Tag Archives: conferences

APA 2014: Another Reminder Why We Do This

It is time for the APA conference once again. As I have written previously (and more eloquently than this quick blog scribble), each time I attend this conference it is worth asking the value of convening in person. I don’t automatically sign up every year; I could get CE credits with local events back in Washington, DC, or even via online webinars. And I am not currently involved in any committees or leadership, so I would not necessarily be missed if I chose not to be here.

And there are a number of challenges associated with attending, especially for the younger members of our profession. Taking four days away from our jobs is tough. It’s expensive. Our employers* may or may not pay for the trip and the registration fee. The only places that can accommodate 5,000+ people are quite anti-urban hotels and convention centers (this is the most flattering angle I could manage of the typical presentation room).


The Georgia World Congress Center. All that’s missing is you.

But I’m in Atlanta, and glad again I made the decision to attend.

For this year, my focus is on paying it forward, to the students and other folks that are just entering their time as planners. I have been fortunate enough to have a number of people serve as mentors and informal guides to me. This was crucial as I applied to grad school and got it funded, assembled a strategy for job searching, reassessed my strengths and jumped to new positions, and so on. None of us made it to successful points in our careers alone, and that’s why I want to return the favor. APA has been helpfully set up a more formal mentoring program that matches us with students (and I encourage you to participate next year) seeking this kind of help. I will be meeting with two folks on that program.

Regardless of the reason, enjoy your time in Atlanta and the interactions that being present together allow.

* Disclaimer: my employer is not paying for me to be here this time, so I feel the challenge directly.


At Greenbuild and ready to go

I’ve arrived in San Francisco mostly free of work tasks and am ready for Greenbuild. Ever since June, when I served as a reviewer for potential sessions, I have been anticipating the opportunity to be in the same space as the many other folks presenting, attending, and exhibiting. A major personal milestone since that time is that I now work in the field of housing and community development, at an employer committed to better affordable housing for all. I’m enthusiastic about this work and I’m glad to be around others that share the passion.

With that change in mind, I’m looking for the intersections of greening the built environment with the twin objectives of housing equity and creating high-quality residences. If you are here at Greenbuild, I look forward to chatting with you about how these goals do and do not parallel one another, and how we might improve that. Leave a comment if that’s you. If you aren’t in San Francisco but are interested in these topics, be sure to follow this blog and my Twitter account for updates in words and photos.

Why We Convene: Closing Thoughts from APA 2012

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

First glimpses of APA 2012 in Los Angeles

We are well into Day 3 of the American Planning Association conference in downtown Los Angeles. If you aren’t here, I will write up a few posts to point out some highlights. And if you are here but missed the Saturday presentation on my master’s project, I’ve published the slides here:

Building a Greener Flint: Education Meets Energy Saving at the Urban Alternatives House

We’ve also had an opportunity to get out and see the city under beautiful mild weather. Sorry to hear that the East Coast is having an April heat wave, but it turned out to be a great time to be on the road.

Some photos:

Billboard in the making

We found this installation on the way to lunch. If you ever watched The Price Is Right, remember the Pathfinder game? It required the contestant to start on a numbered square with the first digit in the price of a car, then move to an adjacent square with the next digit, and so on. This was a mix between that and the light-up sidewalk in Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video. 


J.W. Marriott, one of the host hotels, dwarfed by the Ritz-Carlton.

Tomorrow I’ll be attending a mobile workshop in West Hollywood. Their planning division will show us how they’ve achieved an extraordinarily high residential density while maintaining a livable city. Expect posts on that and on closing thoughts on the conference in future entries.

APA, third time around

APA, third time around

In the morning I’m heading to Los Angeles for APA 2012. I’m excited for a week of learning, chatting and poking around L.A. after great experiences in New Orleans and Boston the last two years. See you there.

Wrap-Up of the 2011 National Rural Transportation Peer Learning Conference

For three days last week  I helped to staff this annual conference with RPO America, which marked its fifth year in existence. This year’s event was held here in Washington, D.C. Notwithstanding a minor earthquake the day before its start and an approaching hurricane the weekend after it adjourned, the conference went quite well. Transportation planners from 33 states and Washington, D.C. representing rural planning organizations (RPOs), councils of government (COGs) from small metros, state DOTs and two branches of the federal government (EPA and USDOT) came to share best practices from their organizations.

In two and a half days we covered a lot of ground, by there were two sessions in particular that I found especially useful:

1) Connie Shade from the Lower Savannah Council of Governments led a session on mobility in rural areas and small metros. With the recent triumph of a new and expanding transit system serving Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties in South Carolina under their belt, the organization was able to present the Cross County Connection as a model. The 30 or so people in the room had a lively conversation about the nuts and bolts like how to set up and fund such a system. However, I found the most interesting topics to be about the details of keeping a transit system running. For example, how can you attract people who have not previously used transit? Solutions mentioned ranged from marketing campaigns to engage people needing medical transportation to “wraps” on bus windows that make them appear to be more populated.

The Cross County Connection was also recognized as one of the 16 Excellence in Regional Transportation Awards in advance of the conference, and was one of two to win the brand new Trailblazer Award, chosen by their peers as one of the most innovative rural transportation projects of the year. Congratulations to the Lower Savannah COG for this honor!

2) Kathy Ruffalo also provided a legislative update, to bring the current mess that is Congress’ attempt to reauthorize surface transportation legislation. Congress will reconvene next week, and according to Ruffalo, here is what we can expect. After a summer in which debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling and how to pay down the deficit “sucked all the air out of the room,” attention to other issues was hard to come by in Congress. Even so, both the House and the Senate were working on versions of a new transportation bill, to replace SAFETEA-LU, which expired almost two years ago and has been continued via short-term extensions since then.

The House’s version of the bill, headed by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is a traditional six-year authorization, and will propose only spending that can be met by the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which would entail a deep cut in the amount of funding allotted to transportation. By contrast, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is proposing a two-year bill, with funding levels continued at the same level as currently. This would mean that Congress must locate about $12 billion in addition to the proceeds of the Highway Trust Fund. The one thing that both houses do agree on, fortunately, is an expansion of the TIFIA loan program. As a strong advocate of maintaining and upping the quality of our existing transportation infrastructure, this is a bright spot in the long slog of reauthorization.

Another issue is that the federal gas tax will also expire on September 30th of this year. This unfortunate coincidence means that Congress will need to act to extend this as well, or the government will be unable to collect this much-needed revenue. After the impasse over FAA reauthorization meant millions in airline ticket taxes were not collected earlier in the summer, no one in Washington appears to have the appetite for another such obstacle. Ruffalo pointed out that the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission did recommend a 15-cent increase in the gas tax, giving legislators more authority to recommend a much-needed revenue generator.

The takeaway for planners in RPOs is that transportation is in fact on the minds of Congress, whether or not it appears that way. However, in order for effective programs to result from the next surface transportation bill, there must be consensus on a timeline, and a funding source must be identified. It all comes down to that.

Disclaimer: I work for NADO, which organized the conference, but these views are solely my own.