APA History and Organization

On October 1, 1978, the American Planning Association emerged from the consolidation of the American Institute of Planners and the American Society of Planning Officials. Both memberships and boards had overwhelmingly approved the consolidation earlier in the year and decided to create a single independent, not-for-profit educational organization that was:

... organized exclusively for charitable, educational, literary and scientific purposes to advance the art and science of planning and the activity of planning — physical, economic, and social — at the local, regional, state and national levels.

Within APA would be a professional institute — the American Institute of Certified Planners — that would be responsible for the national certification of professional planners.

Although AIP was incorporated in 1917 (as the American City Planning Institute, renamed the American Institute of Planners in 1939), and ASPO in 1934, we actually trace our roots further back to 1909 and the first National Conference on City Planning in Washington, D.C. From that and subsequent conferences, the organized planning movement emerged, first through our two predecessors and, since 1978, through APA. APA's 2013 National Planning Conference was the 105nd such event.

This model of a single organization — a "big tent" for everyone interested in planning, with an internal institute to advance the interests of the profession — was unique at the time and has attracted great interest around the world.

The planning movement has been well served by APA. We have grown from an organization of 13,000 to around 40,000 national members, and more than 15,000 of us are certified planners.

Collections of historical papers about the organizations' beginnings reside at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the national planning archives at Cornell University.

A description of the collection at MIT


D.C. is home to the Partnerships, Outreach, Research, and Policy functions, including Government Affairs and Public Information, as well as the Professional Development functions of AICP.

Chicago is home to the other functions: Education, Publications, Website, Conferences, Membership (including AICP membership), Marketing, Leadership and Component Programs, as well as Operations (administration, finance, human resources, and information technology).

Daniel Burnham Conference Center

APA's Chicago office at 205 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1200, is home to APA's Daniel Burnham Conference Center.

Professional Development and AICP

The American Institute of Certified Planners has responsibilities for accreditation (through the Planning Accreditation Board), certification, professional standards, and certification maintenance.

Conferences and Education

APA's annual National Planning Conferences bring together more than 5,000 planners, planning commissioners, appointed and elected officials, and students for five days of sessions, workshops, and networking.

Information about conferences

APA also produces audio conferences, manuals, training workshops, and video and audio recordings to promote education about planning.

Outreach and Policy

APA educates policy makers and partners on planning issues and advocates policy changes to incorporate planning principles at all levels of government.

The Public Information Office educates media and the public about the importance of planning and the role of planners in shaping our nation's communities. It also recognizes successful planning initiatives and efforts through the annual National Planning Awards.


APA conducts extensive research on planning topics, including those sponsored by agencies and other associations. Current and recent projects include reasearch on drought mitigation, Great Lakes coastal hazards, planning for food access, and an update of the classic PAS Report Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction.


APA publishes Planning, its flagship magazine, delivered 11 times a year; Zoning Practice, a monthly publication on local land-use controls; the Journal of the American Planning Association, a quarterly journal; and Planning & Environmental Law, a monthly law journal.

APA also publishes the quarterly digital newsletter The Commissioner for planning officials, and an e-newsletter, APA Interact, for its members. Practicing Planner is a digital quarterly publication for AICP members. Four in-depth Planning Advisory Service (PAS) reports on selected topics are published each year. PAS also publishes the semi-monthly newsletter PAS Memo.

APA's 2010 Office Moves

APA relocated the Chicago and Washington, D.C., offices in the summer of 2010 after both 15-year leases expired.

In both cities, APA stayed near former "homes." In Chicago, the office moved four blocks north to 205 N. Michigan Ave. to a 1980s TOD just a block from Millennium Park. Moving into a more modern, efficient building allowed the office to reduce its space needs to 22,000 square feet from the former 26,500 square feet.

In Washington, D.C., the office relocated about half a mile to Fifteenth Street at the corner of L. This location offers proximity to three subway lines instead of one; APA increased its D.C. space by about 1,000 square feet to about 7,000 square feet. Between Chicago and D.C., APA's space was reduced by about 3,500 square feet.

Both offices are as "green" as possible. They include locations in the downtowns of both cities, ample use of concrete floors and exposed ceilings (reducing the need for carpet and ceiling tiles), reduced square feet per person (reduces the amount of materials overall per person), smart lighting systems, Energy Star appliances, access to transit (very few APA employees drive to work), and many other measures.

Our addresses are:

  • 205 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1200, Chicago, IL 60601
  • 1030 15th St. NW, Suite 750 West, Washington, DC 20005

A Bit of History on APA and Its Two Offices

By Paul Farmer, FAICP
Retired APA CEO

As I talk with our members, customers and partners, I am occasionally asked about APA's history and the reasons that we have two offices.

APA can trace its roots back to 1909 when the first National Conference on City Planning and Congestion Relief was convened in Washington, D.C. Other significant dates for APA are 1917, 1934, and 1978, the latter date representing the creation of APA through the consolidation of two predecessor organizations located in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. APA has continued this office arrangement, which allows us to maintain both a Washington presence, where the vast majority of our partners are located, and a presence in the nation's third-largest and rather centrally located city, Chicago.

D.C. is home to the Research, Outreach and Policy functions, including Legislative Affairs and Public Information, as well as some of the AICP functions such as professional development and professional standards. APA staff responsible for these functions have easy access to our professional partners in organizations such as ASLA, AIA, ICMA, and ULI. APA staff in the Outreach and Policy functions have easy access to myriad NGOs (non-governmental organizations) as well as Congress and the federal agencies. Chicago is home to the other functions: Publications, Education, Conferences, Leadership and Council Programs, as well as Operations (membership, finance, human resources, and information services).

This arrangement continues to serve APA quite well and I do not have any problem running an organization with offices in two locations. In fact, the many advantages far outweigh any disadvantages. Washington gives us the advantage of proximity to virtually all of our 50 or so closest partners. It's simply the home for almost all of the organizations serving the design professions and smart growth, preservation, transportation, housing, and economic and community development.

We all know that planners are effective through close and effective collaboration with our partners — we accomplish little by ourselves and that is just as true for the planning movement as it is for planners in their own communities. A successful planning movement also requires collaboration with federal agencies and non-partisan collaboration with our elected officials. Not surprisingly, many of the nation's leading foundations that focus on the broad array of planning issues are also found in D.C. Our Washington office is in downtown Washington only a couple of blocks from the White House, an area that is home to many not-for-profit associations.

Chicago is our nation's "second city" when it comes to associations. Home to the major concentration of medical associations in the nation, Chicago, along with Washington, has a wealth of association talent and offerings, and we draw on this talent pool for staff. While APA is America's leading authority on planning, it is also an association and must aspire to excellence in the way it functions as an association so that its members can achieve excellence in planning in their communities.

Our Chicago office had its beginnings on the University of Chicago campus, in a building that we shared with many other public-interest organizations. We were the last to leave the campus when we moved to our first downtown Chicago location in 1995 in a building designed by Daniel Burnham. In 2010, we moved to Illinois Center, a Mies van der Rohe designed TOD.

Many long-time APA staff have been joined by newcomers in both cities in our downtown offices that are convenient to transit, commuter rail, and hotels that serve our members and our leadership when meetings are held in our home cities. We have two very smart locations. Additionally, long-term leases provide quite favorable rental rates in both cities. In terms of disaster-preparedness, the two offices provide some protection of human capital, information, and materials. As planners, we know that disaster-preparedness and recovery planning are critical for any responsibly run organization.

I hope that this brief explanation provides information on both the historical reasons and benefits of two offices as well as the management initiatives that provide cost-effective stewardship of APA's resources.