Our department is responsible for playing a master-developer role in the waterfront. My role is to lead our proposal calls so development partners can get on board, and to work with them to implement the master plan.
My undergrad degree was in sociology, my master's in planning, both at the University of Toronto. I took an urban sociology course that deepened my interest in cities and how they grow, and that turned into a broader interest in the relationship between the built environment and quality of communities and people's daily lives.
The most interesting thing about the planning program at U of T was that it attracted students with diverse academic backgrounds. That forces you to think about things from multiple perspectives, which is very similar to the way you have to think once you're working as a planner in the field.
The parts of my schooling that have been most valuable had less to do with specific job training than with professional skills like research, dealing with the public and report writing. The U of T program balances research and academic work with the development of professional skills, so your paper is structured more like a professional report than a thesis. You learn to write based on a specific planning problem that needs to be addressed.
Public speaking has become increasingly significant now that I'm in the director role. Eventually, every planner has to do some public speaking, and when you work for a public agency like Waterfront Toronto, people are always interested in what we do and want to hear more about what we're working on.
Once you start working, there's a very steep learning curve, and that can be very intimidating, particularly because planning school generally doesn't focus on the day-to-day things you do in a professional practice. When people first start, they may end up working in a different city or a different field than they thought they were going into when they finished school. I had to go work in Manchester, England, which I knew nothing about. It was sink or swim, but luckily it turned out for the best.
When you're thinking about land use planning, you must be willing to travel, to think critically about your own city and the lessons to be learned from other cities. It's very important to keep an open mind.