A Little Insight Into the Life of an Urban Planner

Submitted via email from Denise – Urban Planner

At the young age of 17 I knew that my dad was a planner, what exactly that meant I was not too sure. When it came time to apply for post-secondary, I had not put too much thought into what programs I would apply for; I just knew I wanted to go to university. Sports and hanging out with my friends was top of mind during my high school years, not what I wanted to be so many years down the road.

When the university application deadline was approaching, I turned to my parents for support and guidance. Dad had spoken about his career throughout the years as a planner but I never put any serious thought into it until I had to choose a career path for myself. We talked about my interests, and after much discussion, he convinced me that I would enjoy this profession and most importantly there would be jobs when I completed my degree. I was convinced! Eight or so months later, I was on my way to my first class as a planning student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University, downtown Toronto, nervous but ready to learn and be enlightened!

Fast forward 8 years, my degree is completed and I have been working as a planner for over three years. To be honest, I wouldn’t be here without the guidance of my parents and specifically my dad, a retired planner who worked in the field for many years (if I try and guess how many I will probably be wrong but it was a lot of years!). I love my career and am happy and very fortunate that I had someone to teach me about the profession and support me throughout school. Based off my experience, I think it is very important that kids, teenagers and adults all have a better understanding of the field of urban planning.

This leads to the what I do in a typical day piece. The bigger task I embarked on today, was reviewing a local Official Plan for conformity with Regional and Provincial policies. I bet you have NO idea what that even means, or you stopped reading my blog after the words Official Plan and if you do know what that means, congratulations, there aren’t many of you out there! So let’s break it down and explain. Each municipality has an Official Plan for the city. This Plan is the City’s (or town, township, county etc) long term land use plan. It sets out where, and for what, lands can be used for such as residential, retail, institutional etc, how they may be developed and how they are connected and interact. It affects how the City will physically look like 20 years into the future, how the community and all of its neighbourhoods will function. The Plan sets a vision for the future growth of the City taking into consideration, natural resources, transportation, agriculture, culture, infrastructure, community services etc. Exciting stuff eh!?

Now, the Province of Ontario has also set out land use policies (in a number of documents) to establish how the entire Province will grow. The Plans provide direction to the Regional and local governments and establish targets and parameters for growth. It is the job of the Regional government to take that direction and implement it through the Regions Official Plan – take the policies established by the province and apply them to the Regional context. Then at the local municipal level, the policies in the Official Plan need to implement direction by the Region AND the Province of Ontario. Simple right?

Working for a Regional government, it is my job to review the local Official Plan and make sure the direction of the Province and Region is being implemented in the local Official Plan. The Province has given the approval of local Official Plans to the Regional municipalities where there is a two tier system. I am very passionate about my work and career and could go on and on but I will end my brief explanation on this note.

Within the field of land use planning there is a wide array of jobs and a degree in this field can open many doors and opportunities. What I described in this post is only one small component of such a fascinating profession! One piece of advice that I live by,

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” Confucius.

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