With shifting demographics and advancing technology, the city planning office of the future may look very different from today’s departments.

“The next 30 years will be fundamentally different than the last,” said Joseph Horwedel, interim deputy city manager and director of planning, building and code enforcement for San Jose, Calif., at the American Planning Association’s National Planning conference last week.

Horwedel says that as demographics change, both in city populations and in the planning workforce, a major shift is already beginning to occur. With the influx of “technologically native” Generation Y and Millennial professionals, tech solutions will become essential. Big data, mobile services and open data are the “next big thing,” and according to Horwedel, planning offices must now begin to embrace these technologies or be left behind.

Lucas Lindsey, a masters student at Florida State University and a member of the APA panel, spoke as a voice for the next generation of city planners. He said that to engage the 20-something workforce, planning offices must concern themselves with four categories:

Trends: Although technology will be important to the millennial planner, Lindsey cautions that technology itself is a means rather than an end. Big data and mobile tools cannot replace big ideas in planning – they will simply help the next generation of planners take action.

Skills: Next-generation planners will be concerned with real estate economics and becoming “culturally fluent,” meaning they will want to be parts of the communities they serve, rather than operating in isolated bubbles. Lindsey says site-level observation and social media aptitude will be important to this goal.

Structure: As priorities change and technologies shift, the form of planning offices will evolve to meet function. Lindsey says to expect more "open" offices with collaborative workspaces, a rise in telecommuting and an increase in creative programing.

Attraction: To attract new workers, planning offices will have to rethink the way they compensate their workers, says Lindsey. But this doesn’t mean paychecks will necessarily need to be bigger. Creative compensation can refer to professional development and cross-training programs.

Additionally, a strong sense of purpose must be clear in the mission of the future planning office. New workers are more interested in the “why,” rather than the “how.”

To learn more about the planning office of the future, watch the question and answer session below.

 

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