Good points, I suppose another important distinction to draw as we continue the conversation is that a planner’s role will vary greatly depending on if he or she is employed by a municipality or by a private sector consulting firm.
I suppose what I meant in my earlier post is that I have been impressed by the work of the private sector planners that I have known. I find that they seem to be always cognizant of the political landscape and can be very cunning and shrewd. Their knowledge of the built environment, theory, and construction processes while impressive would be waisted if not for their communication skills and political savvy. I find that they can be very persuasive salesmen.
However, most of the planners I have come in contact with work for cities or other municipal planning authorities. And I have been equally impressed with their qualities as professionals, as you mentioned “Customer service, ethics, and research skills…” This sort of planner has a different emphasis in his or her skill set because of the difference in the interests that he or she is representing. They guide development and review plans to confirm compliance with existing codes and regulations. But many of these public-side planners I have known give input on the language of new ordinances as they are written and so not only do they enforce the codes, they also have influence over the built environment through authorship. But as you point out, they are somewhat separate from the “tangibles” and so therefore they may feel disconnected from the physical work and construction that is going on in their communities.
I think the tension that exists between the public and private interests in development is the real source of most of the distrust that may exist between the landscape architecture and planning professions.
A third area is the semi-public realm. These entities often have names like “Community Development Foundation” or “Economic Development Foundation”. Here planners are employed by a collective group of private interests such as a chamber of commerce for example. Usually the main in one of these groups is to attract quality development to the area, but they often called upon for lots of other smaller roles, depending upon the resources of a given community. I have to admit that if I were to become a planner, this area is the most attractive to me. Because your livelihood does not depend on fees you do not have to track hours or worry about billing. However, unlike a municipal planner, you could have many opportunities for direct design input as you collaborate with private developers. From a landscape architect’s perspective, I would have to evaluate the freedom from billing versus the substantial loss of control over the configuration and aesthetics of projects.
I do think planners should be licensed professionals, and I agree that a national program for licensure would help to regulate some of the unevenness in academic instruction. While I like the idea of academic cross-training and collaborative education, I see the practical problems that exist between egos whenever one program is stronger than the others at any given school. If one program consistently attracts the stronger students then those students will ultimately become the leaders on project teams and exercise control over the others. If an institution had Planners, Architects, Landscape Architects, and Engineering programs that were on fairly even playing fields, then the results could be thrilling.
I will definitely check out the books you recommended.
I would only add that politics are ever-present and unavoidable no matter where you should choose to practice.