In conversation: Olivia Franco

The Awards for Planning Excellence recognise, promote and celebrate good planning practice nationwide, shining the spotlight on a very important industry sector.

The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) held its prestigious Awards for Planning Excellence across six states in November. A record number of projects were recognised for their outstanding contribution to both urban and regional environments and these will all go on to compete at the National Awards in early 2015. South Australia will be well represented with a range of master plans, studies and reports, including the Prospect Road Village Heart project, Playford Alive Town Park master plan and Virginia and Northern Adelaide Horticultural Plains Study. Not all the categories are project-based, however, and the award for Outstanding Achievement by a Young Planner is perhaps one of the most highly contended. The South Australian winner was Olivia Franco, a senior planner at AECOM and Chairperson of the PIA SA Young Planners Group. She was recognised for her demonstrated leadership within the planning industry and skills in strategic and policy planning, development assessment and community engagement. Currently working on development approval for a multi-residential project in Gilberton, she takes time out to discuss recent changes in the industry and what planners do exactly. What does winning the Outstanding Achievement by a Young Planner Award mean to you? I graduated from the University of South Australia in 2011 and have only been practising full time for three and a half years, so winning the award is an absolute honour. It’s a pat on the back and such wonderful recognition of my work in the planning industry so far. Is there one particular achievement of which you are most proud? It would have to be working on the Adelaide Airport master plan in my role as a senior planner at AECOM. I’ve been working with my supervisor Brenton Burman and have had lots of behind-the-scenes input into that project. I’m also proud to be involved with the Planning Institute of Australia, which makes people aware of what we do as planners through connecting and sharing with the general public. So what is it that planners do exactly? We get asked that question a lot and sometimes we even struggle to answer it! But basically, planners are involved in developing the policies and strategies that help shape the places in which we live, work and play. We put the big picture framework in place, but we also assist and facilitate development approvals at a local level. These can range from small residential applications to developing strategies for the approval of transport infrastructure and environmental planning. We’re in the background putting the policies and strategies in place so that built outcomes can be achieved. A lot of the current vibrant Adelaide City Council developments have had planners involved behind the scenes, including the food truck festivals and small bar licences. I’m not saying we can take the credit for all of that, but we do contribute to putting those things in place. Has the planning industry changed over the last 10 years? It’s traditionally been a male-dominated industry, but probably within the last 10 or 20 years it’s become more balanced in terms of gender. The mix is much more equally weighted and certainly within the organisations I’ve worked in it’s almost been a 50/50 gender split the planning departments – there are no existing barriers for women. What do you consider good planning practice to be? Trying to balance community and developer interests alongside state and local government interests is really important. It’s about maintaining professional integrity within your work while seeking the best outcomes for everyone involved.

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