Inspiration for a head planner

The City of Detroit is on the search for a Planning Director – we really need an amazing one – an actual planner, who can both capture the city’s vision and put us on the path to realizing it. Someone who is hardcore about the economic realities, hardcore about equity and engagement, and hardcore about resiliency and stewardship of resources.

I hope Detroit hires a head planner who both treasures the culture and community that’s here and knows how to bring people in. And I hope Detroit hires a head planner who can stand his or her ground in the administration to do the right thing.

For some inspiration, here’s an interview with a German head planner that embodied a lot of these things.

Freiburg, Germany, has only had four planning directors since the end of World War II. The current director, Professor Wulf Daseking, has been Freiburg’s head planner since 1984. Planetizen posted a fascinating interview with him in 2011, and I’ll post the whole thing here because it’s great. Daseking talks about several things near and dear to our hearts – designing high density, mixed use communities for people instead of cars, engaging residents in community design, and building an ecologically balanced city. He also talks about being a creative thinker in a resistant bureaucracy.

“The point here is that city administrations usually don’t want creative people because they don’t fit into the system. So when a creative person like myself is thrown into a system like that you’re always struggling rather than functioning. The key is to find the right openings and slip through them. One of the mayors once said to me that I wasn’t maneuverable. What does that mean? Maneuverable for whom and towards what? When you’re in the presence of administrators you’ll notice a clear and authentic difference between creative people and bureaucrats. The creative person is very conscious of what he’s done, whether it was good or bad, and whether the final outcome works, whereas the administrator’s primary concern is whether it was done by the book. The administrator might even say, “well I did everything by the book, so I don’t care what the final creation looks like.”

Ultimately though you can see with your own eyes what you’ve built and whether it works. We planners can see it, whereas a doctor has to go to the cemetery. Often the administrator wonders why the planner is doing it a certain way, going off script, perhaps even thinking that I’m on some sort of a power trip. But I’m not on a power trip at all, I just want to see a great functioning city. That’s what I was trained for, and that’s why the city hired me. After all, they wanted a city planner and not a subcontractor who rubber stamps every project.”

See the whole interview here: