Planning as Caring, Managing Large-Scale Solar, Becoming an Effective Manager, and More

About This Episode

In this episode of the podcast series Cover to Cover, the Planning magazine editors review the contents of the March 2020 issue: an interactive map from the US Department of Transportation that shows the linkages between transportation and the new Federal Opportunity Zones program, to the steps it takes to prepare a community for large-scale solar development, to a special "business of planning" article, with 13 strategies for becoming an effective manager.

Before the editors dive into their discussion, editor-in-chief Meghan Stromberg reflects on the state of the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This lens casts a new, even more pressing light on her discussion with Ward Lyles, AICP, and Stacey Swearingen White, about their research into emotions in planning. Swearingen White is a professor at the University of Kansas, as well as the director of the School of Public Affairs and Administration, and Lyles is an associate professor at the university, in the School of Public Affairs and Administration. He also serves as director of the Center for Compassionate & Sustainable Communities at KU. The three explore the trope of "planner as technician" and how bringing emotional intelligence into planning can have a major impact on how planners work — something that matters now more than ever in the wake of our current public health crisis.

Episode Transcript


Meghan Stromberg: Hi, I'm Megan Stromberg, editor-in-chief at the American Planning Association and the editor of Planning magazine. Welcome to Cover to Cover, an insider look at APA's Planning magazine. Today we're talking about our March 2020 issue. It's one that's very focused on practical matters, from an interactive map from the DOT [US Department of Transportation] that shows the linkages between transportation and the new Federal Opportunity Zones program, to the steps it takes to make sure your community is solar ready, to a special "business of planning" article with 13 strategies for becoming an effective manager. I'm joined, as always, with my editorial team colleagues, associate editor Mary Hammon.

Mary Hammon: Hey, everybody.

MS: And associate editor Lindsay Neiman.

Lindsay Nieman: Hi, guys.

MS: This episode is different in another way. It's the first time we've recorded Cover to Cover remotely. So because of COVID-19, APA staff is all working remotely. And I'm sure that's the case for many of our listeners. We're all navigating this really strange time and just doing our best at, you know, getting our work done and taking care of one another. I can't help but be grateful, however, for the fact that we live in a time where, despite this mass disruption that's going on in all of our lives, we still have the technology that allows us to connect with one another. And I'm especially grateful to be able to connect with you, our listeners. So thank you for taking the time out to join us on this episode of Cover to Cover.

An exciting story in this month's issue is the JAPA Takeaway, which listeners may know is a distillation of an article that appeared in the Journal of the American Planning Association that's been distilled down into a really digestible, accessible article for practicing planners. So this month the topic is about planning with emotion. We talked to the article's authors a few short weeks ago, and in fact, it was before we all realized that we were heading towards this pandemic and global crisis. But I'm struck again, their message about this idea of reimagining planning as caring and planning with our own and others emotions in mind — it seems even more important than ever. So let's listen to our conversation with those authors.

Stacey Swearingen White: This is Stacey Swearingen White. I am a professor at the University of Kansas, where I have taught for the last 21 years. I am also the director of the School of Public Affairs and Administration here.

Ward Lyles: And I'm Ward Lyles [AICP]. I am an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration. I am a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. And I currently serve as director of the Center for Compassionate and Sustainable Communities here at KU.

MS: Let's start with your most recent research, which appeared in JAPA originally, the Journal of the American Planning Association, and then was — we sort of did a "Planner's Takeaway" in Planning magazine, in our "Tools for the Trade" section. The article is — well, why don't you tell us the name of the article? Because I don't want to get it wrong and it's got kind of a long title.

WL: Yeah, sure. The title of the, of the article is "Who Cares? Arnstein's Ladder, the Emotional Paradox of Public Engagement, and (Re)imagining Planning as Caring." It is a mouthful.

MS: And Arnstein, of course, is — Arnstein's ladder, of course, is a reference to Sherry Arnstein and her influential "ladder of citizen participation." One of the most popular JAPA pieces ever. It came out 50 years ago. And maybe you can tell us a little bit about your research — the emotional paradox in planning and public engagement. What is that?

WL: So this is a term we've coined to capture a phenomenon that we think is, is actually pretty, pretty common. And that is that virtually everyone who comes to be a planner does it because they care in some way, shape, or form about their community or communities in general or a particular topic — climate change, food, justice, whatever it might be. But then most planners experience a professional need, duty, perception that they have to tamp down, eliminate, otherwise control their emotions and not be their full selves in their work.

MS: So they feel that they need to put their emotions aside and focus on analytical approaches to planning.

