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In my hometown of Mount Prospect, IL (northwest suburb of Chicago), there are several challenges that village administrators have been facing in the past decade. For example, the downtown area is rich in history dating back to the 1850’s, when the train rolled through before the Villages incorporated in 1917. However, in recent years, the area has struggled to bring in new businesses and maintain current ones. Adjacent communities have entertainment and attractions in their downtowns that draw residents from nearby areas; yet, Mount Prospect’s downtown still lacks any appeal. Attempts from the Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Association have been made, with minimal success. For Mount Prospect to compete with neighboring municipalities, planners need to go back to the drawing board. Planning is a mindset and way of thinking. The first step is to assess the problem. Why are businesses leaving? What is impeding new ones from coming to downtown? What do residents want to see in their downtown and what will draw them to stay local, as opposed to going to other communities? It is vital to understand what the businesses and debatably more important, the residents want and need to make their downtown a destination. Perspectives are essential to addressing planning problems such as Mt. Prospect’s downtown. The planner’s mind has to look at the problem from all views since there will be a variety of people with different wants and needs that need to be recognized. Unlike other professions in the private sector, planners are looking to attain a higher degree of well-being for the whole community, not just paying customers. There are many directions that the Village administrators can go with to liven up the downtown, planners have a variety of skills in their “toolbox” to find solutions for the communities they work and care about. It is not always a simple, one fix all, quick fix. It can take years of careful consideration and preparation to attain the desired outcomes. Patience is a virtue in the planning world; few things can be changed overnight. The planner can see the big picture and know what is necessary to be done now, for visions to become a reality in the future.
There is a variety of knowledge and skills required to plan effectively, much of which can not be taught in the classroom, but rather in the field and experience. Take for example our class this past semester. It would be a rather weak class if the experience and skills we obtained over the course of the project were taught in a lecture. Knowledge of common planning practices and theory is necessary before taking on a project such as Monroe’s Americana Park site. However, the readings discussed at the beginning of this class and from previous planning courses are meant to get the ideas flowing in our heads, not necessarily to be used specifically for our project. Each community faces their challenges, most of the time unique to them. To plan effectively, a planner must have the ability to view all affected parties perspectives and make decisions based on the wants and needs of the particular community. There is a laundry list of skills and knowledge required to plan effectively. This can include looking at best practices for finding the answer to a seemingly complex issue or consulting a comprehensive plan to see what the goals of the community are. More importantly though is having patience. Most challenges are complicated and involve a variety of parties that may have different desired outcomes. Finding a vision that suits all can be difficult to find, and could take much time to accomplish. There is a reason that planners are tasked with envisioning long-term design. It is because they have the mindset to conceptualize big picture ideas and know what needs to be done now, for a community to achieve its goals and aspirations. This skillset has to be acquired through experience and takes years to develop. Even the most advanced planners will continue to evolve as different challenges, and other contemporary practices are introduced.
As stated earlier, perspectives is a key point in planning. Without seeing other viewpoints, planning can become narrow-minded and lack creativity and innovation. Much can be learned from collaborating and problem-solving from people with different perspectives and skills. For instance, our project team in class was made up of students from a variety of majors and backgrounds, and even from different parts of the country and world! With this kind of diversity on a project team, it allows for a workspace that brings innovative ideas by using old ideas and introducing new ones together. A solution that may have worked in one team member’s hometown may not ultimately work for Monroe; however, after combining it with another team member’s idea, it may create a hybrid solution that works for Monroe. But it does not stop at previous knowledge, the varied skillsets of our team are what made our project possible. For example, while I have taken an intro GIS course and can navigate the software at fundamental level, there are other team members such as Kyle and Luke, who can use the software at an advanced level. This allowed me an opportunity to advance my GIS “toolbox” and learn new techniques and manners of professionalism in the production of maps. Our minds allow us as individuals to see the world in different ways. Jessica’s head allows her to see things in a more architectural and design way, something that myself and many others on the team lack. Without her, we would have been unable to obtain such a high quality and professional final product for Monroe. Her skills can produce the esthetics needed for the final polishings of the report. Working in an environment with varying backgrounds and perspectives can be difficult at times. However, it is necessary in the real-world to accomplish goals set forth. A team that lacks diversity in perspectives and skills is too narrow-minded to accomplish exceptional planning.
Overall, this class has given me first-hand experience of planning in the real world. Looking forward, I now have a much better understanding of what goes into the planning process of a sub-area plan. It is amazing to think how much work and effort is necessary to plan such a small amount of land in Monroe. However, at the same time it is a crucial part of something that is much larger. The site has the potential to attract not only Monroe residents, but also those of surrounding regional communities, possibly even via the Great Miami River Trail. I have to say one of my biggest takeaways from this project is the importance of collaborating with others in order to produce a plan we can all be proud of. Alone, that would be impossible, since I lack the unique talents of others. But when we come together and work as a team to find an answer to a problem, the possibilities are endless. It can be tempting to take the reins and try to solve urban problems on our own, as opposed to working with other parties. This class has shown me the importance of working collectively with others to find a solution to an issue Monroe had. In the future, it will be vital to take advantage of the broad range of skills and traits others have to find the answers to the unique planning problems communities face.
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