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Thread: A day in the life of a planner... What do planners do day to day?

  1. #1
    May 2011
    Vancouver, BC

    A day in the life of a planner... What do planners do day to day?

    Hello all,

    I'm currently working on an assignment for my undergrad urban planning class that has to do with a 'day in the life of an urban planner'...

    I'm to describe what a regular day for a planner entails. I'm hoping I can use this forum to get a few examples from different planning specializations in order to describe how varied the profession is while highlighting some commonalities along the way.

    So, if anyone is willing to help me out, could you please provide a brief description of what type of planner you are, where you work (ie, private, municipal, which city if you are comfortable disclosing it etc.), what sort of stuff you typically do, what do you find most fulfilling or tedious, what would surprise most people about what you do, what do you like about planning, what don't you like, how do you make a difference etc. The more specific everyone the better, ie., a specific event on a specific day, maybe even what you did today...

    Thanks everybody!

  2. #2
    Aug 2011
    City of Angels
    • transportation planner for a regional transportation planning agency in Southern California
    • mostly work administering funding for municipal transportation projects like road widening; very tedious, anyone can do this
    • also doing some non-motorized (bike) planning, which is a lot more rewarding even though the private firms do the real planning part of it
    • write agenda items

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus
    Jun 2003
    Senior (age & tenure) Planner for combined City & County Dept.
    Jack of All Trades - involved somewhat/somehow with
    Current (subdivisions),
    Long Range (Comp Plan), and
    Special Projects (Urban Trails, CRS, & Census)

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
    Feb 2007
    Playing at a movie theater near you
    Hi there! We have done this before... but with the new site I can't seem to find the previous threads. I'll keep searching to see what we came up with before. It all should still be very relevant.
    No Signature Required

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Mar 1996
    Upstate New York
    Blog entries
    I'm a planner in a suburb of a small city in the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. Think of a smaller, distilled version of Nanaimo.

    Right now, the bulk of my work involves things that are related to a comprehensive plan that the community where I'm employed will be adopting. One major goal of the comprehensive plan is to change the dominant pattern of future development from one of vehicle-oriented single-use areas -- basically, large lot sprawl -- to mixed use traditional neighborhood development, or what some might call "new urbanism". There's many benefits to this form of development; it better enables the market to provide affordable housing and better match housing needs with household types, it promotes walkability and the creation of more vibrant "third places" or neighborhood centers, decreases energy consumption, consumes less land, and is less expensive for the municipality to service.

    Two weeks ago, I created potential development scenarios for one part of the town where development is most likely; "do nothing" scenarios is development took place under existing policies and zoning, and new scenarios for traditional neighborhood development under a transect/form-based zoning code. I visited the area with a group of elected officials, and later created a conceptual map on our GIS (ArcMap) showing streets and transect zones, or what would be new form-based zoning districts.

    We had a meeting with the elected officials who were on the field visit, held a "mini-charrette" where they designed a neighborhood for the area in question, presented our map ,and compared the results.

    Now, I'm working on a traffic study, comparing the traffic that would be generated from the different scenarios. For that, I have to to a further breakdown of the types of housing units that would be built under each scenario, and the distribution of people and number of vehicles owned for those units, the distribution being different depending on whether its a detached house, townhouse, apartment, duplex, bungalow court, and so on. I also have to look at how much retail and office development is likely, how many it will employ, pupil yields for the various types of housing units, and staffing levels at any schools that might be built in the area. Later, I'll give that raw data to a transportation planner at a different agency, who will use a program called TransCAD to make models that show how the different scenarios will affect traffic patterns throughout the area. What we hope to show is that the area can develop under traditional neighborhood development with a larger number of housing units occupying less space per unit, while generating far less traffic per unit, than if it developed under the existing low-density large lot detached/suburban apartment complex zoning.