SSW: Yeah, I think that's a good way to sum it up. There's this trope, if you will, of the planner as technician. And when you subscribe to that understanding, then emotions don't have a place, other than to be, as Ward said, tamped down.

WL: Elizabeth Howe and Jerry Kaufman, back 40 years ago, did research on different types of roles that planners take. And one was a politician kind of role, which would have had a whole lot of interpersonal skills required. And then there was the more technician role and a hybrid that was in between. And Mickey Lauria and Mellone Long replicated some of that research recently and found that, if anything, planners now more identify as technicians as opposed to more of the political and the networking side of the job.

MS: How do you think — how is this being received in the planning community, this idea of reimagining planning as caring?

WL: There — it's been interesting as we've talked more about emotions and compassion overtly. There are some people whose immediate reaction is, "Wow, that sounds awesome, so excited to hear that's work that you all are doing. I want to learn more about it." And then there are other people for whom there's a, kind of a quizzical look with some skepticism. And that can be from academics or practicing planners. But I think we've both thought, I think pretty carefully in different settings, about how to meet people where they are. And so, for instance, rather than talking about somatics and the sense of emotions being held in the body and sounding a little New Agey to some people, I might start a training for public servants, folks for continuing education training by having everybody in the room stand up and hum —

MS: Hum?

WL: — and people are a little conf— "hum" [Meghan laughs]. And we all hum together. And people are a little confused until you bring it back and say, well, think about some of the most emotive, deeply felt experiences, whether you're at a sporting event where everyone's chanting together or if you're in a religious service where people are singing a hymn of praise or something else that the ritual — there's more to that than just like saying the words. The bodies are actually, there's some evidence — people's bodies are coming together and sort of synchronizing. And so kind of catching people a little off guard from just thinking that this is, again, mystical, New Age, out there. Another, another example that occurs to me is sometimes I'll be talking, especially here in the Midwest, to a room that trends older, whiter, male. Sometimes when I'm speaking into emergency management–type communities, there's a high proportion of folks that would be military or ex-military. And when I talk about the topics of compassion and emotional intelligence and social intelligence, I will often reference a book called On Killing that's written by a — was written in the '90s and updated by a psychologist or psychiatrist, I can't remember specifically, in the army who wrote this book about the psychological ways that over the 20th century that the military had to overcome a deep human aversion to killing other people. And what they did was they used the same principles that we're arguing for bringing people together in community to create distance between people so that you would be willing to kill another person that you did not know, because it served national interest or something like that. So there are ways to kind of, again, meet people where they're at with some of this, this work.

MS: For both of you, where would you like to see this field of research in the next five, ten, fifteen years? Maybe more importantly, where would you like to see professional planners? How would you like to see behaviors or attitudes change in terms of incorporating emotional intelligence into their work?

SSW: Well, I've been thinking a lot about the ways that half planning scholarship, again, as Ward mentioned earlier, has used this almost role dichotomy as — of planners as being either a technician or a politician or some sort of hybrid. And as he mentioned, Mickey Lauria and Mellone Long have looked further into some of that work that Jerry Kaufman and Elizabeth Howe did so many years ago, and I, I would love to see a little bit more on that, that, that perhaps reconceptualizes those roles in ways that allow players to — I'm not sure that's the right dichotomy, I guess is what I would say, that the technician we all understand. "Politician" I think has some implications that, that are perhaps not entirely accurate. And I think it would be helpful to be able to reconceptualize that. And then perhaps do more survey work on the actual practice of planning and see if that turns up some new, new ideas.

WL: I agree with all of that that Stacy has just shared. I think there's that — one of the lines of research in the near term that that we're pursuing is trying to understand planning successes and been doing some research and understanding some places where planning succeeded, where you wouldn't expect it, and finding that kind of under the hood, that it's emotional-social intelligence, often by people who have lived in these marginalized or oppressed roles that have deep ability to to be empathetic and to weave together networks. And I think that there's a lot there to be explored. I'm curious — there's a recent PhD graduate out of Finland, Susa Eräranta, who has started collecting some data, just checking in with some of her planning colleagues on a five-, ten-, fifteen-minute basis. And — "How are you feeling at this moment?" — asking them to plot it in a simple chart. And then also asking a little data: "What were you doing then and who were you working with?" And then looking at some of that really granular understanding of what is the experience through a day. When I when I step back and think about it ten or fifteen years from now or even farther, I'll be honest that I — my own emotions, I have a lot of trepidation, fear, anxiety, perhaps even terror in the face of the lack of attention and urgency around the climate crisis and its connections to racial injustice and xenophobia and so many issues that are coming at us. And I think if we're going to have any chance as a society of not doubling down on othering of people, of creating more exclusive societies, of further greed around resources, public resources, infrastructure. If we don't want to go down a pretty intolerant and hateful path, that this type of work is going to be critical, because being right on the numbers is a necessary but insufficient condition for getting good planning done. We know that persuasion and community building's important, and persuasion and community building are about understanding emotions. I heard a podcast once that said that some of the most inspiring speakers over time have been those that first acknowledge — they're not afraid to acknowledge the real fear that people have, acknowledge it and then point to a path forward. But if we ignore the feelings that people are having, then we don't have an authentic connection, and then the words just land hollow.

