Celebrating World Town Planning Day: Why I became a Planner

As we celebrate World Town Planning day, Assistant Planner Alexandra Higgins shares her thoughts on what motivated her to become a town planner.

My career has always been driven by a desire to work on tall buildings – they fascinated me because they were exciting. When I was younger there weren’t as many towers as there are now in London, and the ones that were built then held such gravitas.

I was 14 when I attended a talk by an architect working for Richard Rogers on the Leadenhall Building (one of London’s iconic skyscrapers). Since then, I knew that one day I wanted to point at a skyscraper and say that I helped get it there.

Little did I know how important this interest would turn out to be, as one of the solutions to London’s acute housing shortage is densification and the construction of more tall buildings. If located in the right place, providing uses that communities need, these iconic buildings can help implement Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.    

I originally wanted to study architecture but later decided it wasn’t for me. I wanted a career that satisfied my desire to work with tall buildings, be creative, and include problem-solving and critical thinking. Whilst at school I did work experience in planning and doing site visits around Swiss Cottage convinced me to study town planning at Oxford Brookes University. 

University taught me the theoretical side of planning and gave me grounding in urban design principles. My undergraduate dissertation considered if the pressures of the office market in London were pushing housing provision out of tall buildings. I interviewed people who had worked in the tall buildings market which gave me a new perspective on emerging developments. I also worked in Hong Kong and learnt about feng shui, project viability considerations and the technical challenges of tall buildings. 

My first proper planning job was working for a planning consultancy and which enabled me to work on large-scale strategic schemes across southern England. I enjoyed the significant scale of these schemes and gained valuable experience about the lengthiness of the planning process and the years of engagement required. However, most were in rural settings and I knew I wanted to do more urban projects. 

This lead me to my decision to join GL Hearn, whose planners have extensive experience in tall buildings and large scale urban and infrastructure projects.  I’ve learnt these projects require engagement in a more nuanced side of the planning application process and the challenges of two-tier planning authorities especially in London. 

Looking back, my planning career so far has let me follow my childhood interest.  I know that one day I’ll be pointing to London skyscrapers that I got planning permission for.

  • Share
I wanted a career that satisfied my desire to work with tall buildings, be creative, and include problem-solving and critical thinking.
Alexandra Higgins
Assistant Planner

GL Hearn