    There's also staff meetings where we talk about the projects we've been working on the past week. The planning department subscribes to several magazines, and they get passed around the office. We take time to read relevant articles, and then pass on the magazines to others. We may have a webinar or two to watch. We also work late a lot, too; sometimes because of night meetings, sometimes because there's a train of thought that we don't want to interrupt.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
    Dec 2008
    Northern Utah
    I am the City Planner for a smallish suburban community (just under 40,000 people). We are a small department, just an Economic Development professional, myself, business license official, code compliance and a building inspector.

    All planning duties are mine, so I divide my time between what we refer to locally as "current planning" and "long-range planning". Current planning means I'm processing zoning reviews for building permits, I'm writing staff reports for applications for conditional use, etc., reviewing subdivision plats and OH YES, answering questions at the counter and on the phone and email. Planners spend a lot of time answering questions from citizens. Long-range planning right now for me consists of updating our moderate income housing plan and a major update of the city's General Plan (comp plan in other places).

    I love everything I just described about my job, and I love being able to split my time between an office and the field (you can't be a good planner if you never leave the office). The only unpleasant part of my job is probably politics. Nobody and nothing is immune from politics.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  7. #7
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
    Dec 2010
    I'm gettin' there
    As an entry level planner for a typical suburb of 50,000+, I spend A LOT of time answering questions and trying to explain regulations to citizens and developers. That means a decent amount of my time is spent on the phone and working the counter. For the most part this isn't too bad or all that tedious like other jobs I've had in the past, but sometimes you have to deal with irrationally angry brick wall individuals who will just try to go in endless circles, then it's not quite as fun. I also spend a lot of time reviewing submittals for approval, basically checking to make sure they are in line with what was publicly approved, and occasionally holding meetings to review any new development plans (although this has obviously slowed down quite a bit). I've also made myself usefull by helping our GIS person update maps, so I always suggest any new planning students out there at a minimum take some introductory GIS courses, it will most likely come in handy.

    With that and all of the different meetings, visiting sites in the field, and an occasional side project here or there (maybe using SketchUp or Photoshop for something), there is a pretty decent variety of things to do. Sometimes things can get a little stale and I'll feel like I'm just shifting paper from one desk to the next, but all in all it's not so bad. I'll second Ursus and say that getting to get out of the office from time to time.... well it's somewhat understated how valuable that can be. There are jobs out there where you can almost literally be chained to your desk, I would suggest avoiding that
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  8. #8
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
    Apr 1996
    New Hampshire
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  9. #9
    May 2010
    Memphis, TN
    Planning Analyst in joint city county planning agency

    Here is the game plan today.....

    Checking and responding to emails
    Checking twitter feed and reading websites on planning (I get a lot of my planning news from people I am following)
    Working on open cities initative
    Hard coding land use model suitability measures in preparation for a regional land use / scenario planning model I am creating (most of my time is spend on land use modeling lately)

  10. #10
    PD here
    I run the department,do timesheets, order or sign off on supplies, come up with the budget, help the staff, answer questions from the public regarding land use issues, write staff reports, administer grants, come up with long term projects, come up with short and mid term projects, and a bunch of other things I can't come with right now.
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    Consultant, specializing in market research and economic development, although also doing some planning.

    Every day is different depending on the current projects I am working on. Marketing and securing clients is a very big part of my workload, along with administrative functions. About half of my time goes into "planning" functions. Typically writing, followed by number crunching, next design/mapping, lastly field work and meetings make up the remainder.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  12. #12
    Oct 2007
    San Diego, CA
    Urban designer and planner/practice lead, big private firm.

    When not travelling: meetings 3-6 hours a day, 1-2 hours review/comment on/revise drawings, documents, 2-3 hours powerpoints and memos, 1-3 hours on the phone, 1-3 hours scoping, contracts, followup up on proposals under development, project administration-type work. Real work (writing, analysis and design concepts, etc) gets done after hours... quite possibly after a 12 hour day.

  13. #13
    Jul 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    My day job is managing projects from gleam in the eye, through planning, engineering, and building greenways. It's the most specialized planning work I've ever done. The positive of that is I get to see the project conceptualized and completed. Negatives are not being the boss, as I'm accustomed to, and only being able to use about 5% of the body of knowledge that I consider to be urban planning. Scale: region of 1.7 million pop.

