Rest is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength” (verb) and “an instance or period of relaxing or ceasing to engage in strenuous or stressful activity” (noun). While it may be obvious to all what “rest” is, I started this article with the above definitions to get us on the same page. In particular, I want to make sure that we do not simply equate “rest” with taking a nap or getting some sleep; if we did, this article would be very short! But what I want to focus on are some ways that planners can use to relax, refresh ourselves, or recover strength. After all, even though Business Insider listed urban and regional planners as one of the top “15 High-Paying Jobs for People Who Don’t Like Stress,” those of us who work as professional planners know firsthand how stressful and challenging our work can be. Let’s face it: it is not easy nor fun dealing with residents who are angry with you over a plan or project that you are working on, responding to letters of opposition to a plan or project that are based on preconceived ideas or rumors, compiling documents and correspondence to comply with Public Records Act requests for information, and/or handling threats of litigation from developers, community residents, and/or environmental groups. If you are a weary planner, this article is meant for you. Specifically, I hope it gives you some practical ideas on how to refresh or recharge yourself, or at least offers you some encouragement knowing that you are not alone in the stressful situations or struggles you face as a planner.
Take a Walk
Walking is an activity I truly enjoy and find relaxing. I walk as part of my “commute” to work as well as during my breaks at work. I have also participated in multiple CicLAvias as a walker which gave me opportunities to experience the city in a different way. As I shared previously in Walking in Los Angeles, I find that three main factors have contributed to my own love for walking: convenience, contemplation, and companionship. Living in downtown Los Angeles, my wife and I are able to dine at a wide variety of restaurants, watch the latest movies at a first-rate theater, enjoy diverse cultural events, visit local parks, and go to the gym, all without driving. Also, I have found that walking is a great way to slow down, observe my surroundings, or just contemplate and process my thoughts. (I highly recommend this article in The New Yorker which explains why walking helps us think and boosts our creativity.) In addition, even though I do not mind walking alone, I certainly enjoy the company of others who share my passion for walking.
“Wanna get away?” Just about everyone is familiar with this phrase from those Southwest Airlines commercials. I do not want to endorse or promote the airline, but I think there is certainly a need for us to get away at times. I have said it before and will say it again: traveling is an absolute-must for planners (see Exploring and Observing: Fun City Tours). While some may travel to forget about work, I have found that to be difficult. I may be able to temporarily stop thinking about my specific assignments, but the urban planner in me cannot just shut down. And I think that is okay because it is helpful and good for us to see other cities, and observe how they are and how they function. This is because there are always lessons to be learned, there is nothing like seeing new and different places, and there are opportunities to be inspired and encouraged. Even if you do not have the time and resources to travel at the moment, I suggest going to a travel show to get ideas for future adventures. I did this earlier this year when I attended the L.A. Times Travel Show (see L.A. Times Travel Show: A Planner’s Perspective).
Read a Book
As a parent, it is hard to find the quiet time and space to just read. However, I must say that whenever I have been able to sit down and read a book, I have enjoyed it immensely. Obviously, we all have our own preferences on what to read. Some may prefer to read novels that have absolutely nothing to do with urban planning. For suggestions, you may want to consult the lists of bestsellers provided by The New York Times or L.A. Times. For others, it may be helpful to read some resource books that help us deal or cope with the different assignments or situations we face at work. For example, I recently read two books which made me feel better about how I am handling things at work and also offered me guidance on issues that I lacked experience in (see my book reviews: Working with Planning Consultants and Project Management for Planners). A book that I would like to recommend, especially for newer planners, is A Career Worth Planning (2000) which offers practical advice on how to start and develop one’s planning career.
