As an idea-driven firm, working abroad is especially thrilling for us. To offer our urban planning services to communities in other countries is a unique and rewarding experience. There are many benefits to this type of work, but also certain requirements you must be aware of before embarking on this endeavor. We have found that creativity, adaptability, and motivation are major factors in international planning.
Creativity in International Planning
International planning is a different beast, but one that can bring many benefits, including the ability to be even more creative. Often, it’s a challenge to implement placemaking strategies in the United States because the policies in place don’t always support new and “unproven” designs. In many Latin American countries, however, the lack of bureaucracy makes is easier for creative ideas to flow. The ability to innovate brings freshness to the planning profession.
Travel itself is a driving force behind creativity. Exploring different forms of urbanism by experiencing them first hand is a pleasure for any urban planner or architect. International planning adds inspiration and knowledge about the built environment that can be applied to both current and future projects.
Adapting to a Unique Context
International planning is professionally stimulating because in addition to being creative, you must be adaptive. Each location has its unique requirements. For example, security features are very important for Columbian projects, where guarded gates and CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) are common elements.
It’s also important to remember that you, as the planner or architect, are part of that context. Are you being hired for your American point of view to attract US clients, or did they pick you for your ability to understand the local vernacular? In European countries like Germany, a traditional design is difficult to market amidst the local historical buildings. Countries like Mexico, however, appreciate strong understanding of local architecture in both resorts and master-planned communities.
International Planning = Staff Motivation
Planning abroad is a highly concentrated, thought-packed initiative. With quick turnaround times and tight deadlines, a design team is motivated to craft a complete vision for the client during a single trip. Generally, our goal is to provide more ideas in rough form, rather than fewer ideas in finished form. Often, we want our ideas endorsed by the client, and then at home we package them properly. The amount of work a team accomplishes in a short amount of time is a rewarding and motivating experience.
A Checklist for International Planning
Finally, preparation is everything when planning abroad. Some must-haves include:
- A good proposal: Get concurrent with the client on objectives; there should be no lack of clarity.
- Advanced preparation: Know what will happen, who will do what, and when. Scheduling is essential to make the most of a client’s time.
- The right team: International planning can be a burden on overhead, so every team member must count. However, planning abroad can be a great mentoring opportunity. Take a risk by giving a younger associate this experience.
- The right communication approach: We have had great success with classic sketches, but many clients appreciate our ability to create a 3D SketchUp fly-through in a short amount of time. Also, plan what types of communication technologies are most appropriate for your client.