Tony discovers the potential of urban planning

Tony Luo recently started at the Victorian Planning Authority as a Student Planner, after finishing his undergraduate studies in urban planning at Melbourne. He believes it has boundless opportunities to build positive urban outcomes for all communities and neighbourhoods and shared with us his student experience.

Did you always want to study urban planning?
When I first started, I intended to major in Engineering Systems, focusing on civil engineering, but undertaking Reshaping Environments taught me about the intricacies of how social, political and environmental elements can shape Australia’s urban fabric and made me switch to double-majoring in urban planning/design and property.

What inspired you to pursue urban planning as a career?
Urban planning has such great potential as an industry and I could see how I can make a positive impact on neighbourhoods, towns and cities through designing spatial areas and clusters.

What made me pursue urban planning as a career though was undertaking subjects as the Urban Precinct Studio. Planning was a hidden gem and wasn’t on my mind until I undertook the studio.

It gave me a lot of opportunities to present and receive constant constructive feedback about my precinct structure plan from my tutor. Industry partners and fellow students also really helped with refining my ideas and helping with my presentation skills which really helps at work.

Presentations in design revolve around ‘crits’, what are they and how have they helped you?
Crits are an opportunity to present your work and receive feedback on them from a panel comprising of industry professionals and other academics.

They have been fundamental towards my learning. The panellists are external, they don’t know what stage of your work you’re up to or your progress, and they bring their expertise and background to give feedback on what you present. They bring an objective mindset, as they don’t know you on a personal level, and it gives students professional experience of presenting to different stakeholders.

Now in my day-to-day work with the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA), I have to present my findings on research for decision-making and benchmarking analysis.

What are you working on now at the VPA?
I work in the Regional team at the VPA As an organisation we plan high quality precincts and places for connected, vibrant and sustainable communities across Victoria. My team focuses on regional cities and towns such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Shepparton and Wodonga. I have recently been working on regional projects towards precinct structure plans and framework plans.

I have been lucky to provide support across other teams such as Statutory Systems and Geographic Information Systems as well. Often I will undertake research of various regions and review different policies and documents. It has been insightful to understand the Victorian planning system in helping me create a positive impact on precincts I am shaping.

The culture of VPA is open and collaborative; for example there’s a coffee roulette routine where you are paired with someone from a different team and different background and you get to understand the different work they do. I am grateful for how everyone is willing to help and learn from each other.

Government has been a great avenue for me to learn a diversity of skills, gain a broad understanding and learn how to work with other government stakeholders such as VicRoads, Councils and other community agencies. In particular, the VPA’s values align with mine where we plan greater places for a growing Victoria.

What was your highlight of university?
Definitely my involvement in student clubs, such as Built Industry Group (BIG) and AIESEC in Melbourne, where I was involved in a fast-paced and challenging team environment.

I was able to work with different like-minded students from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds who shared values around empowering young people to become connected and global leaders. It also piqued an interest in intercultural learning, and I ended up undertaking summer school at Tsinghua University in China, focusing on global perspectives on the environment.

Being involved with AIESEC also helped me understand how I could translate my values into an employment opportunity.

What has been the most important skill you gained from the degree?
Self-awareness and effective communication, which I believe are critical to urban planning and design. Part of that comes from doing so many presentations during the degree and from my involvement in student clubs. You learn how to work with others, how to communicate with others, and importantly how to build positive outcomes.

What trends will affect urban planning?
With Australia’s population growth, there are a lot of opportunities for the planning industry to help manage that growth positively with innovative and strategic planning.

I also believe the urban planning industry can embrace the “Internet of Things” age which we live in to integrate the data from upcoming technologies such as autonomous vehicles and eco-friendly infrastructure systems to help us better plan our cities.

Tony has also recently been elected to the PIA Victorian Young Planners Committee.

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