Young planners leaving in droves? Here’s what they think
Brighid Sammon, Hansen Partnership; and Hugh Utting, GHD | 13 July 2017
Frustrations with the planning system, a lack of support and community distrust are causing planners to bow out early and pursue other careers, but these young planners are hopeful that with the right vision, things can change.
Are young planners leaving the industry in droves? Last week’s Market Pulse article on the shortages of planners sparked much debate, and the Victorian Young Planners (VYP) would like to provide perspectives from young professionals in the industry. While we are conscious that we do not and cannot speak for all young planning professionals, it is clear that this is a multi-layered issue.
Many graduate planners begin their careers as statutory planners for local government (also known as development applications for non-Victorians).
The majority of work for planners is within this space and it places young professionals on the frontline of disgruntled permit applicants and residents who think you don’t care about their concerns. This can make it a tough and seemingly thankless task.
Broader distrust and negativity of residents is symptomatic of the sheer complexity of planning systems, which is perceived as being geared toward regulation and enforcement. It is clear that this also contributes to the frustration of planners, not just clients, residents and stakeholders. Does the system need improving? Yes, if we are to reverse feelings of helplessness and high levels of dissatisfaction in the industry.
Millennials will be dealing with the consequences of dramatic increases in inequality within our cities, the housing crisis and stagnant wage growth, as well as climate change. Such issues will totally reshape how our societies operate and how people live and work in cities.
In the context of these pressing issues, we believe it is imperative that more effort is spent developing policy mechanisms that support a built environment and that will meaningfully help and contribute to combating these issues.
Change is hard and we understand that. Nevertheless, we need to be working with the community and the broader built environment sector to acknowledge the need for change, and ask: why is it that we so often get outcomes that are broadly disliked or unsustainable? And should we be heightening the accountability on politically charged local planning decisions?
We do not pretend to have the answers, but such questions do need to be asked. We believe that is a collective responsibility for our profession to continue to work towards finding solutions.
This can help address a broader and fundamental issue being faced by planning: the loss of faith in our profession to help make family and communities’ lives better. This issue has been around for a long time and does not purely influence young planners. While this issue is multi-faceted, we feel a contributing factor is the lack of respect for the professional expertise of planners and represents a failure on our behalf to advocate for ourselves as worthy professionals.
We need to be supporting passionate planners at all levels. This includes individual professionals who are interested in lifelong learning, keeping up to date with new and innovative technologies and consistently seeking for better outcomes, while having a well-rounded understanding of what influences those outcomes. Yes, we need to be realistic, but who says we can’t push for better.
Our challenges are our opportunities. The question is, is our profession capitalising on them? The scathing review of the Victorian Planning System in March this year by the Auditor General would definitely suggest not.
The SMART planning program introduced by the Andrews Victorian Government in July 2016 is looking to address some of these concerns, which we welcome. Although we note, we are not yet fully aware of its outcomes or impacts. Again, while worthwhile, is the program addressing the major issues at hand?
Why do planners leave the industry? From the experiences of both young and learned planners that we spoke to for this article, it is clear that frustrations with the broader planning system and the lack of support causes planners to pursue other interests.
However, we are optimistic that with the right vision, such systems can be fixed, professionals can be supported and research-based decision-making can occur. Whether this happens will depend on whether we can work together and keep each other accountable.
Brighid Sammon is a senior urban planner at Hansen Partnership and the 2017 PIA Australian Young Planner of the Year. Hugh Utting is state convenor of the Victorian Young Planners and an urban planner at GHD.