Today’s guest is Lindsay Butterfield.
Here’s our job talk with a registered professional planner.
Welcome to The Job Talk Podcast where we talk with people who love their jobs.
Our guests open up about their challenges, surprises and secrets to success in their industries through conversation and we explore their careers, past work experiences, and the education that got them to where they are now.
I started this podcast because when I was graduating from high school, I was experiencing some anxiety because I was watching all of my friends.
It seemed like they knew what they wanted to do, and they were starting down down their path.
When I hear of a career like yours and the title is Registered Professional Planner, I always feel that that’s like a grown up job because I don’t really know what you do.
Can we start by talking about when you were in high school, what kind of a student were you? And then we’ll follow your path up to the career that you’re in right now.
Sure. OK, yeah.
High school I I’ll say in high school, I mean, I was a good student.
I loved English.
That was definitely my favorite class.
Not so much science and math in particular, especially once I hit math 30.
Like that was a bit of a disaster.
I went from an honors student to like having a tutor and barely scraping by. So.
So I knew that I wanted to do something sort of more in the arts area.
And actually in high school, I thought, well, maybe I’m going to go to journalism school because I love reading, I love writing, researching and then I went to a career fair and learned what journalists do.
And I just think that is not for me at all.
And so I was kind of like, Well, what do I do next? And I ended up going to the University of Alberta and just taking a general arts degree because I really didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do. I had a few ideas and at the time, too, my parents said, Well, you can always get a business degree and that’ll assure you a job.
And so I started first year arts coming out of high school, not knowing at all.
So I think I was a lot like you. I’m just not exactly sure where my path was going to go, but I knew what I liked and I knew what I didn’t like.
What courses were you taking for your Bachelor of Arts? Yeah, so my first year I took, you know, all the business prerequisite bits.
I took anthropology.
I thought anthropology was going to be something I was going to really get into.
Also turned out to not be true.
And then I took, you know, an assortment of things like Canadian studies, class of philosophy, class, political science, and I had two classes that were sociology and one in the first term and one in the second term.
And I fell in love with sociology those two classes, I was just like, everything makes sense.
I’m really engaged.
I love the material, and it just feels like this natural kind of fit whereas my macro and micro economics classes could not have been further from something that I was really interested in.
And so it took me it took me a little while for that to settle in.
But eventually I figured out I’m going to have to do a major in sociology because that is really that’s what floats my boat.
But you got through the courses that you weren’t really interested in.
It’s always amazing to me because it seems like such a struggle if you’re studying something that you have no interest in.
And I think, you know, I definitely that that was something I, I learned a lot of lessons about being a student and frankly, like school had generally been fairly easy for me.
And so university was a big change as well because all of a sudden I wasn’t getting great marks, but I was in the classes I was really interested in.
So I think like what’s true is the things that you love are the things that you’re going to focus on.
And that’s still true even in my career today, frankly.
Yeah, that’s a common theme I’m hearing from doing these interviews is that when the person arrived at university, it becomes a wake up call.
So, you know, it doesn’t always come as easy as it maybe it did when you were in high school.
You took four years to complete your degree, or did you take more years to complete the degree? I took a I took five and the reason being that I, I did actually change my major.
Now that I’m thinking it wasn’t until my third year that I changed my major, I ended up taking that fifth year because I enrolled in a and international exchange.
And so I spent a semester working to save money for that international exchange and finished my school in England actually.
So it was a very light year in terms of coursework, but it allowed me to sort of expand my horizons as a person and do some traveling and that sort of thing.
But I did graduate with that major in sociology and I minored in English.
So back to, you know, what I was originally interested in.
And that minor actually allowed me to like read novels and then talk about them, which was kind of fun.
I feel like I like ripped off the system by, you know, they’re like read books and then talk in class about the books we read.
And yeah, we thought about them. It was pretty great.
What an excellent experience.
Where in England were you? I went to the University of Lancaster, Lancaster University.
I lived on campus they have a really different system there with uni, so I was actually in student residences, which is only open to first year and third year.
Second year students have to live off campus and they only have three years because they actually specialize in school quite young there.
So in their you know, equivalent of high school, you have just two or three subjects that you study.
Did you know anyone over there or did you just go over by yourself not knowing anyone? Yeah, I just went over there, made friends with my flatmate in the student residence and so I was an honorary member of the handball team, which is not our netball team.
