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Why the way of working matters for organizations, the field of urban planning, and society

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

#AgilePlanningAndLearning #WhyItMatters #Theory #AgileWorking

In the previous post, I explained why I think the way of working matters for the human experience of cycling. This post will now propose why a learning, iteration, and people-centered way of working in planning departments matters for individual organizations, the field of urban planning, and the world.


Collaboration, experimentation, reflection, flow of information, continuous improvement- these together are part of a way of working oriented around learning and people (see more characteristics and practices here). Below I argue why this is critical for urban planning planning organizations, and how this trickles up to matter for the field of urban planning, and for society at large.

Why the way of working matters for...

1. Urban planning organizations

Know what to work on: reflection helps you to ask the right questions, and combined with testing, helps you identify when to stay on or change course.

Don't do unnecessary work: evaluating and iterating keeps you focused on your goal, and makes sure the work you do is oriented towards that.

Expand the capacity of what you can do: keeping your information flowing enables optimal decision-making and allows ideas and collaboration to arise.

Learn as an organization: experimenting is learning- grow knowledge and an approach that leads to the best version of work possible.

Stay competitive: continuous improvement means a more conscious and adaptable organization that can best pursue its purpose and perform competitively compared to peers.

Build stronger people: reflective, flexible people that embrace discussion become more capable and self-sufficient; colleagues and managers that facilitate others help people grow.

2. The field of urban planning

“The ultimate role of the planner is to help a community become a better place” (Bolan, 2016, p. 285).

(Photo credit: David Jackmanson / Flickr via Planetizen)

Better understands citizens' needs: collaboration with citizens and frequent feedback is critical to learning and achieving the purpose of planning: to make places that work for people. 

Respond to challenges: learn about how to respond to the environmental and social challenges of our time; iterate and grow as the field moves into new water.

Develop innovative solutions: experimentation, information flow, and discussion will help planning find solutions, and being in touch with citizens while doing this will be key.

3. Society, the world

Make planning useful: the ability of planning organizations to respond effectively and in a timely manner to our challenges will have a significant impact on the society we live in; learning as a goal, along with reflection and iteration, makes certain we are doing the best we can.

Ensure cities, towns, and suburbs that work for people: urban planning has the responsibility to make sure we live in habitable places that meet our needs, and a feedback loop between citizens and planners is key for this.

Discuss what sort of society we want to live in: as city builders and the government, we need to both learn about what people want and to stimulate discussion on how we move forward as a society.


Bolan, R. S. (2016). My 60 Years as a Planner. Journal of the American Planning Association, 82(3), 280–287.


To see some of what this way of working looks like in practice, read this paper, which examines the Bicycle Program of the Municipality of Amsterdam as a case study.

Want structured learning on this topic? Sign up for our Agile Bicycle Planning course and check out our other instructional offerings.



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