Thoughts from the National American Planning Association Conference

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Los Angeles Skyline

I recently returned from the 2012 American Planning Association National Conference in Los Angeles, California.  The theme for the conference this year was “Reinvent, Reinvigorate, Reimagine”.  During the opening keynote, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa spoke about some of the City’s successes in planning efforts, particularly in regard to public transit.  Los Angeles instituted a half-penny sales tax to fund transit initiatives and is planning to compress the original timeline for many of the transit projects from 30 years to just ten years due to strong voter support.  As someone who lives car-free in Buffalo, it was refreshing to hear about the significant improvements which have been made to public transit in Los Angeles, a city which has historically been so auto-centric.

Many of the conference sessions dealt with issues such as sustainability, smart growth, and livable communities.  The challenge for most of us lies in finding a way to balance these important matters with ever shrinking budgets.  For example, the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program has had funding levels reduced back to the levels of 1989 (in real dollars, not adjusted for inflation).  Additionally, while funding is down, more and more communities are qualifying for these funds. The challenge becomes how to do more with fewer resources.  We need to be creative and seek out solutions in cost-effective ways.  While the current economic situation may be a challenge, it also allows us a tremendous opportunity to plan for the future and find ways to improve our communities.

Another theme of many of the sessions I attended was technology.  TVGA has recently gotten into the social media world, so I was very interested to hear other groups’ thoughts on social media.  [You can find us on twitter, facebook, linkedin]  The basic consensus is that it is becoming more and more important for many agencies and groups to have a presence in social media, because it can be a great way to showcase projects and to reach the public.  There are many new technologies designed for public participation, finding ways to reach people who want to have a role in their communities but cannot come to a meeting at 6pm on a Tuesday due to work, family and other commitments.  Smart phone apps for cities are becoming more predominant as well.  Some cities even have apps which allow you to check to see how many parking spots are open in various lots before you drive downtown to park!  These new technologies and social media allow people to be informed about what is going on in their community.  

If you would like to know more about the American Planning Association, the national conference or would like to discuss ideas to improve your community, please reach out to me at akeppel@tvga.com or call me at 716-849-8739.

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Angela Keppel, Planner

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3 Responses to Thoughts from the National American Planning Association Conference

  1. James Allen says:

    Angela- I’m interested in the redefinition of “smart growth” that came out of the conference. Can you elaborate on that?

  2. A lot of discussion was had regarding “smart growth” moving away from the growth management approach towards more emphasis on livable communities, place making and sustainable development. Unfortunately, I was at another session and not the session which declared “smart growth is over” that’s been widely blogged about. However, it was discussed during the Delegates Assembly, which I did attend as a representative of the Upstate NY Chapter of APA. We voted on changes to the Smart Growth Policy Guide (the earlier draft – which we revised substantially – can be found online here: http://www.planning.org/policy/guides/pdf/draftsmartgrowth.pdf ). A lot of discussion was had regarding changing the name of the policy guide – suggestions were Livable Communities or Sustainable Growth. Many of the planners from areas where smart growth is considered a dirty word politically were in favor of changing the name. In the end, the Delegate Assembly voted that it was important for APA to have a stance on Smart Growth, even if the concept is changing over time, rather than stay silent on the issue. I think the debate will continue for some time. The policy guide which the Delegate Assembly accepted will go to the Board of Directors for adoption, I’m interested to see the final definitions which they put in the guide. I can be sure to let you know when the final guide is posted.
    -Angela

  3. James Allen says:

    Thanks. I’ll go to the link.

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