Netball, which is kind of like a mix between handball and basketball.
And yeah, I had actually a really good friend that I met who was also from Canada and another exchange student from Holland.
So yeah, it was a really cool experience.
And did you use that as a home base and did you travel around to other European countries during that time? Yeah, not so much to other countries.
A little bit like I did go to Holland with to visit the friend that I had made, but I traveled all over the UK.
I went to like probably at least a dozen of the major cities in England, also went to Scotland several times.
Isle of Man took the ferry over there.
So yeah, I like really made the most of where I was rather than flying off to other countries.
So I feel like I had a good lay of the land for.
For England and that was one year, one calendar year.
It was actually one semester for them, but it was December through July. OK.
End of December yeah.
So you finish that experience, you come back to Canada, I’m assuming.
And is it more schooling at this point? Or are you now starting to get into your career? Yeah, so another reason why I took that fifth year actually is because in my fourth year of undergraduate, I saw an ad in the gateway at the university.
It’s the student paper and it was for an urban planning program at Dalhousie University.
And I was like, What the heck is that? And I happened to be taking a sociology of, of the city class at the time, and I was like, Oh, I’m really loving this class.
I wonder what that is.
And so this was, of course, I was thinking about this this morning.
I’m like, This is what makes me feel old.
It was we were there was really the Internet. Yes.
I had to actually go to the Student Resource Center and look through course catalogs for different universities to find course descriptions and program descriptions for urban planning, which again, I had never heard of.
And as I sat in the room reading these description cards, I realized that is the path for me, that is the career for me.
This hits all the things I enjoy doing.
It’s creative, it’s complex, it’s about the places we live.
And and so I started applying, did some research and applied to some universities in Canada so I knew that I needed extra credits.
And so I would have a tough time getting in for a September start in a graduate program.
And so that’s really another factor in my I said, OK, I’m going to find some other way to pass this year.
Five And that exchange was really a great way to do that as well as.
Yeah, again, saving some money, which became very necessary when you’re traveling in pounds.
We have young listeners that don’t understand living in a world without Internet access.
So I, I recall it very well.
I guess let’s start off by can you explain what a registered professional planner is and then I’d like to talk to you about your day to day.
So I’m a city planner, the registered professional planner.
That is my professional designation.
So you do have to have credentials to get that designation.
So it’s like if you’re a doctor behind your name, you have an MD.
That’s what the RPP is.
It also comes with member of the Canadian Institute of Planners.
So it’s RPP MCIP, lots of letters.
It looks really important and intimidating.
So I’m but yeah, that’s what that means.
So it is just the professional designation.
And the way that you do need to do that in Canada is that you need to have a certain some specific educational credentials and or some work experience.
And you do have to apply and go through a testing you have to go through testing.
And how how intense is the testing is this? So it’s pretty different from when I did it.
When I did it, it was fairly laid back.
I went into a room and some existing members interviewed me and asked me some questions you know, around ethics and professional behavior.
And now I know it’s quite a lot more intense and I probably can’t speak to the details too well because they don’t have to do it.
But yeah, certainly I know from talking to some of my staff that it’s quite involved and and feels like quite a stressful event.
So I guess like any other professional designation and there’s lots of them, it’s something that’s important and can be a little.
Lindsey, are there different kinds of city planners.
So myself, I am primarily focused on policy.
So I develop new policies that will shape the city for generations to come.
In some cases, I definitely think that a lot of people end up doing development planning and so again, that’s sort of that fundamental of subdividing land and then walking through approvals for buildings to be built, parks to be developed, that sort of thing.
I also work right now with quite a number of ecological planners, and so they have specializations in the natural sciences they work on my parks team and and have a really good foundation for both land use and also natural systems those are just a few.
There’s also there’s yeah, there’s so many different kinds.
A lot of people are really interested in urban design.
So that’s about the places that we go in the public realm.
You might have heard about the warehouse park that’s being developed in downtown Edmonton, and there’s definitely a range of different planners involved there.
But urban design being a key one.
Actually, I don’t know anything about that initiative.
Could you explain that a little bit? Sure.
That’s a city project there are a bunch of surface parking lots in the downtown core, and there will be some apartment buildings built around them and then the parking lots will actually be turned into a park over the next few years.
