Thursday, April 30, 2009

Notes on the 2009 APA Conference

The republicans descended on St. Paul last fall, the planners, commissioners, and engineers all came to Minneapolis for the 2009 APA conference. Having relocated to the Twin Cities last November, and living ten minutes from the convention center, this was the perfect opportunity for me to attend my first APA conference. After 4 long days, 25 different sessions, running into old and new colleagues, and giving a tour of downtown Minneapolis with a new colleague I would have to say I was happy with the conference.

A few major themes and ideas really stuck out to me at the conference and they were all good in my opinion. While some of the sessions were a bit dry and not very informative, others really tackled some specifics and case studies really showed some great work around the country. But I wanted to talk about three main things that I thought was really great to see as common themes of the conference.

Anti-auto or not planning around the private automobile
I would have to say shocked is not the right word to use, but throughout the conference the planning field and community has decided it is time to stop planning around cars. Although I felt I would hear some of this, it was a major theme from all aspects and from many different working professionals. The head of city planning in Cleveland discussing eliminate all parking requirements for new arts overlay districts and the planner for Montgomery county looking at how to change the suburban landscape by providing more public transit. Other hints and more blatant statements were made throughout the conference on how we need to move away from auto oriented planning.

Walking and Biking take center stage
While Portland is always held up as the biking Mecca and NYC as the most walkable city it was great to see other mid-size and smaller cities share what they are doing. At the conference it was clear that the pedestrian and bike are finally being considered as equal modes of transportation and not as recreational activities anymore. For instance, Louisville Kentucky just finished a huge walking plan and in the process of creating a greenway throughout the city. Communities that wouldn’t discuss bike lanes ten years ago are now focusing on how many miles of lanes and where to put them. It was encouraging to see these modes of transit being given their time in the spotlight.

Engineers are smelling the coffee
It is common in the planning field to laugh at and be frustrated with engineers. The common notion is that they rely on data only and plan with blinders on. This is the criticism of traffic planning engineers. I am here to report we have some fine civil engineers out in NYC (all academics though) that are challenging the old notions and looking at the new ways. Although they still seem to be a bit to heavy on the quantitative data still (I would like to see more empirical and qualitative incorporated), a session I attended gave me new hope and a new respect for some engineers who are working outside the box and doing some great work. This really gave me the hope that this divide between the planning and engineer professions will get smaller as we can work together better on future projects.

No growth and shrinkage (I added a fourth)
I am tacking this on because I thought it was important as well. It was refreshing to see sessions about areas that are not growing or are actually shrinking. It was great to see Duluth MN and Youngstown OH and how these cities, even though loosing populations, are working to stay vibrant in a global economy.

Over all the conference was a success for me. Although the sessions I really wanted to attend got cancelled, there were plenty of other sessions to make up for it.

1 comment:

Garden Monkey said...

Hooray! Happy that you noticed those themes, any idea if they are starting to trickle into our area??