    What I do varies hugely from day to day. Typical: staff meeting once a week, meetings with municipalities, many many meetings with the consultants who do the real work for us (we just manage consultants), going to important regional meetings and luncheons to schmooze, a little time for continuing education at local chapter of APA and other venues, many community meetings, lots of passing information around among the 6 professionals in the office, responding to stupid administrative requests (this just means I'm in the workforce and not in control of the administrative requests!), some field planning work and musing, field observations of construction, planning and attending ceremonies important to the locals, aggressively seeking out opportunities for our agency to make a difference by networking. A high volume of e-mail now, many fewer but deeper phone conversations, lunch or coffee dates when something is complex or touchy. Preparing agenda items for our board to consider. Dealing with all the complexities of easement and other real estate acquisition. I get to one major national conference a year, aiming for APA every other year and on the off years, a different national association related to my work each time. We have fairly liberal ability to travel to in-state and regional conferences in addition.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    I work as the Project Coordinator for a non-profit affordable housing developer. No "planner" in my title, but I have a masters in community and regional planning.

    My duties change a lot depending on the projects in the hopper. I also go to a good number of required trainings and workshops that relate to funding applications (that like to change the process every year, so you are required to attend these trainings). I've got one next week and two weeks ago I was in Seattle for a conference. Got some trainings coming up in the new year for construction management of affordable housing as well.

    In general, I am in charge of stewarding various projects along from inception to completion. This includes everything from helping to prepare finance packages for development to being out in the field on construction projects making sure things are getting done properly and helping to solve problems as they arise. Right now I am working on the completion of two multi-family projects with retail on the first floor (63 units 1-3BR units), assembling a construction application for 4 single family homes that will pursue LEED certification (going for the gold, baby) and preconstruction on a 1 acre garden site.

    So, yesterday I spent the whole morning at the apartments with the architect and construction manager going over the close-out procedures and looking at the current state of various project aspects. The afternoon included stuffing envelopes for a bulk fundraising mailing and then slogging through a workforce housing application to the City. Throw in some communications with advisors on the garden project, research on solar powered pedestrian lighting and review of contract proposals from a LEED-H certifier and a HERS and Energy Star Rater and that was my Thursday.

    I know we have done this kind of thing before, but I have to say its very educational to see the breadth of work we all do. Planning is an insanely diverse field and everyone sound slike are doing some pretty interesting and exciting things. We need to hang out more...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  15. #15
    Jul 2011
    Encinitas, CA
    Private sector planner (Sr. Project Manager).

    My days are typically spent working with environmental documentation (CEQA) and project management. I'm unable to describe a "typical day," as it depends on what stage in the process my projects are in. If we're kicking off a new project, or just starting work on a re-submittal, then project management is a good chunk of time - coordinating with subconsultants, updating schedules, making sure all the moving pieces are going to the right parties so that the document can be prepared/revised on time. At other stages of the process my time is spent working on incorporating technical studies or preparing other sections of the document not reliant on technical studies, commenting on technical studies (can't subconsultants READ???), working with the lead agency to resolve isues, etc. My day could be spent working on distribution of documents for public review, preparing responses to comments, preparing findings/resolutions, coordination of printing, review/comment on graphics, preparing initial studies, conducting research needed for the analysis, etc. In between all that, I attend meetings/conference calls or conduct miscellaneous e-mail coordination. I also am responsible for invoicing for my projects. On occasion, I also attend career development events - e.g., legal updates, legislative updates, seminars on emerging issues, etc. I'm also occasionally contracted to do technical studies - land use consistency analysis, community character analyses, visual resources impact analyses, mineral resources impact analyses, etc.

    In addition to CEQA, I also work on entitlement processing (sometimes along side CEQA). Preparing/processing applications; preparing planning documents (specific plans, zoning ordinances, etc.); negotiating with agency staff, etc. This occupies less of my time, however, as I'm largely pigeon-holed these days due to my experience with CEQA (and because CEQA comprises a larger share of our business these days than it once did).

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