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The Role of the Professional Planner

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In thinking about the role of the professional planner, it is helpful first to look back. Before there were professional planners, there were “citizen” planners. They weren’t initially called “citizen planners,” they were members of civic improvement associations which came into being after the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago — a spectacular showcase of buildings, architecture, and civic design, which inspired business and community leaders across the country to see what they might do to improve their cities.

As the more or less ad hoc improvement associations began to produce ideas, and plans, momentum grew to formalize these activities and to give them more clout in community decision making. In the 1920’s, under the stewardship of Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, some model state enabling ordinances were drafted for the creation of official planning boards.

The movement grew rapidly, and as it grew more demands were put on the shoulders of the volunteers who became the members of those planning boards, or commissions. The boards turned for help to people who would, as staff or consultants, conduct studies needed to provide the information the boards needed to make plans for the future of their communities. Thus entered the professionals. …

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Perry NortonThe late Perry Norton, FAICP, was past director of the American Institute of Planners; a Professor at New York University; and a long-time professional planner.

Norton was also one of the pioneers in online planning, and helped develop the first online planners discussion group on CompuServe in the mid-1980s.

He was a valued contributor to the Planning Commissioners Journal. See the left sidebar for links to his articles. For more on Norton.

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