To envision, coordinate and balance the very delicate and complex relationships of an urban setting and understand and forecast the needs of a community and advise them on the best way to pursue their common goals.
If you're working on today's issues, you are not a planner. A planner works on future issues, needs a vivid imagination, a good understanding of people in communities, and the technical understanding of the flow of goods and services in a high density population.
Jack Hardisty, Development Services Director for the City of Bakersfield, uses the anthropological approach when planning for growth in the future. "I seek to understand people and work with them rather than impose our values on them," explains Hardisty. "Growth can be cancerous, disastrous, or growth can be healthy." Proper planning can make the difference in how liveable a community is.
Urban planners are generalists that come to their careers from different angles: civil engineering, landscape architecture, public administration, land use, transportation, urban studies, biology. A four-year college degree generally suffices for entry into the planing industry, and the ability to work towards problem and conflict resolution is a definite plus.
"Trees serve a lot of good purposes (in the city)," says Hardisty. "They lend a lot to the quality of life, both visually and psychologically. They have a cooling effect, literally and psychologically. They create peace by allowing people to live more comfortably. They cool buildings when planted on the south side. And to a degree, they improve air quality. I believe that trees have a far greater effect psychologically."
Hardisty revels in the rewards of an urban planner. "I like having the community turn out to be a better place to live in, and have people appreciate that. I think Bakersfield is better off for hiring me to put a little spirit into planning. I am just an influence on the City Manager. It is my job to give my best advice."
"The political process in community building is intriguing" says Hardisty. Being able to resolve conflict is very important for city planners. The future challenge is to make plans less specific and more strategic; to help people articulate their vision and the path towards achieving that vision. Practical problem solving is important compared to the way it used to be - very specialized on, for example, transportation.
The pay for professional planners is good. A planning technician with a high school degree can start at $2,500 per month. Other levels exist, like assistant planners at $3,000+ per month; principal planners at $4,000+ and department heads at $5,000+.