National Planning Awards 2009

Each year, the American Planning Association recognizes the plans, practices, people, and places that further the field of planning and help create communities of lasting value.

National Planning Awards Winners

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National Planning Awards Ceremony

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National Planning Excellence Awards

Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan

Kigali Comprehensive Plan Master Plan
Kigali, Rwanda, Africa

In Kigali, Rwanda's capital city, over 70 percent of its residents are thought to be living in unplanned areas and sits at the center of unrestrained rural-urban migration. Kigali needed to develop an urban landscape that will help expand its economy and at the same time, provide livable neighborhoods for a population that is projected to triple by 2030. Land-based strategies derived from the natural terrain were developed that sought to affordably promote development that would meet the current needs of a city in which 80 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day in areas that lack basic infrastructure.

The plan outlines a vision and an implementable framework centered on sustainable, holistic, and locally-based solutions that could be transferred to other developing cities. A transect model was used to illustrate how future aspects of urbanization, such as buildings, infrastructure, transportation, land-uses, and density should respond to topography and to each other. A series of public workshops, informational and technical seminars and stakeholder meetings helped build support for the plan.

Kigali Comprehensive Plan Master Plan (pdf)

Greensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Plan
Greensburg, Kansas

On May 4, 2007, an EF-5 tornado hit the town of Greensburg, Kansas, leveling over 90 percent of the town's buildings and killing 10 people. Greensburg's economy and population had been in decline for several decades, so the tornado's path of devastation seemed like the finishing blow for this Kansas town. The citizens of Greensburg, however, decided to rebuild. 

This community based their recovery strategy on their respect for the land and a vision of a sustainable future. Meetings were held in open air tents and FEMA trailers to create a plan that goes beyond disaster recovery and aims to overcome population decline and a struggling economy. The plan protects social equity and maintains cultural heritage by establishing a framework for affordable, diverse housing and ensuring the new built environment maintains the town's cherished rural character while symbolizing the community's goal of being a sustainable model for other communities. In addition to attracting new high quality jobs to the town, the Greensburg City Council enacted a requirement that all publicly funded buildings over 4,000 square feet must be built to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Platinum certification level, the only city in the world with that level of commitment to sustainable building standards.

Greensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Plan (pdf)

Paul Davidoff Award

Land Use and Comprehensive Development Plan for the Cano Martin Pena Special Planning District
San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Plan seeks to resolve critical social, economic, urban, and environmental issues directly affecting the inhabitants of the Cano Martin Pena Special Planning District's eight neighborhoods, living in 500 acres of dense, inadequate conditions along the Cano (channel), next to San Juan's prime financial district. Within the area, more than 3,000 structures lacked a sewer system, environmental degradation and frequent flooding with polluted waters added to the challenge. The plan's long-range vision and phased projects incorporate initiatives for the District's broad, inclusive rehabilitation, integrating the community with the larger San Juan area. The comprehensive scope of the plan together with community participation and commitment from the government are unprecedented in Puerto Rico.

The Plan is the result of 700 community awareness/empowerment and participatory planning activities that built upon local cultural and historical values. Through participation, residents felt ownership of strategies to resolve issues such as relocation of 2,300 households. Planning resulted in innovative legislation and Puerto Rico was a pioneer in granting land tenure in squatter settlements. Approximately 200 acres of public land are being transferred to the newly created Cano Martin Pena Land Trust to prevent gentrification, guarantee affordable housing, and resolve land tenure issues. Strategies for affordable relocation housing, local economic development, environmental awareness, conflict resolution, drug use prevention, education, infrastructure, and arts and sports, among others, are being implemented successfully to improve the lives of all of the residents.

National Planning Excellence Award for Best Practices

Design for Health

The Design for Health program integrates human health issues into planning and environmental design using innovative, practice-oriented tools. Design for Health has had two phases. The first phase, funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, emphasized technical assistance to the 19 partner communities already funded by BCBS to incorporate active living and healthy-environment principles into urban plans. The second phase focuses on education and tool development.

A number of tools including the website,, technical assistance tools, research summaries, and health impact assessment tools are oriented to practitioners for every-day use. The combination of accessible online educational resources and one-on-one technical assistance — including having the Design for Health team review comprehensive plans — has provided multiple paths for learning about health issues.

Design for Health leading the movement to incorporate health into planning and environmental design with a flexible yet targeted suite of tools and methods for assistance.

From a comprehensive planning and implementation perspective, the partners created three active living plan elements, two public and community health elements, five bicycle and/or pedestrian mobility plans, two multi-modal plans, one zoning ordinance and land development manual, and seven comprehensive plans incorporating health throughout the entire document.

Grassroots Initiative

Lower Italian Market Revitalization Project
South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Lower Italian Market Revitalization project focuses on a crucial commercial corridor in the geographical and psychological center of South Philadelphia. These blocks have been dominated by vacant storefronts, with small and dilapidated buildings that suffer from overwhelming amounts of trash, crime, and blight. In an effort to reverse the proliferation of vacant storefronts, crime, trash and blight in the Lower Italian Market area, a group of architects, designers, planners, and policy makers formed the Planning & Design Committee of the Passyunk Square Civic Association (PSCA). In 2007, PSCA was awarded a $50,000 grant from the City of Philadelphia to study the area and determine successful factors and strategies for redevelopment.

The neighborhood's vision for the corridor is to promote and improve conditions for existing businesses, while attracting new development to create a vibrant street life for businesses, residents, and visitors. The Plan addresses green elements, public art, and contemporary concepts that specifically apply to this dense urban area. Interest among residents about PSCA's revitalization plan was so high that the community formed a new committee to implement its recommendations. 

