Understanding The “Why”

As an Urban Planner I am often asking clients, community members, stakeholders and elected leadership to articulate their “why”.  Sometimes the “why” surfaces through a series of questions or public engagement activities.  In my profession, everyone I interact with has an opinion or an insight that needs to be captured, digested and turned into usable data, which eventually informs a neighborhood, municipal, district, regional plan or public space design.

The intent of my work is always driven by the goal of improving the quality of life for all stakeholders who will be impacted by a plan or design of a particular space or place.  This is achieved by improving environmental conditions of a space physically, aesthetically, functionally, ecologically, spatially, and socially.

I often engage with stakeholders seeking input about:

  • What they would like to change about the space
  • What the space needs to offer to its users to make it more functional
  • How they want the space to look aesthetically, or who the space serves

I often hear about a multitude of other issues plaguing community members that are not related to the actual project at hand. Crystal Surdyk

I typically have limited ability in these circumstances to address many of these concerns as they tend to be deep systemic issues that must be addressed by policy makers and through community leadership.  But what I can do is listen.  And listen hard, because underneath someone’s complaint or worry is a “why” and if I can get to the “why”, I can get to the “who”, “what” and “how” and address the concerns of stakeholders through the planning and design process.

So why is understanding the “why” so important? Because it is what drives us.  Every decision and every action we make every single day is dictated by the “why”.

“Why” is arguably the most powerful motivation there is.  It can cause good people to make poor choices and if misunderstood, can cause discord between individuals, groups, entire populations and even whole nations.  But our “why” is what often connects us. Effectively communicating as well as understanding one another’s “why” can lead us to discovering our commonalities.

Sometimes articulating our “why” can be difficult. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of work, school, running from place to place, trying to keep up with busy schedules, and finding time for self-care like exercise and recreation.

We tend to forget about the reasons “why” we do the things we do.  Sometimes we need to give ourselves a reality check and assess why we do what we do on a daily basis.  If we subjected ourselves to sleepless nights, study groups and student loan abyss of higher education, “why” did we do it?  If we volunteer, “why” did we choose to volunteer for a particular cause?  If we purchased a home in a community, “why” did we select that community?  If we go to work every day, “why” did we apply for our job in the first place?

The answers can range from very simple to very complex but it is important to take stock of our “whys”.  Perhaps we went to college so we could expand our knowledge or to seek inspiration from people who challenge our intellect, values and beliefs.  Maybe we volunteer helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves, whether economically, socially, or situationally, because someone at some point in our lives offered us compassion when we needed it most.

We may have decided to buy a house in a neighborhood with great schools because we want our kids to have access to quality education.  Maybe we followed a career path that allows us to have a positive impact on our community because we want to do whatever we can to ensure and protect our family, friends and neighbor’s quality of life.

Whatever your “why” is, it’s important to say it aloud from time to time.  Reflect on it.  Share it.  Change it.  But live by it because when you remember your “why”, dedication and motivation come effortlessly.  Remember that everyone has a “why” and their “why” is just as important to him or her as yours is to you.

Hold on to your “why” but don’t keep it to yourself. It may belong to you but it may also belong to someone else.  “Why” has the power to connect us and can foster understanding, kindness and the desire to care for one another.  It can help us find common ground and solve problems together.

So, what is your “why”?  Shout it out loud and ask those around you to do the same.  You may discover you’re not so different or you may find a renewed passion within yourself.