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A rigged game: the core problem of planning

Grizzly

Member
Messages
2
Points
0
Consider this: in most public planning agencies, managers serve at the will of elected officials and city or county administrators. Planning staffers generally have some protection via civil service or unions. But planning managers are the link between staff and the elected officials/ administrators, and managers edit plans, staff reports and environmental documents.

Does anyone else see the problem with this system? In my long career, which has included jobs in the public and private sectors, and both city and county governments, every single innovative, progressive or just plain intelligent idea has been gutted, deleted, watered down or ridiculed by planning managers before it ever saw the light of public review. Any good work by staff or consultants is completely useless if it can be censored in advance by the powers-that-be.

I firmly believe that this anti-democratic (and just plain dumb) system is the reason behind the bad planning that is evident throughout the United States. The environmental and social costs of bad planning should be evident to all of us, and are the root causes of the frustration and burnout that afflict planning professionals at all levels.

For my entire career, I have been waiting for the APA to get off its too-comfortable butt and address this core problem. How? By fighting for job protections for planning managers. By establishing travelling groups of experienced planners to shake up communities where good managers and staff are threatened by elected officials and administrators who are in the pockets of special interests. By shedding light on corrupt decision-making processes through media education. Only a national organization with major resources could undertake such efforts, but first you have to want to try.

Despite my personal best efforts it hasn't happened, and I'm getting out. No one with a sense of professional responsibility can spend his or her entire working life in such a sick and dysfunctional system.

Watch for me at your next public hearing.
 

troy

Member
Messages
68
Points
4
Actually, I thought that the watering down and diluting of plans so that they would be palatable to the elected officials was the heart of our version of "democracy". Plans have to be made politically palatable or they will be scuttled. This is the nature of representative republics.

On the other hand, having a bunch of planning officials who, once hired, cannot be removed by the elected officials sounds very "undemocratic" to me. If they cannot be removed, they don't have to answer to or concern themselves with the will of the people.

Maybe managers could be granted job security as contract labor. Sign on for a term of three to five years or so with a city, and except for gross negligence, they are protected even when their findings and recommendations are unpopular.

Yes, the system is broke. I don't have a solution right now, but I would like to hear some more of your ideas.

As for me, I am going to be professionally irresponsible and keep my job. I enjoy the work, and I am learning a lot. I only completed my masters a few years ago, just passed the AICP, and I have a family to support. For now, I will continue to work within the "sick and dysfunctional system", because that is what I am paid to do. Perhaps I am too cynical and pragmatic by nature to let such flaws in the system really bother me.
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
30
To the contrary. My first job was with a city-county planning commission, not the elected officials. The managers and staff were not tuned in with the elected officials, the independence you desire. Very little of import got adopted because of this. When inside the system you have a better feel what will fly, what changes to make, how to negotiate, who to talk with. Watered down perhaps, but adopted.

I admire how you have maintained your idealism, I have become increasingly pragmatic. In our democratic system however, most every proposal changes.

Some time ago I was at a housing conference where I presented what my community had done with ECHO (temporary accessory) housing. I was grilled by an APA higher up for not considering a, b, c; all of which were valid professional plannning points. My response was that while all the other presentors talked about what should be done, I got ours adopted. A state senator then said, "I like your style".

You may have a valid case for some managers being meek, just as some planners are out of touch with reality.
 

Grizzly

Member
Messages
2
Points
0
To clarify: I object to the prior censorship of actual viable alternatives that never make it to the public forum. This is due partly to the reluctance of many elected officials to even hear some alternatives, as well as to the reluctance of many planning managers to do the "education" part of their jobs with those same elected officials.

I've got the multiple degrees and the AICP membership and a 20+ year history of successful survival. I am nothing if not pragmatic. I know very well that elected officials have the final say, and accept that. What I cannot accept is the way end results are too often dictated in advance, and creative alternatives are too often suppressed in advance. Aren't we all supposed to put forward the best of our hard-won education and experience to address the planning issues that confront our communities?

How often does that happen?

How well are regional concerns and environmental constraints integrated into local planning decisions?

How often are the sometimes conflicting plans of adjoining jurisdictions effectively coordinated?

How often are Mom-and-apple-pie policies printed in plans and ignored in implementation?

How often is growth REALLY phased with infrastructure?

How often does the media really understand the issues and consequences of planning decisions and provide accurate information to the voters who elect the decision-makers?

When will the APA become a true advocacy organization that addresses these problems?

Its been a long, hard week folks. Have at it!

P.S. I like this site and the quality of discourse even when I don't agree.
 

Jen

Cyburbian
Messages
1,704
Points
24
Where's the Leadership?

Griz - Im with you man.

You are absolutely on target.... I dont want to make your week any longer....so I'll not pass on another story of stupidness in my backyard

Not a planner myself and it has been obvious to me the early obit notices, of many planning pro's.

Im going for position in the nonprofit sector, land conservancy, urban greening improving stormwater practices.

If grownups wont listen We can teach their kids.
 

Richi

Cyburbian
Messages
432
Points
13
Teaching the kids is essential, but we still have to work on the so called adults as well. Teach your neighbors and most of all the local media.
 
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