MS: Well, Stacey and Ward, I thank you so much for joining us on Cover to Cover.

SSW: Thank you.

WL: Yeah, it's been a pleasure.

MS: We're looking forward to seeing what's next from the both of you and from your colleagues at KU.

Mary Hammon: Another article featured this month takes a critical look at micromobility, specifically dockless bikes and scooters. The story, it's called "Access Denied," asks some pretty important questions about how accessible and inclusive this new transportation mode is for people with disabilities. I think we all know that micromobility is really hot right now — and for a good reason. It promises to be an environmentally friendly way of solving first and last mile needs. And a lot of people are hoping that it's going to get more people out of their cars and onto public transit. But for about 40.7 million Americans with disabilities, micromobility vehicles just aren't an option. And in some cases, particularly when those vehicles are dockless, they actually pose literal barriers by blocking sidewalks and passageways, which has a significant impact on people with disabilities' rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The author spoke to Mark Ezzell, director of the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program, who also uses a wheelchair for mobility. And I feel like he put it really well when he said, "Municipalities cannot just look at bikes and scooters as a free first and last mile solution and not plan for the consequences. If you don't create regulations, then you create a Wild West situation, where micromobility devices are blocking curb ramps, crosswalks, and bus stops." Fortunately, as the story points out, micromobility can be inclusive, and planners have a key role to play in ensuring it. Some cities are already taking steps to get ahead of accessibility issues when it comes to micromobility. Oakland, California, for example, requires scooter providers to offer a more accessible option with a seat and a wider wheelbase. In its recent scooter pilot, Chicago required scooter companies to take all scooters off the streets between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Portland incentivizes good practices by micromobility providers — for example, Spin was allowed to add nearly 200 scooters to its fleet after developing a program to deter riders from illegally using them on sidewalks and to encourage rider safety. Austin has designated "no deploy zone" areas, where micromobility companies are prohibited from placing their devices. Those areas include places like the Texas School for the Blind, Austin Medical Plaza, and several other locations. And finally, L.A. created an MDS system, which stands for mobility data specification, and they require permitted shared use mobility companies to provide real time information about their vehicles. So, for example, L.A. could potentially communicate with companies and their customers in real time if a dockless vehicle is parked illegally in a public right-of-way. And L.A., even made the software open source, so a lot of other cities are starting to use it.

MS: I thought this was a fascinating story, Mary. We've, we've covered micromobility issues in Planning magazine quite a bit. We did a story last year looking at scooters and asking whether they would, you know, be — just be a fad or something that would stick around. And we talked about all the various issues that come with it, as well as the freedom that it gives users for that, you know, first and last mile. But I just didn't think about the impacts that micromobility would have on people with disabilities.

Lindsay Nieman: Meghan, I think that really connects to one of the biggest takeaways from this story, which is the importance of involving people with disabilities in really any planning effort, but especially when it comes to micromobility. That might sort of seem like planning 101, but, you know, clearly it's not happening. So it really bears repeating, and it's an important lesson to learn and learn fast.

MH: That's a really good point, Lindsay. And it really echoes what Karen Tamley said in the article. She's the former commissioner for the Chicago Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities. And she said, "The best engagement practice that planners can use is being proactive in inviting people with a wide range of disabilities to be at the table throughout the process. Don't wait until after the complaints come in." Which I think is really good advice.

MS: Absolutely.

LN: Like Meghan mentioned at the top of the episode, another feature that we have in March is "Are You Solar Ready?," which serves up seven steps for managing large-scale photovoltaic developments. We're sort of at a tipping point for solar right now. About 2.6 million acres of land are expected to be used for photovoltaic, or PV, development by 2050. That's more than three times the size of Rhode Island. And that state, by the way, just pledged to change over to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2030. Those kinds of pledges are easy to make, but a lot harder to stick to. But Megan Day, AICP, has some strategies that can make the journey a little bit easier. First up, she says, you have to lay the groundwork. That means doing things like developing regulations, integrating solar development into community goals, setting large-scale solar performance standards, and creating streamlined permitting processes. Next, Meghan says, large-scale solar has to be recognized as a unique land use. These installations are quiet and emission-free facilities, and they have very little onsite staff, so they really shouldn't be viewed as industrial or utility land uses, which is often the impulse. Meghan's third recommendation is to identify a development pathway. Make sure your community defines its zoning requirements for solar development ahead of time. It'll help save time and expenses not only for developers but for planning staff, too. And don't forget to include storage in that definition.

