APAS & EPP Panel Discussion: What Does a Planner Do, Anyway?

On Wednesday, September 12, 2018, in support of Cities and Towns week, the CU Denver APAS chapter partnered with APA’s local Emerging Planning Professionals group to host a panel discussion aimed at those who are curious about different disciplines within urban planning and want to learn more about what planners actually do.

The panel included five local planners, each representing a different discipline in urban planning:

  • Jennifer Woods, Comprehensive Planning
  • Waverly Klaw, Hazard Mitigation & Land Use
  • Jonathan Woodward, Economic Development
  • Emily Lindsay, Regional Transportation
  • Elizabeth O’Brien, Development Review

The panelists were all at different stages of their careers, with experience levels ranging from entry level to nearly a decade. They also differed in the scope of their work, with some of the panelists working directly for local municipalities, and others working for larger regional planning or state-level organizations.

Students and others attending the discussion listened as the panelists discussed their day-to-day work, their main challenges working in the planning field, and their favorite projects to work on. Common themes among the panelists were the challenge and rewards of working with diverse sets of constituents, stakeholders, and different departments and agencies within their municipalities. All of the planners mentioned how important communications skills were in their day-to-day work.

While the panelists were very frank in speaking about the challenges of their roles, they also offered a lot of encouragement to students and aspiring planners. Elizabeth O’Brian, who works in development review spoke about her joy when a good project gets approved, “Small victories make everything in terms of challenges worth it.” Long range planner Jennifer Woods also spoke to the rewarding nature of the profession, saying “Planners and MPOs have a really big opportunity to give back to the community and guide a lot of the things that the community wants to see happen… For those of you getting out into the world… there are so many ways that you are going to change the world and you often won’t realize your impact for years into the future.” 

Attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists. Questions focused on the planning profession, career choices, and the planning job market. Panelists explored the difference in approach between public planners and planning consultants and discussed how citizens can get more involved and learn about planning. Jonathan Woodward, who works in Economic Development, offered this piece of advice, “Find the experts in the fields you’re interested in and call them up. As a student, there are a lot of opportunities for learning and networking that you don’t always have as a working professional.” He further advised, “Once you get into that first job, get really good at something. Become the expert.”

As the panel discussion ended, Jennifer Woods left attendees with one last piece of advice: “Don’t ever stop thinking that you can change the world.”

Image above:
From Left:  Panelists Jonathan Woodward, Waverly Klaw, Elizabeth O’Brien, Jennifer Woods, and Emily Lindsay.