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The Rigors of Private Planning Practice: Query #1


Ready to Learn
For those who are planners in the private sector, do you recycle text and ideas from one client's master plan to another? If so, how do you feel about that? Do you feel it is unethical, or is it just a matter of efficiency to ensure your company's continued success? Or instead, do your clients want you to engage them and their community in a planning process that is inclusive of as many ideas and stakeholders as possible? If your company employs the latter technique, how does that affect your chargeability and your company's profitability?


Cyburbian Emeritus
Format, sometimes. I typically follow the same rational format for discribing local demographic trends, then tailor the analysis to the client.

Text, only common themes which are in context from place to place. For example, in our state on-site private wastewater systems are regulated by an administrative code, and performance standards for its application will not change from community to community. However, their acceptance can be tied to local land use regulations, so there must be unique consideration on that end of it.

Recommendations, no. They must be tailored.

As far as recycling ideas, I dont think so. I'd rather think I've learned from the past as to what works and what doesnt.

As far as the level of stakeholder inclusion, its up to the client to scope the level they want. I've worked on projects with minimal, and with fully immersed, stakeholder participation. The former is more profitable on a cost not to exceed basis, the later is more profitable if you're on an hourly time and material basis. I have also found that the more stakeholders a client wants to bring to the table, the harder it is to give them a realistic estimate of time (and therefore cost).


Tricky One This...

You know Wanigas I was quite surprised to realise over a period of time that the Master Plans prepared by the government agencies do the most of the copy-paste ( we planners call it control c and control v ;-) )

If not the total text the structure is definitely copied. But I feel that is terrible.
If its just report writing then there can be some orginality and it can be paid for. The development control regulations may be similar broadly but different specific to that place where the plan has to be applied for.

And many clients don't bother about the similarity and pay up( despite knowing what the private consultants do).

From a consultants point of view I try to keep every project in a different style. I try my best but there is some similarity. The clients who pay well get the best output obviously but those who dont pay that much also have the 'trademark originality'.
I think two kinds of people would recycle text:
1. Youngsters and inexperienced guys who cant really think hard, new and appropriate even if they are sincere.
2. The typical control c and control v consultants. I know that one well known national level consultancy 'control c and control v' ed a dirty looking map prepared by some students for some other project and just changed the location of the city and and the titles and showed it as a location map for another city plan.

Nice question and nice line you have taken about " Ethics in Modern Planning Practice". It happens to be one of my topics for speaking at the local Univ. :)
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mike gurnee

I agree with Doitnow. In-house documents are frequently planning by photocopy. I started my last effort by perusing other plans. But I finally wised up and threw them away. Even with the boss breathing down my neck, I had the time to tailor the plan to our current issues. But (within certain restraints) there is nothing inherently wrong with taking an idea or two from other communities or our past experiences. Anyone can notice that all the zoning codes I have done are quite similar. PAS reports from APA used to be a good starting point for models...but that is another story.

SW MI Planner

From a municipal standpoint, I expect that the format would be the same, but all ideas and recommendations should be specific to that city. Regarding zoning ordinance, I expect that to be cut and paste, but not all from the same ordinance. It should be taylored to meet the needs of the community.

Wanigas has heard all of this before, but we interviewed one consultant who proposed, during the interview, how they feel we should incorporate TND elements into our master plan. First of all - shouldn't the master plan be what we (the community) wants in it? Second of all, the City is 95% built out, so where would new projects go? Plus our average lot width is 66' and there are sidewalks on 98% of our streets. I know there is more to TND than that, but come on. Do some research. There were two people in the interview - the principal, and a planner I. Whats even worse is that the Planner I was the planner here before me. They should have known better.

What kills me is when I get drafts here for our master plan or zoning ordinance and they apparently didn't read well enough and it will still say City XXXX, which is definately not ours.


A shadow of my former self
Staff member
SW MI Planner said:
What kills me is when I get drafts here for our master plan or zoning ordinance and they apparently didn't read well enough and it will still say City XXXX, which is definately not ours.

Automatic DQ from consideration whenever I see a proposal that has another community's name in it. I understand proposals are mostly cut/paste.....but QC is a huge peeve of mine, and I don't tolerate it.

Back to the original topic, again from the municipal side....I expect that formatting may be the same....but content had better be specific to my community and the input received during public participation.


I do mostly site analysis and planning/permitting for commercial projects, so I usually start from scratch. Working with so many jurisdictions, I find it difficult to cut and paste. It takes too many revisions.

Our firm has been doing a master plan for a municipality in Nevada. I know they have cut and paste some of the public services provisions governed by state law, but it always needs revised for local conditions.

Most work we do is on time and materials so if we need to do a lot or the client desires to, they pay for it. Profitability overall has been really good, but you will always have loss leaders or jobs that just don't go well.

Polaris Planner

The following are my observations as a public sector planner.

In general, we have noticed certain components of our consultants' work contain recycled ideas and text. In general though, I don't think that had affected the quality of the final product.

In one specific case, we actually wanted our consultant to use recycled ideas. We seeked out that particular consultant because of their track record of using their very innovative concept to solve problems under other comparable circumstances.

We have also seen a few bad examples:

1. We did a very innovative plan almost 20 years ago. It was a rather lengthy plan for a community of over 90,000. It included not only the traditional land use policies, but contained a lot of economic and social policies. Within a year or so, we came across a consultant's draft plan for a rural community with a populatioon of perhaps in the 5,000 - 10,000 range, whose name I had never heard of. It was an exact carbon copy except for the land use component, of course. Well they say "Imitation is ....". I guess we should feel very flattered.

2. In an economic development strategy study, the consultant borrowed Richard Florida's concepts. In their initial presentation to Council, the presentation didn't even mention Florida's name once. And even though the final report did footnoted his name, it did not contain any usefull specific recommendation on how our city could implement Florida's ideas other than generic recommendations such as "support arts and culture, etc.".

3. But I think the worst case was when our municipality (and several other municipalities elsewhere in the province) were forced to amalgamate into "megacities" by the province. The amalgamation report prepared for our community contained the name of another previously amalgamated municipality (on. p. 47, as I remember). I guess the "search and replace" function on their word processor didn't work perfectly.