In the planning profession, there is an inherent risk of urban planners becoming solely mundane paper pushers and permit processors. That is due to several factors, including:
- The variety of requests being processed – rezonings, special use permits, variances, plats, planned unit developments, site plans, environmental permits, etc.
- The regulatory processes established by laws and codes.
- Politics within the office and the community at-large.
- Internal office policies and procedures.
- That much of planning is based on data gathering.
If planners are not careful, they could be spending their entire career moving paper from the inbox to the outbox and accomplishing little else. Before you know it, your career has reached its twilight and you have very little to show for many years of hard work. Is that really what any of us went to planning school for? Granted, some planning roles are weighted toward such activities, but that should be the exception rather than the rule.
For planners (and communities) to truly excel and thrive, our profession must shift from a state of paperwork overload and back toward being visionaries. Without foresight and vision, communities run the risk of becoming a narrowly focused interpretation of what the future should hold and not an image shaped by the input of all stakeholders. When the prototype becomes the accepted norm we all lose to the forces of bland sameness leaving us with communities that look-alike and which are without any perceptible unique local, regional, and communal attributes. The potential positives are simply discarded into the circular file of apathy.
No one is saying that paperwork is not a necessary evil. But, as with everything, too much is unhealthy. So, unless your departmental goal is to increase the profits of timber companies and paper mills or to employ more loggers and lumberjacks, please consider initiating any and all efforts which help free your planning staff from the burden of undue and unnecessary paperwork. Let them be free to again explore the glorious aspects of this oh-so-great and meaningful profession, without annoying encumbrances. Given the time and opportunity, your staff, your department, and your community will blossom from taking such a bold and courageous step.