Australia New Zealand, Impact

A concept design for a medium-rise residential development located at Gilberton, South Australia, prepared by architect Tectvs.

Olivia Franco was recently awarded the 2014 South Australian Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) Award for “Outstanding Achievement by a Young Planner.” She was recognized for her demonstrated leadership within the planning industry and skills in strategic and policy planning, development assessment and community engagement.

Despite the increased publicity and focus on urban and regional planning over the past decade, many people don’t actually know what planners “do.” “What do you do?” is a question I’ve been asked many times at family barbecues and when meeting new people, but it remains a question I struggle to answer. I’m thus taking this opportunity to share some insights into the planning profession, and what planners actually do in their various roles.

In Australia, planning broadly falls under the following categories as described below:

  • Development assessment: Proposals for new development are lodged with the relevant council or state government agency, which then assesses the development application against the policies within the relevant planning scheme and either approves or refuses the proposed development.
  • Strategic planning: Strategic plans are generally prepared to identify the location of new development, land types and resource planning for areas, regions or businesses at a high level.
  • Policy planning: Policies and directions are established to guide development or provide frameworks for areas, places and organisations, including government agencies.
  • Community and stakeholder engagement: Engaging with individuals, groups and stakeholders on planning matters to work through solutions and strategies on policies or development that affects them.
  • Various land-use planning specialties: These specialties form an integral part of the planning profession by considering the environmental, social, transport, infrastructure and other impacts in the decisions that planners make.

Planners have been trained with the skills and critical-thinking abilities needed to bring together several elements when assessing developments, writing policies and creating strategies for the future development of a location, region or business. Strategic thinking is part of everyday dealings for planners as we consider how our decisions will impact upon people, places and systems in accordance with the development policy or decision.

Our decisions and policies seek to balance the environmental, economic and social needs of our communities on a daily basis. Planning is much more than the “fluffy” stuff. I would like to think of it as the “glue” that brings together the technical elements of various disciplines, and develops these into frameworks that guide the way our world is developed — not just from a built-form perspective, but also from the viewpoint of our social environments, the management of natural resources, movement systems and economic activity in our cities and regions. Really, though, planning is much more than this. Planners work in private consultancies; local, state and federal governments; and other organisations that are all collectively shaping our world. Our mix of skills and knowledge means that you will often find planners working in a range of areas — from economics to politics and education to health.

Planners are needed to make informed decisions with, and on behalf of, our communities and decision makers who contemplate the environmental, social and economic outcomes of the way our cities and regions are developed. If we are serious about mitigating the impacts of climate change, planners will be called upon more than ever to influence the development of the built form that strives towards environmental sustainability.

This is but a brief insight into the work that planners are involved with. Above all, I’d like to think we are drivers of change, guiding the future land form of streets, cities and regions. We engage with local communities to help shape the built form that we want to live, work and play in. We tie together and translate the inputs from various disciplines, and turn this into directions for our future. We are the glue.

Franco_89x100_BWOlivia Franco ( is a senior planner within AECOM’s transport team in Adelaide, South Australia. Olivia has worked in the urban and regional planning field for over six years, starting her career in local government. She is happily married to Peter, is passionate about environmental issues and hopes to contribute to a better world through her profession. She has recently ended her term as the Chair of the South Australian PIA’s Young Planners Committee, and the state’s representative on the PIA National Young Planner’s Committee.
LinkedIn: Olivia Franco      Twitter: @Olivia_E_Franco

Originally published Feb 25, 2015

Author: Olivia Franco