3.5 days of closely focused conference time are coming to a close here in Los Angeles. Since Saturday morning, several thousand urban and regional planners and our colleagues in allied fields have convened to share our work and advance our collective vision of better communities.
Livening up unprogrammed space
In an age of nearly ubiquitous web and social media access, much of this could be done online. Indeed, the continuing education credits that our credentialed planners need to remain so can be attained from webinars, or from local events rather than from the annual conference. And most of our communities are facing shoestring budgets for yet another year; sending the staff to the West Coast may not be the highest priority.
Attaching the all-important speaker badge
Why, then, did we all come here? Why not expand the use of virtual education and save a great deal of money and time? For starters, every host city is vibrant and ever-changing and should be explored. Even for those places we have visited before (this is my 5th or 6th trip to Los Angeles), there is always something new. For example, CicLAvia is a biannual event celebrating cycling and walking as safe and healthy transportation modes by closing roads to auto traffic for the day. Borrowed from Colombia, it has spread to a number of countries; the Los Angeles version closed ten miles of roads in a transit-accessible corridor to get Angelenos and visitors out of their cars and into the community. The Spring 2012 CicLAvia happily coincided with APA, allowing many to experience it for the first time.
Reunited at the University of Michigan reception
But more importantly, there is no substitute for in-person interaction. I’ve met planners from Long Beach and Berkeley and Wilmington, Ohio, as well as folks that work for General Motors and MindMixer. Are these people online? Probably, but I’d be unlikely to run into them serendipitously on Facebook and ask for their take on the profession. The collective conversation shows the reach and the importance of planning, with recognition of our best plans and professionals thrown in the mix. I also rekindled connections with acquaintances and friends from years past while here, more meaningfully than LinkedIn messages could ever be. It may be ironic that I say this on a blog entry that you may have accessed from a Twitter link, but social media still leaves just a bit to be desired. And your phone battery might die, or your internet connection may blink. The synchronous, face-to-face interactions were the major benefit of the last four days.
We get similar “work” done at the chapter level, and more informally wherever we convene. But APA 2012 was scaled up and hugely diverse, a major opportunity that I’m glad I got to see. If they are reading, I want to thank host committee members, APA staff, and volunteers for showing us a great time.
Conversation fuel, Santa Monica