Boruo Chen (MCRP Class of '18) finds variety and challenges at 2017 APA Conference

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Written by Boruo Chen (MCRP Class of '18)

The 2017 APA National Planning Conference arrived in New York City on May 6th. Inclement weather delayed numerous attendees, including many of our us from the Georgia Tech Planning program. Some with layovers were stuck in nearby cities, while others faced flight delays and cancellations. Still, by 8:00 am, many of us arrived to hear the keynote speaker, Peter Leyden, discuss our field’s promising advances as well as our upcoming challenges.

The theme of the conference – Planning in Motion - opened discussion about the future of our profession. Some challenges include the tech “disrupters” selling services typically provided by traditional planning; the shift towards technology and big data, and the incremental improvements to both which may come at the cost of doing real community outreach and involvement for disadvantaged citizens. All this, plus the increasing urgency for resiliency planning, as the planet continues to set temperature records year after year.

For students, this conference gave a glimpse into what we will face as professionals. Some of us saw the encroaching presence of big data and tech as a necessary evil. Intrepid futurist Nathaniel Horadam (MCRP Class of ’18) comments, “Planners need to start engaging these [tech] firms to develop mutually beneficial partnerships, [but] only recently opened those channels to begin building a technology knowledge database for planners around the country.”

For Rebecca Van Dyke (MCRP Class of ’18), School of City and Regional Planning SPA President, the conference was a way to connect with student planning organizations from around the nation. She was particularly impressed by the organization from Florida State University, Synoptikos, and came away thinking about “how SPA can involve Atlanta’s youth.”

But for young planners, the conference was also a chance to see how we could interact with the public. “Lessons from Painful Public Meetings” brought levity to our profession, as well as examples of how our constituents conduct themselves. In addition, there was a series of Pecha Kuchas called “Fast, Funny, or Passionate,” consisting of seven-minute talks. Several of them addressed dealing with the public, planning professionals, and other stakeholders.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for any conference attendee was the task of deciding which of the concurrent panels to attend. Fortunately, all panels were recorded and will be uploaded to the APA site. This will allow attendees to visit some of the more interactive sessions, including tours to places like Radburn, Sunnyside Gardens, Chinatown, lower Manhattan, and East Harlem. 

These interactive workshops and tours were some of the most exciting parts of the conference. New York City has a rich planning history, from the first laws regarding zoning, to the more problematic plans of Robert Moses. The diverse immigrant communities and the concentration of arts and culture have attracted migrants from all over the world, making New York the biggest Metropolitan area in the US, reaching from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. This presents challenges in transportation, housing, and equity unlike anywhere else. Seeing these challenges tackled on a large scale can prove beneficial for any planner.

For Van Dyke, New York proved a walkable city that offered an opportunity to explore. “We must have walked ten miles, wandering wherever we felt pulled. We talked about what we would do if we could magically fix one major urban problem and shared stories about ourselves. We ended the night by eating ramen in Greenwich village, which felt very well-deserved.”

For Horadam, New York is not an area of interest, but even he could appreciate its place in history. When recounting his visit to the World Trade Center, he said, “As someone who obsesses over American history and the memorialization of our nation’s past, it was important to me that we got this one right… from the Freedom Tower to Calatrava’s Oculus transit hub to the memorials where the original towers once stood, they knocked this one out of the ballpark.”

For me, the conference confirmed what I already knew: that New York is a lot of things for a lot of folks, and it has something for everyone.


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Jessie Brandon
  • Created:05/22/2017
  • Modified By:Jessie Brandon
  • Modified:05/22/2017


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