Making Progress: Refining my focus


For anyone who’s been following my blog, you will notice that:

a) I have written a number of times that I want to this blog to focus on the importance of good places and spaces – the quality of our urban environment – with the aim of raising more interest and awareness, and hopefully involvement in how we shape our world. For example, here and here and here.

b) I’ve actually only written around these topics a few of times – despite my talk, I’m not converting this topic into blog posts.

I’ve been really puzzled about why I struggle so much with what I want to make my topic. On one hand, I strongly believe the way we manage our spaces, our connections between places, and how well our cities function. On the other, when I try to write, I find it quite dull. And if it’s boring for me – well, what would it be like for anyone reading? So I’d generally abandon the blog post I was part way through writing, and fall back into something safer.

I’ve been trying to tease out over the past couple of weeks why I’m finding it so hard. And a light went on when I heard the following advice last week:


It seems so obvious, doesn’t it?

Urban planning is not front and centre of most people’s thinking. To me, yes, it is, but that because it’s the field I work in.

I’m the one who is trying to convince people that planning has merit. For most other people, planning is so much more peripheral to their lives. I find that when I mention what I do for a job, I generally receive one of four responses:

  • They look vaguely interesting – but not passionately so.
  • They have a specific issue – how to get their planning permit / development approval more quickly, or to stop something on a neighbouring property
  • They talk about the problems they experience with public transport, housing affordability, the quality of parks, (the list goes on)
  • Or they change the topic because it sounds like too dry and bureaucratic (and in many cases it can be).

Urban planning is not something that most people think about when they think about the places and spaces that they appreciate, enjoy, or conversely, are frustrated by. What is more interesting to most people is finding lovely places, understanding how places work, and WHY they do (or don’t). Some examples of issues might be:

  • Why are we struggling with road congestion?
  • Where are the best parks, or services – and why are they there?
  • How is our economy changing, what does that mean for our own jobs and those of our kids – and where are they likely to be located (so we can make decisions for the future)

Some examples of things that interest us more about places are:

  • Where are some great places to visit – and what makes them great?
  • Why have places evolved in a particular way? (knowing the background to places can be fascinating)

And that’s what I’m focused on now – exploring the issues that urban planning, amongst so many different disciplines, is trying to address.

I’ll expand on this with a follow up post: ‘Putting (Urban) Planning back in its place’. 

For now, I’m happy to have my focus, and purpose, back in place.



Have you ever struggled with a particular goal? How have you managed to overcome your struggles?



7 thoughts on “Making Progress: Refining my focus

  1. I think you are so close to what you really want to write about, Helen… and that is how good planning creates good communities and good communities create good people and good people raise good kids. Or something like that. Having the space to lead a fulfilling life. The principles of urban planning seem to happily mirror the principles of life planning… Looking forward to reading more. x


    1. Thanks Bron – I think that is definitely an element of it (and you might not be aware of it, but your encouragement with this long process of getting closer has been so very helpful – I’ve really appreciated it)! x


  2. BOOM! Don’t you love it when you have that lightbulb moment? It looks like you’ve worked out exactly how to start engaging your audience, and combining that with your passion and depth of knowledge for the subject matter.


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