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Planning practice vs theory


Hey all, I am an MPA candidate writing a paper on practice vs theory in Planning and was wondering if some planners can take the time to answer a few questions for me:

1.What type of planning is more effective – incremental or comprehensive?
2. What Subject Matter is more important in your field, strategic planning or project management?
3. What problems do you consider the most difficult?
4. What types of solutions do you propose?
5. How does Public Planning education add value to the practice of public planning?

Thanks in advance!


Staff member
I would suggest that theory and practice are ever at each other's throats, but neither can ever get the upper hand.

Comprehensive planning is essential to showing the destination, incremental planning essential to showing how far we've come toward the destination, so I think it is a tie.

Lots of planners (myself included) do project management, when we would much prefer to do project supervision. The difference being the manager has to deal with Juanita and her excessive and long smoke breaks on the job, where the supervisor has to explain the change order that's going to drive the project cost up exponentially. Personally, I find I'm a better supervisor than a manager. I do truly dislike having to do both management and supervision.

Working with politicians is plainly the most difficult, in my 30+ years experience.

Praying every four years that the locals will elect enlightened politicos seems to be the only solution I've found.

We need to do a much better job of teaching the liberal arts in elementary and high school in this country, but until we figure out that "teaching to the test" isn't working (and is patently unfair to our kids), I don't hold out a lot of hope. That said, I think music and art, especially, have priority over urbanism/planning in returning to the regular curriculum in American schools.


I'm lucky in that I get to work for a place that is starting to see the fruits of comprehensive planning it did 30 years ago. But none of it would be for anything if those plans had just collected dust on the shelves. What I've also inherited is 30 years of a steady grind, amendment by amendment, permit by permit, one piece of public art and one sidewalk at a time, and now it's starting to finally come together.

All of that is what's most intimidation about my job: picking up that mantle and making sure I'm driving the comprehensive planning that will matter long after I'm gone while fulfilling to goals of what we have right now.

I'd much rather be a project supervisor than a manager, but I spend far more time on the latter.

I think planning could be worked into civics, which also really needs to make a comeback. It's actually pretty interesting stuff and in my experience even young kids can get a lot of it. I sure spend a lot of time talking adults through the basics when they want to understand that a development contemplated for their backyard for 30 years "suddenly" starts construction.