Park Planner -Nell
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to this profession
A: I actually got my bachelor’s of arts in political science and after I finished I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was living in Edmonton at the time and there was the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology has a landscape architecture technologist diploma so I thought I’d give that a try. It was something I really took to, working in the private company. After that I worked for a little bit in the industry in Edmonton and came over here [Vancouver] to do my masters.
Q: What made you switch to the city instead of a private company?
A: Couple of reasons. One of them would be definitely interested in public space and providing public amenity to the community. Private practice, yes, you get hired by municipalities, but a large proportion of the work is developer driven, so I was interested in doing public open space and the work-life balance is a little better than the public sector.
Q: What is your favorite aspect about your job?
A: Definitely implementing spaces that people are able to use and enjoy, that are a benefit to them. Whether that’s playgrounds, park spaces, plaza space or a trail, it is always really gratifying to see people are enjoying and using the spaces. Seeing them as benefits.
Q: What do your day to day activities look like?
A: Well, they are varied. There’s a lot of different things. Part of the work has to do with construction, certain projects will be done in house, or some will be done with consultants. For example if it was a project that is designed in house and built, we would put together the design, budgets, put drawings together and documents that are used to put the project out to tender to hire contractors to do it. Then, we oversee the contractor as they’re building and to see the completion of the project. If we hire consultants, it would probably be a larger project. [This is] about overseeing the consultant, ensuring that the design and the direction they are going with aligns with the objectives of the city. Then there’s also work to create the driving documents that are the framework for the city kind of a master plan of a particular part or aspect. I also do reviews, when the city gets an application for a development permit or rezoning permit. I will review them from an open space and urban design context. There are designers that look at the density and other parameters but i look at more of the qualitative aspects, what does it add to the public ground, how does it fit in with the larger urban design of the city, are there any open space benefits that can be achieved with the project. So i add comments to that. I also respond to inquiries from the public. Someone might email or call me and asking a question about whether a particular park can be improved or there’s an issue with a certain thing. Some inquiries may be an operation or maintenance issue, but where it’s something that requires an aspect of designing the park, or redevelopment, then I will respond to those.
Q: How do you go about implementing your creative ideas into park planning?
A: Being a representative of the city, there’s a lot of freedom to implementing creative ideas. But of course, always go to public consultations. For example, if it’s a new playground or park project, we will do a public consultation asking what they think they need for the park or we may go to an advisory committee to develop a program of needs for that space. Whether its an in-house project or we are hiring a consultant, we will start coming up with ideas. [Includes] in-house drawings, putting together diagrams, etc. Then we go through another two phases of consultation. So once we have some options of what the project could be we’ll go to a public open house and to more advisory committees and ask them for their favourite things they like or dislike. And based on that we will choose the preferred option or direction and test it another time with another consultation to gage whether we heard what the public wanted. From there we will put together our first tender package with drawings and specifications and construction drawings. So, there’s lots of opportunity for problem-solving and creativity in all those stages.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in entering this role
A: For someone interested in entering this role, I would recommend a well-rounded education in landscape architecture and urban design as this is a multifaceted role with a varied scope. I think spending some time in the private sector is helpful in developing perspective and a set of skills that will help in this public sector role. Also, observation of local parks, public spaces and urban environments is very important to understand what makes good spaces that people love. Travel is good for that but there is also lots to see and learn locally and in the region. I am also a big believer in reaching out to professionals in the field early on to get a sense of what the role is like and always to be reassessing where you are in terms of education, career, and personal life so you can make adjustments and ensure you’re on the path you want to be on.