Planning Career GPS
Learn more about the trends that shape the profession, skills to develop, and tips for strategic career management. APA offers resources to help you advance your career and employability advice from industry professionals.
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Creating a Culture of Change
Deana Rhodeside, PhD, Principal and Director, Rhodeside & Harwell, and Vice Chair of APA's Private Practice Division
Q: What’s your background?
I have a master’s in psychology and then became interested in the relationship between the social sciences and the physical realm, and so began to figure out ways to put those two together and discovered planning.
I decided to go back for an additional degree in planning. After doing some research at Harvard on the sociological impacts of the physical realm, I went to MIT for a doctorate degree in urban studies and planning. Because that combination is fairly unusual, I’ve always been an independent consultant and started my own private consulting practice, working with designers on the impacts of their decisions on community and human dynamics.
In 1980, I went into practice with two design and large-scale planning professionals: Elliot Rhodeside and Faye Harwell — both landscape architects. We are now celebrating our 30th year as Rhodeside & Harwell.
Read more from Deana Rhodeside
Q: As you got more employees, was there a point where you saw a shift in the way you worked?
A: We started Rhodeside & Harwell with just the three of us and, within the first six months, hired four additional professionals. Over the years, each time we’d reach a plateau in number of employees, we’d say, “Okay, this is it, we’re big enough,” and then we’d adapt to that number and continue to grow. We currently have more than 30 people at RHI.
We’ve always been conscious about the importance of maintaining a collaborative culture, particularly since we’re a multidisciplinary firm. Our landscape architects, urban designers and the planners typically work together on projects. We formed our partnership to be collaborative from the outset. We believe that consensus is important to successful partnerships and that idea has expanded to our firm as a whole. We feel that it’s important for people to be encouraged to express their views. Different views enrich all of the work that we do.
In the last five years, our nation has had a substantial cultural shift with the number of vocal and talented younger professionals entering the workforce. This change is also reflected in our office with many dynamic younger staff joining the firm. We think this is fabulous! It’s enlivened all of the work that we do and allowed us to view our planning options in new ways.
We’ve also come to realize that our younger staff has different needs, goals, and interests. So we’ve begun to talk a lot about ways to engage and involve all of our staff in taking an interest and participating in all aspects of our work.
We frequently have pinups to provide broad feedback for a team working on any given project. In addition, we have a new website that reflects the planning and design perspective of our younger staff and imparts the message that we are open to new ideas and people. We are constantly updating this site in order to ensure that we remain on top of key issues and trends.
Another element that fosters our commitment to collaboration is reflected in the open design of our office. We have organized our space around a series of quads, which allow people to communicate openly, work together, and move flexibly from team to team.
Our open studio is a reflection of our desire to encourage people at all levels to have a greater say in, and understanding of, what we do. We sometimes organize mini charrettes at our office meetings in order to encourage more open discussions around questions such as: How are we doing? What could we be doing better? What are our goals and how do we achieve them?
It’s been a tremendous asset to our firm having younger staff involved in these critical discussions. Working this way has affected all of our feelings about the work that we produce.
Q: What’s your vision for the future of your company?
A: We think that encouraging leadership is an essential part of the future of the firm to ensure that we continue the significant role of Rhodeside & Harwell within both the planning and design communities. In fact, succession planning is something we’re actively committed to with the idea of gradually transitioning the firm internally so that we can continue to evolve our leadership for the long-term future.
Q: Has your involvement with APA been helpful?
A: APA has been wonderful not only for me, but for much of our staff. Members of Rhodeside & Harwell have organized and presented sessions at the National Planning Conference for many years. It’s a great experience for all of us to be able to get out in front of colleagues, demonstrate creative ideas, and learn from others.
My role at APA has shifted this year because I’ve become Vice Chair of the Private Practice Division. I’m really excited about my role and the division because it’s a home for mid-sized firms like ours, as well as smaller firms and individual sole practitioners. I’m hoping that, as we move along, we can also add larger firms to the Private Practice Division as well.
I’d like the division to continue to be a place that allows all of us to share ideas about how we do business in private practice and to learn successful lessons and insights from each other.
Career Benefits of Volunteering
Cynthia Bowen, AICP, President-Elect of the American Planning Association
Volunteering is a great way to build skills and can make you a stronger candidate for the job.
In this video Cynthia Bowen, AICP lists the many benefits and skill development opportunities gained through volunteering. It doesn't matter where you are to begin a leadership journey, volunteering can start when you're a student and as you continue on in your professional development.
While leaders are the ones who move the organization forward, you can start volunteering at any stage of your career, it’s a progression that will always yield benefits.
