Break it Down: Land Use Planning Challenges, Opportunities, and Trends

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November’s Topic: Make No Small Plans

Land Use Planning Challenges, Opportunities, and Trends

AJ Fawver, AICP, CNU-A

By: AJ Fawver, Planning Director, Amarillo, Texas

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In preparation of putting together this blog post, I reflected on the various planning efforts I have been engaged in, both as a citizen and as a planner, and remembering some of the challenges that were associated with the formulation and implementation of those efforts. Ironically, this period of reflection coincided with the Texas APA Chapter conference, at which I was able to see and catch up with former colleagues who had been part of those.

Image result for hindsight memeWe swapped stories, laughed, and reminisced about some of the more, ahem, frustrating parts of those endeavors. (Yes, hindsight is most definitely 20/20.) While this topic is broad enough to allow some substantial latitude in crafting a piece, my mind kept coming back to two basic principles which often get lost as planners crank out grand plans for the future to “stir the soul”, as Burnham suggests. These two principles – authenticity and commitment – are crucial to the work we have chosen to devote our careers to. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves of these and recalibrate. Without these principles, the inventive and creative ideas which should be part of every planning effort are in jeopardy. Likewise, the immediate and long-term support for those planning efforts is threatened.

Looking at the work planners perform through a regional, state, and national lens reveals a variety of challenges. Views of and feelings about government, community, property rights, and land use regulations are always in flux. Nonetheless, as planning professionals, we have the opportunity – and responsibility – to consistently bring authenticity and demonstrate commitment to the process. Here are a few key areas to accomplish just that.

  • Approaching every plan formulation process with curiosity and an open mind for observing and learning brings authenticity to the work.
  • Demonstrating that you have done your homework on the area to the citizens you are working with and for bring authenticity to the work.
  • Actively listening and showing appreciation for the input of citizens, while finding ways to incorporate that input into the final product, brings authenticity to the work.
  • Formulating phasing and implementation sections in a way that is aggressive yet realistic brings authenticity to the work.
  • Showing up in every meeting and workshop – and being physically and mentally present and engaged –demonstrates commitment to the work.
  • Making meaningful connections and building relationships demonstrates commitment to the work.
  • Exhibiting accountability of ourselves and others through progress reporting, and reminding when needed that the process does not end with adoption, demonstrates commitment to the work.
  • Being ever mindful of the big picture by consistently evaluating budget, policy, ordinance, and other decisions against the adopted plan, and providing feedback on that to decision makers, demonstrates commitment to the work.

We all get in a rut periodically. Building a network of trusted colleagues, collaborators, and connections helps us continue to grow and learn from one another, providing important reminders of basics we sometimes forget or overlook. Depending on your vantage point, infusing authenticity and commitment into our work can be either – or both – a challenge and an opportunity.

Supplemental Reading:

Break it Down: Make No Small Plans

Break it Down: Now. Hosting a Data-Driven Parks and Rec System

The Chris Traeger List: Top 100 Local Government Influencers