Studying and learning about planning is all well and good but how does one become a planner and what exactly does a planner do? We, here in the School of Planning can benefit from those who answered these questions before us.
Karin Hung, a community planner with the City of Burnaby, graduated with a MA in Planning in 2003. After participating in a visioning workshop for her neighbourhood, she was exposed to the possibility of planning as a career path. Navigating an entrance into the profession, a move to a different jurisdiction and emerging challenges in the field, Karin offers advice to through this Q&A to new planners and new planning students.
BA Geography, UBC (2001); MA Planning, Waterloo (2003); Dip. Urban Land Economics, UBC (2009)
Q: Briefly describe the type of work you currently do?
A: I’m a Community Planner with the City of Burnaby (Metro Vancouver region). Much of my work focuses on reviewing and managing comprehensive development applications. I help developers navigate the municipal approvals process and provide direction and advice on land use and design.
Q: If you could plan your ideal city it would be?
A: A green city that seeks to protect and heal the natural environment. A connected city that prioritizes walking, biking, and transit use. A prosperous city with jobs and thriving independent businesses. An inclusive city, where everyone feels they have a place. A healthy and active city, where all basic needs are met and all citizens have a strong connection to the outdoors. A well-designed city with unique and varied architecture, streetscapes, neighbourhoods, and public space. A creative city with a constant flow of new ideas and energy. An engaged city, with friendly and caring citizens who gather and celebrate together.
Q: What type of person makes a good planner?
A: Someone who is not afraid of change and is willing to take risks with new and creative solutions. Someone who can manage competing interests and expectations with tact and empathy. Someone who is a committed relationship builder. Someone who is grounded enough to understand that ideas and solutions must be economically and politically supported, and supported by the community. And someone with a lot of patience. Planning happens incrementally. Rushed decisions and processes and quick fixes without a long-term view will backfire.
Q: How did you develop an interest in planning?
A: During my undergrad studies in Geography at UBC, my neighbourhood was going through a visioning program. There was a call for public input through a series of workshops on a variety of planning topics. I was a workshop junkie, spending many weekend hours on sticky dot exercises and brainstorming sessions. I loved the discussion and dialogue and often found myself facilitating small groups. This experience piqued my interest in city planning as a possible career path.
Q: Planning is a diverse and interconnected field. What skill-set should a planning student seek to develop either through exposure or education?
A: This will depend on which area you want to specialize. For example, as a development planner, you will need to be able to read plans and have a keen eye for architectural and urban design. But in terms of general skills that would be necessary for any planning position, I would say research, analysis, writing, communications, facilitation, negotiation, public speaking, and project management.
Q: Have you been involved in projects that changed your view of planning or how you approach planning practice?
A: Recently, I’ve become more involved with master planning of large brownfield sites. I’ve developed a much greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of the various disciplines of planning — land use, urban design, environmental planning, transportation planning, social policy, public health, economic development, etc. When I review a specific development application now, I am reminded that it is just a tiny piece of a much larger picture. A broad perspective needs to be applied to even the smallest of sites.
Q: Did you need to adapt and/or supplement your education in planning to work outside Ontario?
A: I am originally from Vancouver and had every intention to return when I finished my studies at Waterloo. With a BA in a planning-related field, some related local work and volunteer experience, and a graduate degree in planning, I felt ready to land my first planning job in BC. But once you find a job, don’t get complacent. Keep learning. Read. Attend talks. Engage with others in the field. Take a class. Do keep in mind though if you are considering further formal training beyond a graduate planning degree (e.g. diploma/certificate program, LEED, PMP, etc.), it will be more valuable if you have at least a few years of practical work experience first.
Q: What are some of the challenges faced by planners in BC today?
A: Renewing the suburbs and their isolated, sprawling, car-oriented pattern of development. Suburbs have incredible potential to be reshaped to include urban qualities, among them walkability and connectivity, housing diversity, and an enriching and meaningful public realm. But some residents are anxious or resistant to change. Managing divergent wishes and expectations is challenging.
Q: What would you say to someone who is interested in shaping urban life and who is considering an education in planning?
A: If you are considering a career as an city planner in a major metropolitan area, you will need a Master’s degree — even for entry level positions. Quite obviously then, the first step is getting accepted into a reputable graduate planning school. Set yourself up during your undergrad so you will have a stellar grad school application: solid grades, related work and volunteer experience, strong references from your profs, and unique experiences that might set you apart. If you have a research direction already in mind at the time of application and can obtain external funding, all the better.
Q: Is there any advice that you wish you had been given while still a student or at the beginning your career in planning?
A: Balance idealistic planning theory with reality. Blue sky plans will never be accepted if you do not have community and political support, and they will never be implemented if you ignore urban economics and financial impacts.
Find Karin on Twitter @Karin_Hung