aking to a private sector consultant will be more in demand, at least in forward looking cities. Is the role of the municipal consultant shifting so that in-house planning is more common, not just among cash-strapped smaller towns?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Is the role of the municipal consultant shifting so that in-house planning is more common, not just among cash-strapped smaller towns?

    In busier times, municipalities of all sorts contracted work out because they were too busy to do it themselvers, consultants can offer more specialized services/project experience than found in the public sector, AND because they are cheaper than hiring a full time planner in-house.

    Permit processing is way down in many communities, leading to less revenue but also more time for public sector planners to work on projects otherwise awarded to consultants. There are still RFPs however they are few and far between, leading to increase competition among firms, not only locally but regionally and sometimes nationally, depending on the scope of the proposed project.

    Everyone is hurting right now, public and private. Planners who specialize in one or two areas of planning might have a difficult time finding work, especially if their specialization is not in demand right now or they are not considered an authoritative go-to person in a certain speciality. I have discovered that even go-to persons are luckier if they have a regional or national reputation, since they are called as subs on many different teams, including competiting teams for the same bid.

    Diversifying your skill sets, even if they are not necessarily planning-related, will show that you are staying busy and billing time rather waiting for the next big thing to come along.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    I suspect if you polled the participants here, the vast majority would not be shocked.
    Manatee County, FLA pretty much got rid of their entire planning staff.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

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