Friday, 30 September 2011

A day in the life of a Strategic Urban Planner

As I’m sure you know by now, I work as a Senior Strategic Urban Planner for a local government in the western suburbs.  As my wife regularly reminds me, not everyone is aware of what a strategic urban planner does, day-to-day (actually, I’ve substituted ‘aware of’ for ‘interested in’, but I’m sure that was just a slip of her tongue).  So I thought I’d provide a brief précis of what I get up to in my work.

I’m lucky enough to be able to focus a lot of my time on place making initiatives.  This means researching the latest innovations from around the world, things like:
  • What Vancouver is doing to achieve a diversity of housing options;
  • How Melbourne is leading the way in using place making strategies to activate it’s laneways and public spaces;
  • What Portland is doing with their public transport system to cope with traffic;
  • How San Francisco and New York are introducing new "parklets" for people to enjoy open space;
  • What Toronto is doing to encourage rooftop gardens; and
  • David Engwicht’s ‘taming traffic’ theories.
The next stage in the process is using that information to develop projects that will make the local area function better, according to Council’s desired outcomes. A big part of bringing these projects to successful fruition is knowing how to make them work in a local government setting.

This means being aware of what pitfalls can strangle a project from the beginning, things like imposing regulations that are confusing or unreasonable, not engaging in proper community consultation, or not devoting proper planning to ensuring build form codes are up to scratch.  So when I say I have experience in getting things done in local government, this is what I mean.

I really do enjoy my work (and I’m not just saying that in case my boss reads this and I find myself abruptly transferred to the refuse department), although I do occasionally buy the odd powerball ticket.  I also think that the fact that I spend a significant part of my waking hours on developing initiatives to make local places better can only be a positive for Fremantle, if I’m elected.

A conflict?

I was surprised to be asked recently whether or not I thought my professional position as a strategic planner in a local government would cause a conflict of interest if I was elected Councillor in Fremantle.  To be perfectly honest, I can only assume the person making the suggestion wasn’t very familiar with local government operations, or alternatively got the wrong end of the stick about what I do for a living. 

You can be sure that the Local Government Act would have precluded local government officers in my position from becoming Councillors if it was ever going to represent a problem – and, given that it’s 382 pages in 10 point font, it’s nothing if not comprehensive.  In fact, some of the best councillors in WA also happen to be local government employees.

To be as unambiguous as possible, there is not even a remote possibility that my professional life will coincide with City of Fremantle business.  In fact, there would be as much likelihood of a conflict of interest if I’d been successful in my boyhood dream of becoming an NBA basketballer for the Boston Celtics – although in that case I’d be running for mayor of a large tropical island in the Caymans rather than City Ward councillor in Freo.

My only vested interest in Fremantle is the fact that it’s my home, and that it’s where my wife and I are going to raise our daughter and I want to play a role in making it live up to its promise.

As All the President’s Men did for journalism, Amelie did for waitresses, and the Dead Poet’s Society did for teachers, I hope this post has provided some enlightenment about the life of a strategic planner, and why my experience in getting things done in a local government setting would be a positive for Freo.


  1. Brilliant writing, Michael. Good luck :)

  2. I really like the urban planning because this work is directly impact with the people life and this field is growing very fast. The role of the urban planner has split into two very distinct description that of an entitlement planner or urban designer.
    urban planners