Nourishing transformations


Our cities are transforming, and so is the role of planners in the midst of this transformation.

Last month, I hosted a conversation at the Canadian Association of Planning Students annual conference about transformations, to give them an opportunity to dig into what they know and see. Here’s what we found.

We are transforming into organizers. We think of planning as a linear, mechanistic activity but cities don’t work that way. What’s coming is a new social habitat, so we played with this idea using a World Cafe, using these new operating principles:

  1. Create places for you and others to experiment
  2. Know and trust that the transformation never ends – it’s  a never-ending quest
  3. Cities will forever learn and adapt, and they will only learn and grow as much as we – the component parts – learn and grow
  4. Choose to swim, rather than float

So here’s what the students noticed.

The best stuff and what we're transforming into
What is the best stuff happening in our cities? What are we transforming into?

There’s great stuff underway in our cities and we are transforming into cities that are about people. We are paying more attention to public spaces, to diversity, to our cultures. We celebrate with food and festivals. There is a shift underway, where we share more. Technology and social media are changing how we look at our cities and planners. Everything is more visible.

And we face significant challenges.

The challenges and vulnerabilities
What are the challenges we face? What are our vulnerabilities?

When we resist change, we are at our most vulnerable.  We are lured by convenience. Small thinking and  lack of vision make us vulnerable. We feel the pressure to do it “right,” yet it is not possible to know what is coming. We grapple with the unknown. The choices we make matter. The leadership we create and support matters.

There is a way through.

Planners role through
What role do you want to play to move through these vulnerabilities?

Look at the whole. Grasp a vision and keep it in mind. It’s not about sacrifice, its about choice, and choosing to be informed and to inform. It’s about facilitating understanding, so that we can hold and consider new possibilities. Its about respecting and honouring roles and responsibilities, but also challenging them to see and pursue new possibilities. It’s about improvement.

We have no idea what we are transforming into. We just know that its underway. And we can transform into what works for us, or what does not. The only way we’ll get what we want is if we choose to engage with the transformation.

What transformations are taking place that you wish to nourish?   

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This post is a wee bit of the book I am working on, while I am working on it. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City – The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities:


Beth’s hot tips for the job hunt


As I look back at the range of conversations I had with aspiring city planners at the Canadian Association of Planning Students conference in Toronto last week , I noticed 7 recurring messages in what I was saying. Here is a summary of my hot tips for the quest for a job:

  1. Have a sense of the kind of work you’ll enjoy. The more clear you are about what you want to do, or even simply explore to see if you like it, the more likely you’ll find work that will serve your development. This last post might help you figure that out.
  2. Have a sense of the kind of work environment you’d like. Are you most comfortable in a fast-paced environment, or one that is more stable. Do you need a serious place to work, or one that is more fun? Do you want to work in the trenches, or serve in other ways?
  3. Draw on all your work experience – paid and unpaid. All volunteer work counts as work experience. Notice the skills you learned while volunteering and give them prominence along with your paid work.
  4. Say what you can do in your resume. Your resume tells other about your work experience, but what can you do? Are you a good organizer? Do you know how to handle tough customers? Do you know how to resolve workplace conflict? Do you have any stories about how you took initiative?
  5. Tell stories in your interview. Draw on all your experience in your interview and tell a story or two about when something went sideways and you pulled through. These are not stories of vulnerability, but of your strength in seeing when you go wrong and your willingness, and effort, to get things back on track. Be specific. It shows your employer that you know where you have room to improve.
  6. Pick your boss. Is s/he going to invest in your development as a planner? Not just the money your employer may have to send you to conferences, or other professional development, but is s/he going to invest time in you as you learn how to do the work of planning? You want to do well, and if s/he is uncomfortable with the question, or can’t answer, the job might not be a right fit, but…
  7. Learn from every job. You might not get your dream job when you start out, but it will have a lot to teach you. If you don’t get to pick your boss, that’s ok. Show up for work and care about what you do and it will be noticed. You will find other work, or it will find you. You’ll be alright.

What other hot tips do you have?

Please let me know how it goes.



What I heard Paul Bedford say


Everything is connected to everything

so learn to suffer

and choose to grow

choose how to grow

choose to explore consequences

for you

and us

take risks

forget floating

choose to swim.


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This what I heard Paul Bedford, former Chief Planner for the City of Toronto say at the Canadian Institute of Planners Conference this weekend.