So that’s pretty exciting.
Yeah, great to see for a downtown.
Why? Why should somebody consider going into a career of being a city planner? Well, just because it’s so dynamic and you know, if you care about people and the places that the people live, I think there’s nothing you could do that really has more of an impact.
And and that’s really what drew me to it, is how can I shape the quality of life of the world around me? And so that can be in small ways.
It can also be in really big and impactful ways. OK? Can you take us through a day to day for you and what you’re doing in your job? Yeah, well, the fun thing is that my day to day is different every day.
And mine’s probably a little bit different, too, because I’m a manager now.
So I am a director at the city of Edmonton.
So it’s a much more management focused job versus like doing and getting in up to your elbows into the work.
But a lot of it, I would say is really just collaborative work.
So I work with engineers, I work with folks in economic development, I work with the people who build things as well as plan things to make sure that the things we’re planning are actually able to be built.
Yeah, we work with all kinds of people and so I would say one of the one of the key things about this job is just coordination.
So you’re constantly coordinating and and that can be with clients external to your workplace or with the people that I work with every day.
And what do you love about that? The position what I love is that it is different every day.
I think planning is a really great job if you’re someone who’s a bit of a generalist because there’s such a wide variety of different things you can look at.
And that was certainly me.
Like I was the kid who in grade two and we had to draw a painting of what we wanted to be when we grew up.
I sat there the whole class staring at my blank paper because I just couldn’t figure out what that was.
I just knew it wasn’t a police officer or a bus driver.
Or a teacher or all the other things that the other kids were drawing.
And so it just really is something that gets into the design of our cities.
Parks and the environment where buildings go and the design of them, how people move around the city all of these things are really important, as well as how we listen to the people who live here and take their input into account as well.
So it really just has such a there’s such a broad array of things that you can be involved in at any given time.
And I think that’s the thing that’s really exciting about it for me.
Do you have projects that you’re most proud of? Oh, my goodness.
Probably like dozens.
Yeah, I think one of the things so I worked for quite a long time in the city of Spruce Grove, and, and I was very, very proud of rewriting their zoning by law, their land use by law.
Which is kind of like for planners, it’s a bit of a nerdy thing, even if it’s very much about the regulations on a specific lot and talks about what you can build and how you can build it there.
And so it’s a very technical document, but completing that and getting that approved by council, that was one of the highlights of my career for sure.
Yeah. And I like there’s a lot more.
That one’s really technical, but I’m definitely working on some really interesting stuff right now.
One that just is has become public recently is a national urban park.
So that’s a partnership between the city of Edmonton where I work in Parks Canada.
And, and that’s like obviously very, very interesting and exciting.
So very early, but that’s going to be a fun one.
When you’re getting the initiative approved by council, do you have to go present it as well, or is this all written document that you have to supply to them? Yeah.
So when we go to council, we do have a written report and so that allows them to sort of take their time review the information.
And then we do present to council with Edmonton City Council because they have such a large number of things to cover.
Sometimes you don’t end up presenting, so they have a selection process for their agendas and some things get approved automatically through omnibus, but others, others don’t.
And then you have to present also answer questions if they aren’t quite happy with the way that you’ve put things forward, then you might have to make changes.
So they are ultimately the decision maker on many things for sure.
So there’s a public speaking element to your position for sure.
And you’re, you’re completely comfortable.
What, what skills have you learned that allow you to speak publicly about something that you’ve created, do you think? Practice like honestly, I had a I had a boss and he said, you’re going to start presenting and I remember it just being like the most nerve wracking thing in the world.
And the more you do it, the easier it is.
So presenting to council is one aspect, Kim, but there’s a lot of other, like committee work I do where I need to go and represent, you know, my staff and my planners where we’re just one opinion among an array of opinions.
And and so really, the art of negotiation is something really important and actually I’m doing some training right now and in learning more about negotiation and conflict, and that’s been extremely useful.
So yeah, those skills are really, really key.
What are some of the challenges that you experience and stresses in your day to day work? Well, there are many of those.
I think that one of the biggest challenges with planning is there’s no right answer and everyone has an opinion and so I would say another big piece of the work that I do is sorting through all the different ideas and opinions and trying to strike a balance.
So, you know, I have guiding documents that I have to look to for the city of Edmonton.