MS: Lindsay, I think that third recommendation in the story is a particularly useful one, where the author talks about creating a development pathway for PV arrays. She talks particularly about the importance of defining and distinguishing between roof-mounted installations and ground-mounted installations. And the ground-mounted installations are really the ones that we're talking about here. And those may require special consideration in your code to, to see whether they'll be permitted by right in certain areas or, or with a conditional-use permit. So there's a handy little table in the article that can help you sort of sort those things out.

LN: Megan's fourth suggestion really focuses on impacts. She suggests defining and applying standards to solar installations based on the area of the development or the impact of the installation, not the capacity or how the generated electricity is used. That will help keep your codes current as technologies and business models change. Number five: Don't treat PV like it's a building. Maximum lot coverages, which limit the percentage of a lot that can be covered by buildings or impervious surfaces aren't really necessary. Of course, solar equipment makes impervious surfaces, but rainwater can flow between panels and reach any vegetation below. Megan's sixth tip is one of the most important, I think, and it's all about the community. There's a lot of fake news out there about large-scale solar projects. Planners are in a perfect position to go to residents and do the engagement and help them sort out that fact from fiction. Finally, Megan says, you have to avoid burdensome decommissioning requirements. Lots of large-scale PV ordinances require a plan for decommissioning at the end of a project's useful life or when the facility doesn't operate for a year. Those are usually put in place to avoid cities being stuck with huge abandoned solar fields. But these projects hold a lot of value, Megan says, and they can be sold and maintained if anything happens to the original owner. Her best advice is to just keep decommissioning regulations equal to what you'd see for other kinds of developments.

MS: The other major feature in this issue is, like I said, is part of our “Business of Planning” series, which is a series that really looks at some of the nuts and bolts of the planning profession. And in this case, it's about developing your career and taking it where you want to go. The article is “Taking the Lead,” and it's by Linda McIntyre, AICP, and she is a planner in New York City. And it goes into 13 strategies for effective management in a collaborative profession. And it's aimed at people in various different phases of their career. The story looks at three phases of management: this idea of getting into management, then being there for a while, and then really thriving as a manager for the long-term. And in each of these rungs of the career ladder, the author, Linda McIntyre, names several challenges and then goes into different strategies that planners can use to overcome them. In the first section, which she calls “Getting There,” one of the first challenges is this idea that suddenly I'm the authority, and it's about people who have moved — who are moving into management for the very first time, and people, of course, are looking to them as the expert on things. And there's a great story about Michele Boni, who, who started working as a full-time zoning officer for Orange Township in Delaware County, Ohio. And she did that during her last semester at the Ohio State University. But then just six months into the job, the director resigned, leaving her as the only full-time staffer in the zoning office. And here's what she says about it — and I can relate to this — she says, “It was overwhelming, but it was also an opportunity to prove that I was ready for the job.” So at the age of twenty-five, she became the director of her township. And for a while, she didn't have any full-time staff of her own. And so she was doing a lot of what she referred to as “winging it.” One of the experts that we talked to for this story is Richard Willson, FAICP, and he's a professor at Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning and a practicing transportation planning consultant. He's also the author of the 2017 book, A Guide for the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career. And he also addresses management issues regularly in his APA blog, "A Guide for the Idealist." But here's what, here's what Rick Willson had to say about that: He says that moving into management as a planner, you may — you may find that you have an overlap of skills, and that was the case for Michele Boni. She had this training in public engagement and community outreach, and she found that that really helped her prepare for leading those public meetings she would attend and lead, as well as working with the staff that she was eventually able to get. Despite her training and sort of this baptism by fire experience, her youth was sometimes mistaken as a lack of expertise, she said. And she said that people were sometimes a little surprised when they asked to talk to the director and found out that it was her. She said it was challenging at first, but once she proved that she had a lot of planning knowledge, it became a lot easier. The next phase the author describes is being there. You know, once you're in management for a couple of years, how do you, how do you do it? She points to this challenge, she calls, “Humans: We’re Sometimes the Worst.” And she says, "So now you're a manager. Now the strengths and foibles of everyone on your team, yours included, are your business. If you're in the public sector, so are those of other agencies — the political leadership and the community at large. So there's the challenge. You know, you have to deal with the humanness of the humans [laughs] that you deal with.” And she offers a couple of different strategies. One is to know yourself and to plan accordingly. And Rick Willson chimes in on this one, too. And he recommends that you clarify your intentions. He says, “Ask yourself: Do I want to take on a culture change in the organization or should I leave that alone and only pursue the planning objectives?” He says there's no right answer, but you should be clear with yourself and with others about what your agenda is and how you want to spend your time. A related strategy, of course, is to know your team and to know your peers and really to just be understanding of, you know, what makes us all human and sort of go with that flow. Finally, the author talks about thriving in management, particularly in long-term management. Again, she goes through a number of different challenges, but one that I liked was the challenge of managing expectations, not just other people's but even your own. A couple of strategies she offer— she offers is to continue to motivate your team while you motivate yourself, to never stop growing, and to pace and care for yourself. That's kind of an interesting one, I think, in these days, and I like what James Rather, AICP, had to say. He's a development review manager in Portland, Maine. And he said that he takes time for himself during the workday as much as he can. He does meditations, he exercises. He does take his lunch breaks, even if they're quick. He says, "I also stop and take a deep breath and remember that I'm a veteran of many long planning battles and campaigns, and I just need to trust my own judgment and experience." He acknowledges that he had a predecessor in this position that had very big shoes to fill. He says, "She was kind of a legend for her work ethic and institutional knowledge. I know I can't be her. I can only be the best version of me. And I do have the ability to be patient, learn from the folks around me, leverage my experience, and synthesize. The rest will just take time." That's what James Rather had to say about the experience. And that really resonated with me. I was sort of thrust into management at a time in my career and I didn't have any experience doing it, and it was very much a trial by fire. But I had a really supportive team around me and we made it work and we learned a lot from each other along the way. And I think we were all so patient with one another, and that made all the difference.

