top of page

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

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

In the previous lesson, I explained why I think the way of working matters for the human experience of cycling. This mini lesson will now propose why a people-centered way of working in urban planning departments matters beyond the end user's experience, for a broader scope of actors.


Collaboration, experimentation, reflection, flow of information, continuous improvement- these practices together are part of a "people-centered way of working" (see more characteristics and practices here).

Below I argue where these practices can be of use to (1) urban planning organizations, (2) the urban planner and its profession, and (3) why the practices are relevant for broader society.

For readability, I bold my value propositions and italicize the relevant people-centered practices/characteristics (drawn from this list).

Why a people-centered 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 urban planner and 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

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.




Follow along when there is a new blog post, course, or news. Sign up for our newsletter below.👇

bottom of page