Planning & Shaping Cities With AJ Fawver

This is a new monthly blog by AJ Fawver, the Planning Director in Amarillo, Texas. She’ll share her perspectives on land use, planning, and community development in this series. Learn more about AJ from her GovLove interview!


What is the number one thing that makes cities successful? While recently attending two conferences focused on cities, I asked a variety of attendees that question. Some said citizens. Some said culture. Others said architecture and attractions. A few talked about financial management or economics. Several said resources. One said city leadership. Many talked about quality of life.

This notion of what makes a city “successful”, “a great place to live”, or “attractive” is a frequent topic of conversation and study. Publications – from Huffington Post to Forbes, The Atlantic to The New York Times – have explored this idea. A number of books have been written on the topic (Charles Landry’s The Art of City-Making and Alexander Garvin’s What Makes a Great City are two examples).

So, we know that answers to that question vary, and what we further know to be true is that how a city is managed, regulated, organized, built, and maintained are all parts of the equation. Enter local government leaders.

Whether your post is in management, urban planning, accounting, parks, or any other part of local government – you can be certain that in some way you have the opportunity to help make a city successful.

Too often, we fall prey to “tunnel vision” in our everyday work life. At times, we need a renewed connection to why we do what we do. Conferences, professional organizations, mentor/mentee relationships, trade publications, and networking are a few ways to renew that connection. However, sometimes a less formal, more multi-disciplinary view is needed to keep a focus on the bigger picture.

That’s where Planning and Shaping Cities comes in.

When people decide where to call home, that decision is often influenced by the appearance of the community, the ease of travel throughout it, the availability of resources, the culture and sense of place, and the level of affordability, to name but a few.

These things do not come together by accident. Deliberate choices – and omissions – in policies, regulations, design standards, codes, incentives, and budgeting directly impact how a community develops.

Working in city government, I often hear people reference specific cities and towns as examples of what they would like to see. When asked what sort of features they would like to see in a city, stakeholders tend to draw from experience, citing places which they have visited themselves, or perhaps have heard about. These places may have a wealth of historic buildings.

They may have a way to navigate the city by any mode of transportation (walking, biking, rail, bus, subway). They may have great outdoor adventures in store through trails, gardens, plazas, and water features. Or, it could be a combination of things that made that city stand out in their memory.

Here’s what we need to remember. These things do not happen by accident. What is the difference between these places and the places which vanish from our memories the moment we pass through? It could be the standards that community chooses to put into place, the way that they manage and allocate their resources, the ways that they invest or attract business.

Most likely, it is all of the above – and more. The great thing about local government is that there is room for both learning from others in the field, as well as for innovation and experimentation. The local government community is generous about sharing information, insights, and resources, helping colleagues achieve advancements that have an impact.

In future posts, we will delve deeper into the plethora of ways all of us in local government can build on the work we are already doing and plan and shape the cities we are tasked with serving in an interconnected, multi-disciplinary way.


Questions? Want to get in touch with AJ?

Connect with her on LinkedIn or send her an email.