LN: Another story from this month that I think will really stick with me personally is Adina Solomon's piece about the first instance of a municipality returning Native American land without an accompanying sale, lawsuit, or court order. Back in October, Eureka, California's City Council voted to return Tuluwat Island to the Wiyot tribe after years and years of activism and more than 150 years after it was stolen from them. It's a great story. Adina really dug into the steps that went into the land transfer, and she talked to a lot of the key players that were involved in making it happen. Some other tribes and municipalities have since reached out to Eureka and the Wiyot tribe, so hopefully we're gonna see a lot more of this happening in the future.

MS: Lindsay, I really love that story, and there was some terrific art that came along with it, too, of the tribe celebrating that return of their land to them. And listeners will have to check out the story at planning dot org slash planning [] to see the photos, but you can't help but smile when you do. One other story that I liked that I just thought was really useful was about a new tool from the US Department of Transportation. They've created an interactive map that shows information on federal investment, specifically infrastructure projects that are in and around Opportunity Zones, which, of course, is a federal program that's a year or two old, and we talked — we've talked about it before in Planning magazine, in our story “Adventures in the Land of OZ.” The Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, talked about Opportunity Zones as having the potential to increase job creation in underserved communities, especially in rural areas. And she said the department is working to ensure that there are transportation links to those OZs. So take a look at the map. It's, it's really pretty interesting to play with. The tool offers visualizations and detailed attribute tables for a long list of datasets, including major federal highway projects and information on bus, rail, air, and sea ports. And then it also includes features to add and layer in new data, which is a really wonderful piece of the tool so that users can start to develop their own custom insights. If you want to check out the tool for yourself, look for the link on this podcast episode’s page at planning dot org [].

MH: Well, that's all for the March issue. As always, all of these stories and more are available to read at planning dot org slash planning []. In our next episode, looking at the April issue, we'll be talking to planner Lisa Nisenson, who wrote “Primed for Deliveries,” which is a story about how emerging trends and technologies in e-commerce are signaling big changes for land use and infrastructure planning. We'll also be talking about a story on the changing model of fast food. It's called “Is Fast Food Through with Drive-Thrus?” And a story about how planners are using coding solutions to solve sticky planning challenges.

MS: Well, thanks for listening to another episode of Cover to Cover. That's all for today. And we wish you and your families and your communities the best of health. And we'll talk to you next time.

LN: Thanks for tuning into another episode of the American Planning Association podcast. To read the stories mentioned in this episode and more, visit planning dot org slash planning []. To hear past episodes of the APA podcast, visit planning dot org slash podcast []. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Have an idea for the podcast? Send it to podcast at planning dot org [].


Other Ways to Listen

Find us on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud — or wherever you get your podcasts.