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Planning Minute with AICP President, Deborah Lawlor!

By Colliers Engineering & Design

The American Planning Association’s (APA) National Planning Conference (NPC) kicked off Saturday, April 21, in New Orleans! The four-day event will bring together the hottest topics, latest tools and leading voices. We caught up with the President of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and Maser Consulting Discipline Leader of Planning Services, Deborah Lawlor, for our own Q&A!

Headshot of Deborah Lawlor, Discipline Leader of Planning Services, President of AICP

Deborah Alaimo Lawlor, FAICP, PP, President of AICP and Maser Consulting Discipline Leader of Planning Services

Question 1: What are some of the challenges and rewards of private-practice planning, and how does it differ from public-practice?

“One of the challenges I have experienced in working for a multidisciplinary firm, is when you think you might have just landed a fabulous planning project, you might not be able to work on it because it could present a conflict from another side of the business,” says Debbie. “Private practice is a balancing act, we work for both sides: public and private sector clients. When working for a public entity, like a municipal client, we might be reviewing plans and representing a town as a Planning or Zoning Board Planner or developing land use regulations. Whereas, when we represent a private client we might be assisting with showing how a project can meet the intent of a regulation by providing professional planning testimony.” She continues, “One of the rewards of private-practice planning is you get to be part of a team dealing with a project from inception through construction.”

Question 2: What is a typical work week like and what tasks might a young planner expect to work on?

When asked this question, Debbie laughs and explains young planners really need to know this information so they can approach their new work environment with eyes wide open. She explains, “On the public side, a typical work week is generally 35 or 40 hours. On the private side, while the work week might be 40 hours in theory, a typical work week is generally closer to 45-50 hours and may include night meetings and working nights and weekends if a project has tight deadlines. However, the private sector is generally more flexible in terms of office hours due to these factors.” Regarding the types of work, Debbie explains both the public and private side are wonderful training grounds offering great growth potential.

Coming out of college, a young planner should anticipate entering a planning position with defined tasks they are expected to complete on a routine basis. Some examples may include plan reviews, GIS maps, data collection and some possible field work. This is especially beneficial because entry level planners will be able to get hands-on experience and enhance their skills over time.

On the private side, they may be asked to do preparation work for a more senior level planner to use at meetings including PowerPoint presentations, testimony outlines, handouts and presentation boards.

Question 3: What advice would you give to young planners?

“Never stop learning,” says Debbie “the planning field is very broad, so you have to know about a wide range of topics. Many planners eventually develop a specialty or two like redevelopment, affordable housing, environmental planning or transportation.” Keeping up with new information in the field is particularly important for planners as they need to adjust with ever evolving trends. When asked if it would be fair to say ‘never stop learning’ is her life philosophy, she wholeheartedly agrees.

To view the full program schedule, click here.

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