Trends For Planning Management

Dear Management Doctor: 

I am Dory Reeves and teach Management for Planners in Auckland, New Zealand. I am curious to know what planners in the US see as the key trends for planning management over the next 5 years. Here, the key issues will center around a major restructuring of local and regional government which will create the supercity of Auckland. At a more micro level, local authorities have postponed recruiting due to the economic downturn and so there will be the effects of this.

Dory Reeves
New Zealand

Dear Dory,

Great question. I am eager to see what some of my emailers may think about your question. I have these observations:

  1. Supercity
    There are many places in the US where a city and county should merge, particularly in tough economic times. I see bits and pieces of discussion about this but they always seem to fizzle out. I think the likelihood of any of these taking place is very low. Our last major one in the US was Louisville, Kentucky with Jefferson County. I think this was successful because it was pushed by a very well liked and popular Mayor.

    A number of years ago I was asked to look at merging just the planning function for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Everyone I talked to in the City said everything that took place in the County impacted the City. Everyone I talked to in the County said everything that took place in the City impacted the County. All of that was true but even merging this function never took place. At the time there was some discussion at the State level about simply merging the City and the County, but that too died out.

    On the positive side, our Councils of Government and Metropolitan Planning Organizations are gradually growing in power, primarily due to Federal planning mandates related to how dollars are distributed.

  2. Recruiting
    Given the heavy layoffs of planners in the US, recruiting is also down. However, as key positions become vacant and particularly directors' positions, this is a great time to find superstars to add to your organization. A word of caution, don't simply rely on that long list of unemployed planners that will respond to a job announcement. The superstar you want is likely already employed and you will have to recruit him or her.
  3. Planning
    The current hot issue in US planning has to do with sustainability and global warming. It is amazing how fast this has taken hold of government and the planning profession. I see this trend easily being the focus for the next 5years.
  4. Paperless Office
    The technology and lowered cost is finally here to begin the so called paperless office. This will start in the processing of development applications. Features will include electronic plan submittal, electronic plans, electronic monitoring systems, electronic plan check software, and electronic files. Only a few communities are underway with all of these features but I predict by the end of 5years, it will have become the norm.
  5. Others
    A variety of other issues that I have been preaching will also be in the mix including:
    • Flattening the organization
    • Clear and monitored performance standards
    • Empowering employees
    • One-stop and collocated functions
Please tell us more about New Zealand so we can get more international dialogue going in this email system. I'll share any other information we get from our emailers.

The Management Doctor

P.S. My wife and I have been thinking of a trip to Australia and/or New Zealand. I'd love to do some management training for planners as part of a trip. Maybe you could give me a hand in finding an invite and adding planners to our free email service.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

These are longer-term trends, but these are three trends that dominate the planning manager's day in one form or another in the US:

The first trend is a state of permanent fiscal crisis in local governments. The recession has put a finer edge on it, but in many parts of the US, local governments were in trouble long before the housing bust. Its from a convergence of four major factors:

  1. A long-term decline in state and federal transfer payments.
  2. The effects of Proposition 13 and other initiatives or legislation reducing local fiscal capacity.
  3. An aging infrastructure inventory that is nearing the end of its life cycle.
  4. An increase in the cost of just about everything local governments use or build, but especially health care.
This, not only affects the budget decisions planning managers face, but also affects the priorities of the local government as a whole and fuels intergovernmental competition over tax base. A competition where planning decisions are front and center.

The second trend is a growing disconnect between the the scale at which planning problems manifest themselves and the scale at which most planning authority rests. Planners are increasingly being asked to address problems that manifest themselves as cumulative effects that operate on a regional or even global scale. Water resource management and climate change are only two examples of larger scale issues in which land use is implicated. One could certainly add traffic congestion and affordable housing to the list of problems that operate on a regional scale.

Most of the tools we use are implemented at the individual site scale through the development review process or the infrastructure design process. Most of the decision making on how these tools work occurs at the local government level. Many of the struggles planners face are a struggle to successfully bridge this ever widening gap.

The third trend is the inability of public sector decision making to keep up with the accelerating pace of change occurring in the private market. The legislative process is engineered to be deliberative. New legislation at the local, state, or federal level is easier to stop than to move. This is embedded deep in the DNA of American democracy and is mostly a good thing, but as the pace of change in our operating environment increases, the public sector gets left behind. Over time, American government has responded in four ways that I have observed:

  1. legislative power has been delegated to the executive branch through the power to enact administrative rules;
  2. the courts have intervened when the legislative process has refused to confront an issue;
  3. stakeholders have bypassed the legislative process through initiative and referenda;
  4. private parties have used contracts and covenants to affect private quasi regulatory arrangements to protect their interests.
Traditional governments are in the process of reacting to the effects of actions in these other arenas. The traditional legislative process is much less able to take the initiative, especially on the bigger and more challenging issues.

These are pretty abstract, but I would propose that most of the tough challenges we face have these factors in them, if not as underlying causes, certainly as features that are the dominant constraints.

Dave Andersen, AICP
Plan Review and Technical Assistance Manager Growth Management Services Office, CTED

Both your predictions reflect my expectations for our profession. Here in California, we've seen the increased role that local planning is playing in the implementation of state policies. This will probably continue to increase, sometimes at the expense of local needs and plans.

Here in California we have also been decimated financially, although our small city has held up relatively well so far.

I would be interested to know more about how Auckland incorporates zoning/coding into the planning process and what successes or failures have resulted. I've studied the UK model in the past and have gained a lot of insight on how it has resulted in both good and bad planning.

Final note, my younger brother is leaving, this summer, for a two year church mission in Auckland and will be soon enjoying the beauty and hospitality of your country. We are excited for him and hope he can show us around when we are able to get out there for a visit.

Best Wishes.

Benjamin A. Kimball
City of Porterville, CA

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