The APA National Centers for Planning engage in research, education, and policy development helpful to planners working in planning departments and as planning consultants across America. The centers focus on community health, natural and man-made hazards, and green communities.
Planners are often the professional go-to people elected and appointed officials turn to to solve tough community problems. Mayors, city managers, council members, and appointed officials will often contact the planning office for help on issues with a spatial, long-range, multidisciplinary, or technical component.
Planners have a skill set particularly useful for analyzing complex public policy problems and opportunities and for developing strategies that address them.
- Planners have a comprehensive perspective. The planner's mantra: "Everything is related to everything else." Planners routinely address challenges in the areas of housing, economic development, the environment, energy and climate change, land use and growth management, transportation, human services, community health, and hazard mitigation. They speak the language of many disciplines.
- Planners have a long-range outlook. They are trained to look at changing conditions and quality of life over 20 years or more — challenges that affect generations not yet born, as well as the impacts of investment decisions that last for centuries, not years.
- Planning is one of the few professions that focuses on place-based problems and opportunities affecting health, safety, and general welfare. Planners ability to deal with the community-wide spatial component of quality-of-life issues sets them apart.
- Planners are trained to spot and deal with unintended consequences and long-term cumulative impacts.
- Planners have special expertise in community engagement and consensus building. They often act as conveners of stakeholders: those in the community affected by change as well as those who control the resources that can affect change. Knowing whom to engage and how to engage them is familiar territory for planners.
Opportunities to Effect Change
At what stages in the community development process do planners have the best opportunity to influence outcomes? The National Centers for Planning focus on five strategic points of intervention.
- Long-range community visioning and goal setting. Planners frequently conduct visioning exercises that result in broad goals and objectives that guide the future of communities. This is often the first best chance to identify a new problem or opportunity and to make it a priority.
- Plan making. Planning departments prepare plans of all kinds. Comprehensive plans cover the entire community and address all subjects. Strategic plans focus on high-priority problems or opportunities. Sub-area plans address part of a community — a downtown, a corridor, a neighborhood. Functional plans deal with a particular subject — sewers and water, community health, open space and recreation, housing, transit. Plans recommend actions involving infrastructure and facilities, land-use patterns, open space, jobs and prosperity, transportation options, housing choice and affordability, and much more.
- Standards, policies, and incentives. Planners conceive, write, and amend standards, policy, and incentives that have an important influence on what, where, and how things get built, and what, where, and how land and buildings get preserved. Zoning, subdivision regulations, design guidelines, landscaping and street tree standards, signage regulations, transit-oriented development ordinances, street and sidewalk standards, tax policies, and inclusionary housing regulations are but a few examples of the "carrots and sticks" that can be used effectively to build cities of lasting value.
- Development work. Planners often have an opportunity to influence the outcomes of development projects. Planners serve as leading team members on public-private partnerships that result in mixed use developments, redevelopment, neighborhood revitalization, brownfields development, affordable housing, and transit-oriented development. They also prepare staff reviews of private development projects and have an opportunity to negotiate positive changes to project plans during the review process.
- Public investment. Towns, cities, and counties undertake major investments in infrastructure and community facilities that support private development and the quality of life of a community. In many ways this is the most important tool for planners. Their influence over the location and design of sewer and water facilities, transit, streets, sidewalks, bikeways, schools, libraries, police and fire facilities, and other publicly funded investments is substantial.
Policymakers seek out planners because they offer a unique perspective and skill set for solving tough community problems. APA's National Centers for Planning disseminate research to these influential professionals.