Planner Profile: Theo Holtwijk
The Maine Association of Planners is proud to represent planners and others involved in planning across this great state. One of the best contributions we can make to support planning is to connect and support our professional planning community. That is why MAP is excited to launch our new Planner Profiles campaign!
Maine is a big state and the planning community is a busy bunch. The Planner Profiles campaign gives us a chance to meet each other and learn about our skills, interests, and experiences online.
Meet Theo Holtwijk, Director of Long-Range Planning for the Town of Falmouth:
HOW MANY YEARS IN PLANNING PROFESSION?
I have worked as a planner in Maine for 30 years. Wow, those years flew by!
Director of Long-Range Planning for the Town of Falmouth. Before that I worked for the Towns of Brunswick and Sanford, had my own consulting business, worked for the architecture firm SMRT, and also taught occasionally at USM’s Muskie School, Bates College, and the Maine College of Art.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND
I grew up in a small town in The Netherlands. Guess that makes me from “away - way away.” I studied in The Netherlands, but also in England, and the United States as an exchange student/Fulbright Scholar. Along the way I picked up two Masters degrees – one in Urban and Regional Planning, the other in Landscape Architecture.
WHAT LED YOU INTO PLANNING?
I have always been interested how people affect the world. My BA degree was in Human Geography. Urban Planning seemed a logical extension of that - seeking to proactively change the world for the better. I thought early on that a lot of planning in the Netherlands seemed to consist of thick, dry reports that took ages to result in anything tangible and I wanted to have a more immediate and direct impact. So, I decided to study landscape architecture (at UMass Amherst).
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT PLANNING IN MAINE?
When interviewing for an internship way back when, official “appointments” were required in Boston before I got through the door, whereas in Portland I could just stop by unannounced with my portfolio in hand and show my work. The atmosphere here seemed more relaxed. I liked that. Secondly, although Maine is several times the size of the Netherlands, it is ultimately still a “small” state where everyone knows each other. I liked that too!
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
Helping people with different perspectives and backgrounds work together to pro-actively create consensus-driven change that improves their lives. Seeing people recognize the importance of the place where they live, work, shop, and recreate, and helping them capture and realize the full capacity of that.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
Pro-active change is hard to come by. It is always easier to say “no” or “but…” to something (or to say nothing at all) than to say “yes,” take a chance, and overcome the obstacles to get there. The most challenging aspect is overcoming our own fears, worries, and cautiousness. Be curious! Have appetite!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR DREAM PROJECT – WHAT KIND OF PLANNING WORK WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH?
I am interested in understanding people-place relationships. What makes it that a person or group of people, over time, do what they do and end up making something beautiful, interesting, and engaging of a place. What compelled them? How did they go about doing that? What hurdles did they overcome? I try to answer these questions to whatever I am working on.
WHAT IS YOUR NICHE OR MAIN EXPERTISE?
I am as interested in imagining the future of a place, as I am in the history of that place. Learning the history of the places around us increases our appreciation of them, and, I believe that, increased appreciation will lead us to be better caretakers. I believe that everyday landscapes are as important for our well-being as so-called landmarks or special places. As a result they require as much of our attention as everything else. I believe that understanding and harnessing the different perspectives with which people view and perceive a place is essential to creating better places. I try to bring all these perspective to my day-to-day work.
This profile was originally published on February 15, 2016.