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What is a Planner? A: Managing outcomes and processes

Those of you who’ve read through my posts for the last few months can tell, I think about what it means to be a planner a lot. I’m afforded the luxury of spending time on this, as a student, and I’m going to start keeping track of this stuff as I read it, because there will come a day when I don’t get to do this, and at that point I may or may not be doing planning-related work.

I’ll kick it off with this excellent quote I used in my recent presentation for my final paper on Transdisciplinary Action Research for Planning Healthy Schools. (Incidentally, that presentation was done remotely so it is available as a 15 minute video on Vimeo.) Jason Corburn is discussing re-connecting the fields of public health and urban planning. He writes,

While reconnecting planning and public health will require increased attention to the health effects of plans in geographic places, it will also demand that the field recognize its role in the politics of “place-making.” Planning must increasingly be understood as a profession that manages conflicts over political power and values that arise when, for instance, state or private- sector objectives clash with those of local communities. If planning is to be reconnected with public health, planning practice must be conceptualized as a set of outcomes (e.g., housing, transportation systems, urban designs) and processes that can (1) involve the use or abuse of power, (2) respond to or resist market forces, (3) work to empower certain groups and disempower others, and (4) promote multiparty consensual decisionmaking discourses or simply rationalize decisions already made.

In other words, planning practice involves choices regarding which information is deemed relevant, what decisionmaking processes will be used, and when, or if, various publics will be involved in making the plan. Reconnecting the fields will require increased attention to the politics of planning practice (i.e., in terms of shaping public agendas and attention), available evidence and norms of inquiry, inclusive or exclusive deliberations, and responses (or lack thereof) to bias, discrimination, inequality, and recalcitrance.1

I really like that. It doesn’t solve, but it does speak to, what I’m seeing is the role of planners in outcomes and processes — which is that we aren’t typically at the lowest level of outcomes, and we aren’t wielding the power to start things along, but we shepherd a process of working the issues on both sides. It also means we are ever-changing.

1 Corburn, J. (2004). Confronting the Challenges in Reconnecting Urban Planning and Public Health. Am J Public Health, 94(4), 541-546. doi:10.2105/AJPH.94.4.541

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