Planning can get a bad rap — more tedious than useful; more regimented than responsive.

With a growing focus on innovation and development, the relevance of planning can appear questionable. Yet change is afoot. There is now a substantial gap between the supply and demand for planners. Positions are vacant and new planning graduates are being snapped up.

Why? In a world full of complex challenges in need of clever responses, innovation and development can only be successful if well planned.

Planning is about working our way towards solutions. It’s about nipping small problems in the bud before they become big problems. It’s about balancing different views, assessing evidence, applying logic and implementing mechanisms to achieve common goals and objectives.

Often it is the statutory side of planning with which most people are familiar, a council officer behind a desk or on the phone explaining why certain things have to happen in a certain way. But these rules and procedures are the tip of the iceberg. Many ideas behind statutory planning come from early attempts at improving the public good.

Tracing these rules and regulations back to their origins takes us into the slums of the industrial revolution. Individuals on the Left and Right of politics responded to the desperate living conditions of early industrial life, and planning was born.

Today, ideas to enhance the livability and amenity of our towns and regions, as well as concern for public health, safety and heritage conservation are just some of things that inform planning.

There is another side — the development of plans so things get done.

Like the award-winning Glenorchy Community Plan. Based on community consultation — locals provided over 7500 ideas — this plan forms the basis for all strategic and on-the-ground decision making by local government.

And the Southern Tasmanian Regional Land Use Strategy aims to guide and manage growth and development for 25 years.

Another example is University of Tasmania planning students reviewing the Greater Hobart Mountain Bike Master Plan. Findings are fed back to managing authorities to inform review processes for the plan.

Planning can be a challenging occupation. Working out how to get from A to B, as well as what A and B actually are, is no mean feat. What is the ‘public good’ and how could we improve it?

Governments are placing greater trust in markets, leaving it to the market to sort out what matters and what doesn’t. This is changing the nature of planning.

The best planning integrates social, economic and environmental dimensions.

Planning Institute of Australia chief executive David Williams has said, “To do effective planning work — whether that’s urban or regional, in a private or public capacity, in land use or transport or any other area — you need to draw on a toolkit that’s both extensive and up-to-date. This means an in-depth and contemporary knowledge of the latest technologies, the latest legislation, as well as astute insight and foresight into the local community, region, state or even country that your work will be impacting on.”

Education and training of planners is evolving.

Gone are the days of being lectured to in large university auditoriums. Planning students are discussing issues with professionals, working on here-and-now problems for assessments, and are out and about applying their knowledge and developing skills.

An international mix in the class room is fostering insights within the global context.

Education is ensuring that planning graduates are in hot demand, working at all levels of government, in international and local consulting firms, for infrastructure providers, and through business and industry.

In a changing world, one thing is for sure. Planners will have an influential and growing role well into the future.

This piece originally appeared in The Mecury newspaper.

Dr Kate Booth co-ordinates the professionally accredited Master of Planning course at the University of Tasmania, and sits on the Committee of the Planning Institute of Australia Tasmanian Division.

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About Dr Kate Booth

Dr Kate Booth is Lecturer in Human Geography (Planning) at the University of Tasmania. She teaches urban planning and design, and regional planning as part of the accredited Master of Planning course. In light of the escalating costs of natural disasters and significant rates of under-insurance, Kate is leading research on how insurance matters (or could matter) in disaster planning and management. Her other research interests include place, and visitor studies.

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