I received an e-mail newsletter from the American Planning Association the other day and noticed that it was National Community Planning Month in October. Hmmm. Didn't know that. And I'm a planner.
I suppose I'm supposed to do my part to tout the profession which I have chosen. Put a bumper sticker on my car. Or write a letter to the editor in my local newspaper talking about how great planning is and why everyone should wear a ribbon on their shirt or something to support planners across America.
Out of curiousity, I listened to a few radio spots on the APA website that had beenproduced to publicize National Community Planning month. I only got through three of them, but figured I had heard enough. I just can't imagine "Joe the Plumber" on his way to a job hearing these ads and suddenly saying to himself, "You know, those planners are right...I should really spend a couple of hours looking over their website and learning about what great work they do!"
I'm afraid to ask how much of my dues went towards these ads....
This has been one of my main concerns about the state of planning in this country and with the activities of the APA. I won't claim to know everything that the APA does, but there seems to be more of a focus on building the public image of planners than with actually helping people see the value of good land use planning. You can hear this in the radio spots I mentioned above (they don't do much more than say "Planners are working to make your communities better...check out our website") and in the ongoing efforts to build credibility through "certification" of planners (by takinga test that is based more on rote memorization than actual knowledge of planning).
Now don't get me wrong. I'm a planner. I do think planning is important. We have a problem though...very few people care about planning practices - much less planners. And if the radio ads and certification of planners is our best effort, then we are not likely to convince many people of its imoirtance any time soon.
Land use planning to the typicalresident of a community is kind of like flushing the toilet (sorry, its late and I can't think of a more appealing analogy). You're glad someonetook the timeto come up with a plan for making sure that your flush and hundreds or thousands of others were going somewhere other than straight to the local river or into the groundwater. Even so,it doesn't really make you want to go out and give a 'high five' to a plumber or the guy who works at the wastewater plant. You "support" wastewater infrastructure or private septic systems because they work - not because you like the people who brought them to you (actually, you probably don't like the messenger because they bring a rather hefty bill with them).
My point is that few peoplereally care about how their community came to be the way it is. They just want it to work well. We don't become more successful as planners by trying to convince the general public that we, as planners, know what it takes. We become successful when people recognize that what we domakes sense and improves their lives. Our job is to make a community function more smoothly, efficiently, effectively. Our job is to do what we can to help people understand that thinking ahead about how to make our communities function well is a better idea than simply letting the chips fall where they may; that those seemingly mundane decisions about how subdivisions are designed,where and how roads are constructed andwhether or not sewer and water linesshould be extended will have impacts they might not like in a few years and there are ways to avoid those problems.
We don't do thiswith some blithe 30-second radio ad aimed at getting people to support our profession.We don't do it by asking people to "just trust us, we know what we're doing". We do it by giving them good, solid, defensible informationand showing them examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly in communities that have faced similar decisions in the past. We do it by helping them to think a few years into the future about what they'll wish they had done today.
If we're in planning to have people like us and to have parks or streets named after us when we are dead and gone, we're probably not doing anyone any good.
Let's make sure we are focused on building support for planning - not planners.