The words that instinctively came out of my mouth were wiser than the words I scripted for myself. At the opening of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute conference, in front of the crowd, I was to named the conference theme, “Lifecycle of a Planner,” but the word “lifestyle” came out.
This made immediate sense to me as professional citizenship, and the practices that enable professional life to include the interests of the citizen in each of us, as well as the citizens (and the public interest) we serve as professionals. As I listened to Paul Bedford’s story of this life as a professional planner, including as Chief City Planner for the City of Toronto and now as an urban mentor, I found these underlying questions that underpin a lifestyle of professional practice that serves both self and citizens well.
What fascinates you?
Do you get paid to do what you love?
Where do you have a contribution to make?
Who are you? Where do you belong?
What are you learning?
What do you do to nourish your self, and your creativity?
Do you feel good about your work?
How much courage do you have?
What are the principles that guide you?
Where am I growing?
Explore these questions in your own way. On a walk, in a journal, while at the gym or playing the guitar. Find some time to settle into you, and settle into a question, recognizing that any one of these questions is a point of entry into the messiness and confusion that is naturally a part of being human. Transition from one part of your life to another part of your life is part of the lifecycle. How we live in these transitions sabotages or nourishes our personal growth. The lifestyle with which we live the lifecycle matters.
I am cleaning my office and noticing the magazines sitting here before I put them away. The titles, from Plan Canada and AACIP Planning Journals in the last several months, cause a stir in me…
Planners’ perspectives on art and culture
Rethinking infrastructure: going green
Planning for the homeless
Aging in place
Planning for changing demographics
Okotoks: staying within its limits
Welcoming communities: planning for diverse populations
Making it work: making it last; making it home
Food security: a growing concern
Planning without a net: the international experience
Looking to our past to plan our future
Planners’ work covers a range of questions and matters that are deliberated widely in our communities – art, infrastructure, homeless, aging, sustainability, cultural diversity, food – and all of this on the home and international fronts. And then there is the conversation about how to accomplish what we are aiming for.
But who is the “we”? The perspectives offered are about how planners contribute to these questions, and these perspectives are offered to planners. It is tempting to drift toward an assumption that it is the planners who are going to make the difference and that others get in the way. What, however, if the “we” is planners along with the various stakeholders in our communities. What if our technical expertise is not where our power of influence lies?
This spring I had an opportunity to run APPI’s Professional Practitioners Course with Gary Buchanan, an alternative written examination format for prospective professional planners where candidates demonstrate their mastery through conversation and writing. The surprise at this particular gathering was the responses of planners in response to a question about the scope of planning today. The candidates did not reveal technical aspects, but rather interpersonal. To be able to do our jobs well these days, we need to be good communicators, negotiators, conflict resolvers, facilitators, coaches, and synthesizers. All this with a bold courage to take leadership roles in unconventional ways.
Reflecting then on the titles above, I recognize the value of planners. We offer technical skills to make contributions to our communities’ dreams. Our value is no longer just conventional technical skills. Our value is in cultivating the conditions for all the players and stakeholders involved in these complex issues to clearly articulate where they are going, why and how they will get there.
From time to time we’ll employ our technical know-how, but these are not front-seat skills by default any longer. Not if we want to make a difference.
There is an election for my professional association, the Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners. I have put my name forward as candidate for the position of president-elect. The successful candidate will serve one year as president elect, 2 years as president, and 2 years as past president serving as AACIP’s representative to the Canadian Institute of Planners. This is a significant commitment to the profession, one that asks me to consider completely why I would wish to take this role on for the profession.
As I look back at what really interests me about the planning profession, it is about how we as a collective are in a position to support our communities as they strive to thrive. We are in service to something far larger than our individual jobs, or even the planning profession. Collectively, we work in service to the fullness of community. To best do that, we need to continue the evolution of our professional association while holding two distinct priorities: the development of our profession as technicians and effective practitioners, and the development of the health of our communities. This involves a new era of professional practice where we acknowledge that we offer so much more than technical services to communities, or technical learning opportunities for ourselves.
The October 2010 AACIP conference is focusing on 2 questions: What if we are not planning to survive? And who is planning our future anyway? These questions can relate to both our professional membership, as well as our communities. As a profession, we need to explore these questions – among ourselves and with our communities – in order to fully respond to what we are called to do. It is time for us to notice what we, ourselves, are planning for and what we need to do to get there.
As I reflect about why I put myself forward in this way, the answer I keep coming back to is about my passion for the development of our professional practice that is in tune with what our communities need from us. I see I have a role to play in this. So, for your consideration:
The skills I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:
Executive leadership – senior leader in municipal/regional government, University Board of Governors, numerous community boards
Effective resource management – $17 M operating and $250M capital budgets
Strategic alliances and relationships with government, stakeholders, and other professions
Appropriate balance between confrontation, cooperation, and collaboration
Meaningful processes for conversation – between ourselves, our professional colleagues and our communities
The platform I offer for my colleagues’ consideration:
A leader these days needs to be a host – one who convenes diversity; who convenes all viewpoints in creative processes where our mutual intelligence can come forth. ~ Margaret Wheatley
Without collective intelligence and wise, effective action, the future of our organizations, our communities, and our planet remain imperiled. ~ Thomas J. Hurley and Juanita Brown
After 50 years, AACIP is transitioning into something new: the Alberta Professional Planners Institute (APPI). Along with the name, the planning landscape has changed as well: now over 800 members, a diverse collective practice, and communities facing complex economic, social, ecological and governance challenges. Under the legislation creating APPI, the profession now has an explicit relationship with the public interest.
For the next 50 years, the world will continue to change. To be effectively in service to our communities, it is time to engage with each other and the larger community to ponder the following questions:
What is the public interest? What is APPI’s relationship with the public? What could it be?
How can the collective voice of APPI serve the public interest?
What skills do APPI members need to support the communities we serve?
How can APPI collaborate with other organizations to serve both its members and the public?
What values are at the core of our work?
What is our unique service to the public?
What are the emerging qualities of a new standard of professional practice?