• Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, the built environment, planning adjacent topics, and anything else that comes to mind. No ads, no spam, and it's free. It's easy to join!

Planning? What's that?

Pardon me, but I found this site as I was searching for the Trees Atlanta web site. I think that maybe you planners need some good P.R.-- get the word out about just how important these impervious surface ratios, zoning regulations, development codes, etc. are. Not in zoning-speak, of course, but in terms that people can understand--drainage, flood control, stream protection, etc.

What you do is every bit as important as what doctors, lawyers, or anyone else does. In some ways, even more important, since we cannot always control what happens to our living space. Our living environment impacts on all aspects of our lives, and unfortunately many people do not have a good understanding of what makes this environment more livable. Everyone should know what an urban planner does.

- a physician


Shouldn't that be the job, or better yet, the main purpose of the APA - to market this profession to the uninformed?


It is certainly an important one. To give them some credit, APA does encourage planners to get active in local schools. Much more might be done.

Suburb Repairman

moderator in moderation
Staff member
I try my best to "dumb down" the ideas behind the regulations when I'm talking with the general public coming into City Hall. It's kinda hard to explain without boring someone to tears.

I've had some success in working with schools. Last fall I talked in a HS art & design class about neighborhood design and talked about some of the regulations cities have for development. The teacher was showing that art doesn't have to be confined to the palette. She then had the students design their "dream neighborhood" after I gave a little powerpoint presentation on some different types of neighborhoods. I don't know how difficult it would be to address planning with middle school or elementary school students though.

Big Easy King

- Another person realizing that planning is crucial to our environment's vitality...very important!

- What we do as planners...priceless!


I always qoute this:
Earlier the Nobody had heard of planners and the Architects were just getting recognised.
Now the Architects have atleast started getting paid and people are getting to know that there are academic courses in Planning as a technical field.

India has a great planning history.Historical and Traditional planning is still quoted as one of the best and environmentally sound.
The britishers brought the modern planning techniques and principles.
Patrick Geddes
Le Corbu
and many other foreigners and Indians stalwarts did their best.
I studied in a fifty year Old planning institute
But still I ahve to explaing what I do.
I divide the groups into two.
One group of people are fully aware of the importance of the field and the existence of planners in society( definitely they have had friends or family into that field)
The other group doesnt know anything at all.

Since I teach planning toplanning students and also am a speaker on wide ranging subjects i try to emphasise the role of a planner more than the planner him/herself.
Some interesting terms i use for a planner are:
'City Doctor'
'City Surgeon'

But slowly in my country i feel that the term Urban Planner is being understood more and more.
I think that since the field is not that glamourous( as much as its cousin architecture) very few planners are known.
Also since architecture is more closely associated with arts( comparatively) and planning is more serious and at times boring) the well knoiwn architects are almost as well known as painters, film actors and politicians.

In fact this thread is about an issue on which I speak and discuss and deliberate extensively.
You know, I am laying the groundwork for a business and I am wrestling with how to communicate in an effective and efficient manner about what I "do". And this was also an issue that was touched on at GIS school -- that most folks don't really know what GIS is and it can be very hard to explain. I do not think you really need to "dumb down" the explanation. But I think planners probably get lost in the details of their day-to-day work and it can be difficult to pull back from that and try to give a brief sketch of an overview. It can be hard to separate out the micromanagement issues that take up so much of one's time so that you can focus on giving a macro view to an outsider, for whom the details are meaningless.

It reminds me of the anecdote or "morality tale" of two bricklayers getting asked what they are doing. One replies "I am laying bricks". The other replies "I am building a cathedral". I think it is all too easy to, metaphorically, get caught up in trying to tell someone how you mix the mortar and the techniques involved in bricklaying and the different kinds of bricks there are and why you might choose one brick over another... and forget to mention what you are building. When most people ask what you "do" as a planner, they want the answer that equates to "I am buildng a cathedral" not an in depth course in bricklaying. If they were that interested, they would probably be members of the profession.

I am really glad Dan reposted this because I think Cyburbia is a fabulous place for planners to hash out what might be a good, fairly succinct, definition of "what do we do?" in laymen's terms -- something which would promote real communication with people who do not have a degree in it and don't want one. They just want a sentence or two that will give them some idea of what you do and what your work is all about. I mean, when a surgeon gets asked what they do, they don't generally start droning on about cutting people open, sewing them back together and so on. 8-!


I face this a lot too.
Whenever I speak on GIS especially.
I take a lot of time and effort to emphasis the concept and approach to GIS and not just mapping.
Thast why I am shifting now from hardcore GIS and software teaching to conceptual and system issues.

I remember around two years or more ago when I was hired to prepare a project feasibility( for a gated commune). I prepared the whole concept, did the layout(subdivision plan), project brief including the kind of development, Built up areas, environemntal guidelines etc etc.
During the final reviews with the client after explaining the review and showing the subdivision plan, the client remarked" You mean you guys take so much money to make those boxes and lines."
I took that slight without reaction but my assistant planner exploded into a rage and started a heated argument while i just smiled talked a little to the other members in the boardroom, thanked them and walked out. It was after some time that my assistant after venting a lot about planning being a white collar profession where clients understand the meaning of those lines and don't question them etc etc.
Fortunately I had been paid around 50% of the charges and i quitely withdrew from the project. It was after two months that another board member called us back and tried to apologise and all that.
[maybe this post will do good for the thread by Pete Rock]

There are very few people who realise the power in planning. The bureaucrats for sure know what it means.

During college I had many friends and relatives to whom I had to explain that what I do is related to architecture but tis called planning.For the rural folk I just told them that I am an architect or an engineer. That was around eight years ago. Now I just tell them I'm a town planner( they are aware of this OLD term).

I just posted a message on the Early PAIRC Planning Peeves posts (1996) thread about this issue. :)