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Friday Feature: Richard

Sep 17, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Richard Borbridge, and I make great places. In some circles they call that an ‘urban designer’, my paperwork says ‘city planner’.

What made you decide to go into your field?
Lego, SimCity, a failed week of electrical engineering, a year in Europe and a preference for the issues of people over plants.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
I grew up in a “you can do anything you put your mind to” kind of home. I think meat packing might have been off the table, and professional sports were unlikely in any case.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Sheri Blake helped me redefine community – introduced me to participatory design process and showed me the vital potential of empowering consultation. Ted McLaughlin transformed sustainability from a buzzword into a worldview.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Two hours of sleep every Tuesday morning – the day the newspaper went to press. History class is a blur, but I learned everything I know about Adobe Creative Suite between midnight and 3 am.

What inspires you?
Consensus, sunny sidewalks, desire lines, little old buildings on big ol’ streets.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
First – Planning, in my mind, is a generalist’s domain, and I love that any wacky bachelor’s degree – and a passion for cities – gives you the educational foot in the door. There are few if any accredited undergrad planning programmes left, so a Master’s in Planning will pull it all together and aim you toward a professional career.

Second –Urban design is a bit more muddy. Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners, among others, all intersect in the urban design oeuvre, so there are a lot of paths to choose. For me, it started with an undergrad in Environmental Design. The important thing is a grounding in “design thinking” (and drawing and writing and math) so you can communicate with all these perspectives. The cachet of “planner as urban designer” is in bridging the architects, policy-oriented planners, developers and politicians with the community that the designs ultimately serve.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
It all depends how you define success. Good draw-ers, good speakers, good listeners. The great thing about planning is that you don’t even have to be a planner to have a great influence on the field – software engineers, journalists, activists and cyclists can all make great urbanists.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Don’t stop believing.

Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Planning is at the forefront of the emerging enthusiasm for sustainability, so cities are recognizing the value of investing in strong, progressive plans and generally open to good ideas. The long-term perspectives and relatively low cost of doing planning means it doesn’t get hit as hard with the rise and fall of the economy and often plays catch-up when people can’t afford to build. Demographically, there’s also a generation gap within governments that will need filling too.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Draw a lot. A picture is worth 1000 words and no one has the patience to read that anymore. Read more. You can’t think of all the great ideas yourself, and we’re going to need them. Make great places.


  1. So, to summarize: draw because no one has patience to read, read because it’s better for you. In other words: have patience! 😉

  2. nicely said…