The writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders said, “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” I agree. Yet still favor planning, too. So much so that Planning is my current profession. Well, Environmental Planning, to be specific.
I did not plan to be a Planner (and yes, this is funny to me). However, in my three years in this field, I have discovered that many individuals found their way to the profession through a myriad of avenues. This is one of my favorite things about Planning – the people. While many Planners have an undergraduate or graduate degree (or both) specifically in Planning, there are also many individuals with degrees in fields such as Landscape Architecture, Economics, Real Estate, Business, Interior Design, Engineering, Sociology, Psychology, Natural Resources and Geography. The same is true for Environmental Planners. This makes sense because the Planning profession is essentially about process – specifically, implementing good process to weave together diverse and often conflicting aspects of society. Whether working in transportation, historic preservation, community, natural resource or economic planning, Planners operate within the space where private, public and civic sectors meet, in addition to the nexus of various fields and industries.
As an Environmental Planner for the City of Fort Collins, I mostly work with City Planners performing development review. Prior to new development on vacant land or redevelopment of land, a development project proposal must go through the development review process in order to be approved prior to being built. The project proposal, for example a new housing development, must be allowed in the zoning of the area and must meet all standards. Standards include setbacks from active oil and gas wells or wetlands, road widths, sidewalk connections, required park space or trails, and many other items. During the development review process I apply environmental protection standards, for example, ensuring the ecological value of a development site is maintained or enhanced. This involves directing development away from features such as wetlands, the Poudre River or Spring Creek. If and when development will impact a natural feature or a portion of a feature, then I negotiate improvements in natural features elsewhere on the site through enhanced natural-like landscaped areas or in rare cases, enhancements off-site in a publicly owned City Natural Area. My work includes public speaking and presentations at neighborhood meetings and City Boards and Commissions, and a lot of coordination with private development and consulting companies, non-profits and City divisions like Utilities, Natural Areas and Forestry. Since 2016, I have also worked directly on implementation of the new Nature in the City (NIC) program. The program focus: maintaining a connected network of functional habitat for people, plants and wildlife and ensuring every resident is within a 10-minute walk to nature from their home or workplace.
I did not plan to be a Planner, but working as an Environmental Planner has been (and continues) to be an extremely rewarding experience for me. In this work I get to employ systems-thinking and critical decision-making, perform public service, spend time in an office and outdoors, hone public speaking skills and coordinate with highly intelligent and creative people across sectors. I also literally get to plant trees. For my job. Winning!
The road to my current profession was definitely a winding one; however in looking back, this makes sense in the context of my personality, interests and life goals. Sometimes I catch myself wishing I had found this profession sooner or that I had “settled down” earlier. But then I remember life is messy and just as nonlinear as formal education is linear. I do love planning in general, and as a young person, planned to travel and live abroad, learn another language and spend time making my own way in the world; to essentially explore myself and the world around me. This has led to many great adventures and stories, as well as great disasters and missteps. Some of the best actions I have taken in my life and some of the best things that have happened to me were not planned in the slightest. Some were. In my opinion, it is all a matter of balancing the planning and living.