Pride in planning – RM summer student reflects on learnings

By Jessica Mitchell – Submission

“Oh, so like Sim City?” The response every planner gets when they try to explain to people what they do.

It’s not entirely incorrect – many professional planners make decisions that build cities.

But there is much more to it, which I came to truly understand this summer while working with the RM of Edenwold Planning Department.

We do not just sit in our offices surrounded by Lego blocks designing elaborate skyscrapers. The bulk of planning work is meeting with people, researching and writing informed bylaws and policies, taking phone calls, drafting memos for Council and refining development standards.

Municipal planning is all about taking ideas and making them into something tangible to improve the lives of citizens. I was able to take part in the development of the newest phase of pedestrian pathway to be added along Great Plains Road, a project that will have huge impacts on the safety and connectivity of Emerald Park.

Policy research I did this summer will affect the way the RM takes shape over the coming years, including improved signage regulations and new commercial development standards. One of the most profound things I have learned is how much the details matter. Great municipalities rely on a mosaic of small, deliberate details working together to support the same purpose.

Two things were clear to me within days of staring my summer position: firstly, the RM office is a very, very busy place. Each member of the administration is constantly interacting with ratepayers, suppliers, other municipalities and other levels of government. Secondly, I realized they are very good at what they do. It was clear from the get-go I was in a work environment defined by efficiency, professionalism and a genuine desire to serve the RM ratepayers.

The unique diversity of this RM created an amazing learning environment and I was exposed to an incredibly wide range of planning issues. The RM attracts an equally wide range of people, businesses and organizations, which gives it the ability to bring together farmers and equipment dealers, senior citizens and grocery stores, young families and recreation options. Few rural municipalities have the ability to do this.

While I am excited to move back home to Saskatoon to complete the last semester of my Regional and Urban Planning degree at the University of Saskatchewan, it will be bittersweet to say goodbye to the RM. Every day provided new and exciting opportunities to see how planning works in the “real world,” and as valuable as my coursework has been, it’s clear there is a gap between theory and reality.

Aside from technical planning issues, I have learned so much about the interplay between planning and politics, the importance of effective communication and the nuances of providing great service.

Growing up on a farm, I had a suspicion that planning in a rural context might be where I felt most comfortable. My time here this summer proved that to be the case. I extend a huge thank you to the RM council for allowing the Planning Department to take me on for the summer, as well as to Kim, Karen, Priscilla, Sherry and everyone at the RM for making me feel welcome. An extra special thank-you goes to RM Planners Jana and Paige for their never-ending patience and for their professional and personal mentorship. I’ve already told them that I expect to be kept up-to-date on all the local goings-on.