We have a piece of policy.
It’s called the City Plan, and that is our guiding light.
So the policy outline in there is what I need to follow, but there’s a lot of gray area within that.
So it’s really about navigating those gray areas and understanding how to balance different interests to get the outcomes that you want to present or the outcomes that City Council has asked for.
What advice can you give to somebody that is looking at a city planning position? Well, I.
Don’t want to give away my interview secrets and the things I look for, so I’ll be careful about that one. Yes.
You know, this might sound a little bit odd but for for young planners that I talk to, I often say like go work in a smaller community because you’ll actually just get a lot more variety in your experience.
When you work in a big company, it doesn’t matter if it’s a city or if it’s you know, I’m not picking on a specific but Stantec just because they’re building is next door or it’s not.
So that’s a preference. Yeah.
You inevitably get somewhat siloed and that can be good because you can get very deep expertize.
But if you’re looking for that broad expertize so that you can really figure out what you like, working in a smaller place will give that to you.
What makes a successful city planner, do you think.
Someone who can navigate the those those various opinions and perspectives? And I think if you’re able to balance those and a big part of balancing that so that people are satisfied is also educating and so talking about why are things the way that they are and being able to convey so that they understand, like, why is it that my neighbor can plant that tree? There might seem just like not a big deal, but I can tell you that there is a lot of discussion you get to have as a planner about things like that.
And so it’s just about being able to explain when you have rules, why are they there? And and then also to accept that sometimes we have rules and they don’t make sense and being able to navigate how to adapt those.
Do you get constructive criticism directly from the public or is that another department the people direct? Not very constructive.
But are they are they reaching directly out to you or do they go through a different avenue.
So I suppose it depends if they know who I am and we’re working actively on something.
Yeah, they can reach out directly to me, you know, email addresses are pretty easy to find when they’re always in the same format.
So, yeah, people can reach out directly to me.
Sometimes they reach me through a counselor trying to find the right person to answer a question.
It really just depends.
But yeah, I’m I’m accessible.
We’re not going to put up your contact information on this, but what are some of the misconceptions about the position that you have as a city planner? Hmm.
I think a lot of people just don’t understand exactly when you say planner.
It’s a very kind of vague word.
And so when I say, oh, yeah, I’m a I’m a planner, a lot of people think I plan events I’ve had a lot of people say, Oh, you decide where the roads go, which is interesting.
So I think there’s just a lot of mis understanding of what a city planner actually does.
And, and that that’s that makes sense to me because there are such a wide variety of things that city planners do.
But I would say, like, the foundation of what work we do is really determining what can be built, where.
What surprises have you experienced throughout your career? Do any stand out? I think the surprises are the things that come across my desk that I end up being involved in.
And again, that just speaks to the broad nature of the profession.
But for example, right now one of the files I manage is the fund for deep trunk sewers.
And I thought, well, that’s going to be the worst part of my job for sure.
And as I learn more about the Deep Trunk Sewer Network and how it’s constructed and and how do we collect fees for it and that sort of thing, it’s actually really interesting. I won’t get into it.
But yeah, it’s really interesting what you find interesting in this job and, and things that you never thought you’d be involved in become quite fascinating.
What types of things, initiatives are coming down the pipeline for city planners, do you think? Yeah, I think in terms of what are things that we’re going to have to think about in the future.
The number one is going to be climate change, and there’s definitely land impacts as a result of climate change.
So whether that’s flooding through our rivers and streams because of high rain events or the need to have adequate stormwater protection in neighborhoods whether it’s high heat, what that’s going to do to our biodiversity, those are all things that are going to impact the profession.
The other thing that I’m noticing that’s become very important and rightly so is, is that we really have a focus on reconciliation with our indigenous communities, with with the indigenous communities around us.
And so I know for myself, I’ve done a lot of learning and reflection over the last five or so years especially, and it’s been really interesting to to think about how we can look at use of the land from a different perspective.
And I just see that becoming more and more important as we go in the future.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do? What are some of your interests? I like to lie in my hammock and read in my backyard yeah, I’ve got a couple of kids and so I like being able to do things with them around the city and and I definitely like to cook.
So I’m looking forward to being able to do that again.
And with that, I think I just want to thank you for for joining us today.
And it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you about being a city planner.
Thanks for having me.
Kim, this was great.
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