Mentor or Teach
You may be thinking: if I am already tired and worn out, why would I want to take on any responsibility outside of my job? Well, speaking from my own experience, I have found mentoring and guest speaking to be very rewarding and beneficial. I am far from being a great mentor or speaker, but I always enjoy interacting with students because they are so curious and eager to learn. I have been asked questions that really challenged me to think and re-think about the specific work that I do and even current planning practices in general. If you are ever offered an opportunity to mentor, be a guest lecturer, or speak at a career workshop/fair at your alma mater (or other schools), I encourage you to seriously consider it because it just may refresh and re-energize you to be in the presence of the next generation of planners or public administrators. I previously wrote about my experience as a guest speaker and the lessons I learned; read my article Teaching Planning and Policy: a First-Timer’s Perspective if you are interested.
Visit a Museum
I am aware that not everyone is into museums. As I confessed in an earlier article, I did not even start to visit them until a few years ago. However, ever since I became aware of the incredible and diverse offering of cultural institutions in my city (see also Los Angeles as a Museums Capital: Parts II and III), I cannot stop going. There is simply so much to see and be in awe of: not only do I appreciate the exhibits inside, I also enjoy the physical setting of places like The J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Museums are not just old, stuffy, boring places that some may perceive them to be. Also, there are exhibits which may be seasonal in nature and are not on display in your typical museum. For example, over the past two years, I have been following the CANstruction competition here in Los Angeles which involves various teams of architects, designers, and engineers designing and building structures using cans of food (see CANstruction: Design-Build for Good and CANstruction: Promoting Design and Fighting Hunger). Another exhibit that I was particularly interested in was Portable Parks IV which was on display in Santa Monica about three years ago and helped me visualize what a portable park could look like (see Portable Parks Create Temporary Oases).
Watch a Movie
Watching movies often allows me to temporarily escape to other worlds, dream, and be inspired. Like books, people have different preferences on the movies that they like. It is no secret that I am a fan of superhero movies as I have previously written about and made the strange connection between urban planning and movies like Iron Man and Man of Steel. I also enjoy documentaries. Two that come to mind immediately are Olmsted & America’s Urban Parks and Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham & The American City. And yes, if you are wondering, I do watch the comedy series Parks and Recreation which I find entertaining and can often relate to.
Start a Blog or Take on a New Hobby
Starting a blog or taking on a new hobby may sound like a lot of work, but it is not really “work” when you enjoy it, right? Writing is something that I love doing and I greatly appreciate having UrbDeZine as an outlet for my random thoughts on all types of planning issues and projects. If you are thinking about starting a blog, it of course does not need to be about urban planning. My thought is that you should be writing or posting about a topic that you are truly passionate about. Urban planning may be your passion, but I am sure that most of us have strong interests in other things as well. So, for example, if you are into eating or fine dining, you may want to start a blog as a creative way to capture your culinary adventures and express your love for all kinds of cuisine: if you are in the Los Angeles area, check out LA Eats, an excellent food blog created and maintained by a fellow planner. If blogging does not interest you, you may consider picking up a new hobby, such as urban sketching or photography (which may be as simple as taking photos and using the app Instagram to share them with others).
Go to a Conference
Planning conferences are not just events for certified planners to gain certification maintenance (CM) credits. To me, conferences are opportunities to learn, grow, network, and be encouraged. I always return to work from conferences feeling refreshed and more prepared to take on the work that awaits me. Just this year alone, I was able to attend four events or conferences that contributed to my professional growth: UCLA Extension Land Use Law & Planning Conference, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr: A Vision for the American West, National Outdoor Recreation Conference, and APA California Conference. In particular, I really enjoyed and learned a lot when I went on tours of East Bay Regional Parks and the Presidio as part of these events. I also want to share that due to budget constraints, my employer is not always able to cover the registration costs for conferences. However, I do not mind paying myself because I know how much they would benefit me as a person and a planner.
It may sound counter-intuitive for me to suggest that we do more when we are weary or tired. However, having personally tried all of the ideas above (not concurrently!), I have to say that these activities have done wonders for me in terms of my mental health, and personal and professional growth. As a final word, I want to encourage my fellow planners to not become weary in doing good; even though we may not see immediate results, the thoughtful planning that we do with our constituents will ultimately help to transform and improve the quality of life in our communities.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect the official views or positions of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
photo by and of author