The American Planning Association (APA) is the largest professional planning organization, and I am honored to say that I have played an active role in the organization over the past two years. Each year, APA hosts a National Planning Conference where planners and students from across the United States participate in workshops, network at events, share stories/experiences and explore new ideas and technologies in the planning sphere.
This year, the conference was held in Phoenix. Hot. Dry. Phoenix.
My opinion of Phoenix had been largely shaped by what I’ve heard from my mom (who traveled there frequently for business): sprawl, ugly, hot, miserable. Why would APA hold a planning conference in a city that, from an outsider’s view, does not represent the high density, mixed-use trends of the field?
I found out that Phoenix is the 6th most populated city in the United States (860,000 more people than last year’s vibrant host city Seattle), but it’s the city’s small gems that emphasize why people love to live there. As I walked around downtown during my breaks from workshops, I discovered some of these gems. For example, the lizard motif on a building, the native landscape strategically placed to provide shade for pedestrians, and the tan/brown buildings that emphasized “YOU’RE IN THE DESERT!”, all of which created a sense of place that demonstrated appreciation for the environment.
The conference itself was inspiring. I met planners from rural South Carolina, New York City, and Alabama. I attended workshops about Urbanization in Mexico, Women in Planning, and electronic plan review software. The people I spoke with and the workshops I attended all had a running theme: planning is for the people. Community engagement and interaction has always been my personal inspiration for planning, and it seemed to be the theme of the conference as well. Jane Jacobs’ ideas of the importance of genuine local collaboration prevailed over purely top-down Robert Moses. The shifts in the field are towards sustainable development, not just in an environmental sense, but also in an economic and community sense.
As an urban planning student who is graduating in June, my experiences at professional events have cultivated my sense of confidence in the field. Planners discussing their stories and challenges ultimately compel me to get out there and make things happen in my community. I have recently accepted a full-time position at Kapstone as an Assistant Planner (to begin after my graduation), and I am so excited to start my career with a company that understands the importance of community and giving back.
Not only did the 2016 National Planning Conference help me become more open-minded about a new place, it also showed me how the little things can bring out the vibrancy and beauty in any environment. Even the desert! I also walked away with a further appreciation for urban planning and for the people who make change happen. As I move forward in my career now, I look forward to learning, growing, and making my own impact along the way. For now, the sunny weather of Southern California will do just fine!