Transitioning Approaches: The Future Roles of Millennial Planners

On March 15th, 2017,

I had the honor to participate in the YUL Social + Panel Discussion, Planning is Political, moderated by Jay Pitter (author of Subdivided) among four other panelists, who have also published incredible articles in the Ontario Planning Journal Volume 32, No. 2 issue. 

An evening discussion, put together by passionate young urbanists to discuss the perspective of millennials entering the field of planning. And I have to say it was quite the remarkable experience.

I mean, once you’re done school, or perhaps on the verge of finishing your academic chapter, you have all these ideas and theories about what planning could be and how you can make it better. And I’m sure that you can, but we have to be realistic, and that was what I’ve learned the hard and uncomfortable way from this discussion.

Jay Pitter, introduced the event, as a conversation, but not just any generic conversation. It was rather introduced as an uncomfortable conversation. And while you’re reading this, I’d like you to be conscious of maintaining an open mind. I say this because (and I wholeheartedly believe in this), that planners have to maintain the strong difference of our advantage and privilege, as well as being realistic and rational.

What I mean when I say advantage and privilege, versus realistic and rational is this: being a planner, comes with the advantage of understanding the scope of the field within various respects (environmental, social, economical, political, and in some cases, psychological), and the privilege, is that we have the ‘advantage’ to speak on behalf of what we think is ‘best practice’. We carry the voice of what we believe is the best way to approach a conflict. However, by carrying the voice, we also don’t have as much power as we think we do – hence, why I believe that we should be realistic and rational about the choices and the decisions that we make. I’m sure that at some point during your academic studies, you had to do a SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats) and for me, it drove me insane at times. But that’s what allows us to have such an incredible profession – we have to always think outside of the box and consider all aspects, no matter how big or small the project is.

Unfortunately, planning is not always rainbows and butterflies. It can get ugly, and during the conversation, we had to establish that it was going to get uncomfortable. But how else are we going to grow, learn, understand and analyze? We have to get uncomfortable – but maintaining an open mind because planning can be quite a subjective practice and based on the individuals’ experience, it can really change their perspective of what is considered ‘best practice’ or the best approach.

But one of the important topics that were discussed amongst the panelists and the audience, was that as planners, we must be conscious of our influence. What I mean is that there’s always a limit to what we can say or do, however, we should be able to understand when and where we say, “okay, now, I have to take a step back.” And the reason is because it’s a lot easier to go beyond our boundaries and make an ‘executive’ decision, but what good is that when we haven’t taken the time to respect and understand the context and cater to what is needed, rather than what we want.

Several questions have been raised as to what we feel planning should be, but from my experience, I can’t give a definite answer, except for the fact that I can wholeheartedly say that we need to be more creative in planning. There are a lot of millennial urbanists who have remarkable ideas and hold a new level of understanding, but we have to be realistic in a sense that a lot of the times, we aren’t given the power to say and do what we think is best, but by using the ambition and energy that millennials have, I think, especially for Toronto, we’re on the right track.

We’re a team, a pretty large team, and as cliché, as this seems, we need to continue to support each other and have these uncomfortable conversations to push the boundaries of our practice. It takes a certain kind of individual to be passionate about planning to use that and make a difference, but we can’t lose that spark. After all, I think Toronto is in need of millennial urbanists now more than ever.