Discover your hidden talents, develop your capabilities, move your career forward through people and projects. Your company will benefit too, as you will develop a network of experts. Think of volunteering as a professional development boot camp. Make an investment in your career and get involved where you are right now.
Find an APA Chapter and ask how you can help. APA Divisions cover planning specialty and interest areas. They offer professional development and training; the perfect place to connect with those who share your specific planning passions and provide the opportunity for leadership.
There are many ways of volunteering at APA. Work on committees and task forces play an important part in advancing the planning movement and enhancing the credibility of the profession through your time and talent. Volunteer and get involved.
Developing Career Resilience
Mike Jelen, PE
Resilience is a familiar word to planners. They're well aware of the threats and potential disaster hovering around the best of plans.
Do you think about your career that way? Career mobility isn't always a choice and, as the adage says, you can't change what happens to you, only your reaction. Take a minute to reflect on your attitude and the environment of your current job. Are you clear on what you can control?
Get video advice from someone who has the career longevity and experience across sectors to know about resilient careers. Sharing his perspective from a career that spans the public, private, and military sectors, Mike Jelen, vice president and managing director at VHB, offers insights that ensure a resilient career.
"For me, agility has been a key attribute in ensuring career resilience. An old colonel that mentored me when I was a young captain would always counsel to only 'fight the good fight' during challenging times. What he meant was that, in addition to knowing what one can control, one must also know when that no longer matters because the situation at hand is beyond one’s ability to control or even influence. It is ok to move on and in to new situations where the challenges can be overcome, and to move nimbly from bad situations into good ones."
Planning and Public Health
Scott Ulrich, AICP
Interested in the link between the built environment and public health? Meet Scott Ulrich, AICP, Healthy Places Program Director and City Bicycle Coordinator for Columbus, Ohio.
In this video, Scott talks about relationships and being bilingual in planning and public health.
In his current position Scott’s role involves land use, transportation planning, walkability, bikeability, and trails as well as providing technical assistance to developers on healthy community design.
The Healthy Places program exists because where people live has a profound impact on their health. Learn more about the specifics and accomplishments from Columbus, Ohio, in this webinar.
"I believe that all planning should at least consider the health of citizens. It’s not necessarily possible for every decision to support health. But it should be part of a triple-bottom-line decision-making process that takes into account social, environmental, and economic outcomes. The problem that for a long time the 'social' part was set aside because it can be very subjective and qualitative compared to the other two. But health metrics can give us a more concrete and quantitative way to measure the impact of our decisions on people, especially as we continue to build our understanding of the social determinants of health.
"I’ve always been interested in planning for active transportation and placemaking. But I think I was interested in those things for reasons other than health — I think I was focused on the 'macro' benefits of those things. Walking and biking and transit are the most efficient forms of transportation; pedestrian and transit-oriented development result in more efficient use of land; all of these very rational, intangible reasons.
"It really wasn’t until I started this job that the 'micro' benefits really hit me — that what we do as planners affects people in very direct and tangible ways, not just through their neighborhoods and roadways, but quite literally how they feel and how long they live.
"I think that may be reflective of a planner’s career development. We come out of school thinking very rationally and theoretically, wanting to wave our magic wand and redesign the city to make it 'better.' But as we do the job, and talk to the people we serve, no matter how deep we get in the weeds of plans, projects and policies, we ultimately realize how personal our work really is. That at the end of the day, no matter what we’re actually planning, we’re planning for people."
Evolution of the Planning Field
Ralph Willmer, FAICP
Considering a career in planning or looking for the next step for your planning career? Ralph Willmer, FAICP, gives his perspective on where he anticipates growth areas and changes in the field of planning.
Recognized by his peers as making outstanding contributions to the profession with over 30 years of experience, Ralph is eminently qualified to predict the growth areas for planning jobs:
"It can be hard to plan a planning career because there are lots of exciting options and one has to think about the best path toward achieving their long-term career goals.
"The first difficult decision relates to education — should I get a master’s degree? While the answer is yes (graduate school will vastly increase your employment options) there are numerous choices among the more than 70 accredited master’s programs in planning.
"There are also numerous disciplines within the planning field beyond a general land use practice such as transportation, zoning, housing, economic development, environmental, sustainability, and others.
"Finally, there are also a number of choices in terms of the type of employment. Do you want to work in the public or private sector, or perhaps in academia? Even within the public sector, there are jobs at the local, regional, state, and federal level. On the private side, there are planning firms and multi-disciplinary firms with planning departments, or you can be your boss.
"Fortunately, one always has the option to try different experiences until you settle into a position that feels comfortable."