Felt Pens – don’t leave home without them

When did planning stop being about plans? When did policy documents take over? I can – to an extent – understand that our corporate colleagues produce lengthy policy documents with grand visions and statements about what they want to achieve for their particular services – homes for all, high achieving schools, best medical services and who’s going to disagree with that? But the translation of these high ideals into reality more often than not results in a programme of piecemeal actions by individual services to deliver their vision. The result – lots of parts that certainly don’t deliver the whole.

But this is what planners have been doing too – producing ‘plans’ that are long term policy documents with planning ‘visions’ – best environment, great buildings and design quality – lots of words which we’ve tried to deliver through a set of micro management land use policies. Like our corporate colleagues our plans have little or no detailed strategy.

Why is this missing? Because we are spending too much time on words and not enough time on producing pictures – or more specifically – diagrams and maps. Unlike our corporate colleagues – as land use planners – we don’t have an excuse for this

Write less, plan more
Planners – where did the planning bit go? The bit that involved mapping stuff? When did you last have a felt pen (other than a highlighter) on your desk? Stop writing great long impenetrable documents and then adding a proposal map. Start with the maps or diagrams – something that others can and will relate to – then do the writing bit – and then only what is necessary!.

Maps are your best communication tools! The only time I got a flicker of interest in the Core Strategy from my Senior Management Team was when I turned up to a meeting with a set of maps and felt pens.

  • Communication –you can show and tell people what you are proposing to do
  • Engagement – you can get people involved – nothing galvanizes people like putting a line on a map in ‘their’ area
  • Decision making – if you map where things will be built/delivered you will have to move beyond the fluffy – best of everything for everyone stage.
  • Strategy development – where is the best place for the new school?
  • Integrated decision making and strategy development – if the school goes there – can we use the school gym and library for wider community use?

…………….Is this what they mean by spatial planning????

Regeneration vs strategic planning
Regeneration is sexy (– well it gets people interested!) because it’s a focused and detailed activity in a defined area. Stakeholders ( hate that word!) have an interest in the area. They know what they want or don’t want to happen – its outcome focused – it’s a tangible activity.

What happens at the strategic planning level – we produce documents long on rhetoric – short on actions. We can talk till we’re blue in the face about high quality this / best of that – but if we are going to achieve it we need to let people know and show what is going to happen and where……. map it.

Get your felt pens out and start planning again!

3 thoughts on “Felt Pens – don’t leave home without them

  1. Good stuff. I was reminded of this post about the “planning fallacy” hosted by the self-depracating “Future of humanity institute”.


    Resisting the urge to link human weaknesses at “making plans” with the LDF production process itself, I think there are also some other good examples of why the planning process should remain about maps. In addition to all the points you make, you’re also focussing on what the important bit of the plan actually is – making things happen.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Surely planning is about places and that to me means maps and diagrams to explain understand and then plan. So away with so many words lets see it as a whole and then explain in words where we need to.

  3. Nice one Jackie. And, speaking from a non planning perspective, I think that in order to ‘spatially plan’ for an area, it would make sense to visualise (via maps) the proposal for the area and then back it up with words as opposed to starting with big words that drowns out everything else I’m trying to think of! Thanks for putting it in such simplistic and ‘doable’ terms.

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