Lower Italian Market Revitalization Project (pdf)

National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation

Livable Centers Initiative
Atlanta, Georgia

The Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) is a grant program offered by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) that encourages local jurisdictions to plan and implement strategies that link transportation improvements with land use development strategies to create sustainable, livable communities. ARC established the program in 1999, committing $1 million annually of federal transportation funds to complete land use and transportation studies. Additionally, the program dedicates $500 million to fund transportation projects identified during the studies. The unique aspect of the LCI program is the ability to connect study funds and local land use initiatives with funds for transportation projects. Although LCI is a regional program, the studies are local plans that follow accepted planning practices and reflect the community's needs.

Over the past nine years, the LCI program has spurred cities, counties and communities of all sizes to undertake planning for activity centers, town centers and transportation corridors that is bringing a new level of livability to the region. To date, more than $140 million in planning and transportation funds have been allocated to 94 distinct areas in the region.

The Public Outreach Award

visionPDX: Portland's Community Visioning Project
Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon, has a storied history of community engagement with residents, planners, and elected officials effectively working together to create better communities. With the city growing and becoming more diverse, the old ways of engaging people — public meetings, offering testimony at hearings — were not working as well anymore. Mayor Tom Potter sensed the need to realign the public with a shared vision for Portland's future.

visionPDX was the result, a city-supported, community-led initiative to create a vision for Portland's development for the next 20 years and beyond. The project emphasized engaging traditionally under-represented and under-involved communities: from immigrant and refugees to sexual minorities to cultural creatives.  visionPDX worked with three theater companies to create unique settings for dialogue. Mobile installations like the high-tech Vision Vessel and the grassroots T-Horse were used to interact with people in their communities. Almost 40 organizations were interviewed about barriers to engagement and ways to overcome them.

visionPDX: Portland's Community Visioning Project (pdf)

National Planning Achievement Award for Hard-Won Victory

Great Miami Drinking Water Protection Project
Cincinnati, Ohio

The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) spearheaded a collaborative approach to protecting the largest groundwater resource in Southwest Ohio. This effort centered on planning the best way that the economically deprived Village of New Miami could best protect drinking water for itself and its neighbors.  The aquifer provides drinking water for 300,000 people, but it is also vulnerable to 34 potential pollution sources in New Miami's drinking water protection area alone.

The need for intergovernmental cooperation was essential in creating a viable plan.  OKI recruited nine project partners that subsequently worked together to successfully receive a federal drinking water protection grant under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. Navigating through the three years of grant work proved easier than expected, but persuading the group to agree on project outcomes expected by the Ohio EPA proved more difficult. OKI had to work through hidden agendas, regulatory tensions, and political turmoil.  Local elected officials came and went, so OKI was left to wonder whether the village council could focus on drinking water. In a dramatic turn of events, the Ohio EPA finally endorsed the Drinking Water Protection Plan for the Village of New Miami. The grant partners shortly thereafter came to an agreement on the legislation crafted by the village council that passed a drinking water protection ordinance.

Great Miami Drinking Water Protection Project (pdf)

HUD Secretary's Opportunity and Empowerment Award

NYC Department of Homeless Services Homebase
New York, New York

The Homebase program is a network of neighborhood-based homelessness prevention centers designed to help families avoid homelessness. Homebase is designed to achieve three primary goals: prevent homelessness from occurring; help families who seek shelter find immediate alternatives and shorten their time in shelter; and prevent repeated stays in shelter. Homebase first stabilizes the immediate housing crisis, and then addresses the underlying factors.

Homebase tailors service plans to address each household's needs. The program effectively synthesizes community-based providers, flexible services, and data analysis to proactively identify clients and intervene before the onset of a housing crisis. From September 2004 through July 2008, 10,042 households were served by Homebase, preventing shelter entry for over 90 percent of these households within one year of service.

National Planning Leadership Awards

National Planning Leadership Award for a Planning Advocate

Professor John R. Nolon
White Plains, New York

Professor John R. Nolon has created the most extensive land use leaders training program in the country. The program, called the Land Use Leadership Alliance (LULA) Training Program is a four-day intensive program in advanced land use strategies and community consensus building designed to inspire respected local land use leaders and planners to be effective agents of change in their communities. The impact of his advocacy work goes well beyond the Hudson Valley in New York where the program began, stretching now to Connecticut and Utah.

He created an online land use training program for local planning and zoning board members that was instrumental in leading the New York State legislature to require that such members take four hours of training each year.

Nolon is currently counsel to the Land Use Law Center at Pace Law School where he is a full-time Professor of Law. He is an advocate through his volunteerism, his demonstrated passion for promoting sound community planning, and through his professional focus on scholarship and program development for students, professionals, and community advocates alike.

Innovation in Regional Planning

Orange County Great Park Comprehensive Master Plan
Orange County, California

The Orange County Great Park, serving a population of more than three million people in Orange County, California, is designed around two concepts — transferring sustainable practices at the park beyond the park's borders and the "three park experiences in one" concept. The park will feature a constructed 2.5-mile canyon, daylighted existing stream, a large lake, a cultural terrace, a great lawn, an aviation museum, a conservatory/botanical garden, and a sports park. 

The Great Park Plan brings sustainability out "into the open" in order to educate the public and encourage further research. It incorporates principles of sustainable development, including habitat restoration, renewable energy generation, water quality management, and promotion of non-polluting transportation methods. The Great Park Plan also recognizes the site's recent history as a military airbase and is commemorated with historic museum exhibits, a memorial, and the stories of the men and women who once served there. The park will also create social and transportation connections to the communities throughout the county by knitting together riding, hiking, and multiuse trails from all parts of the region, linking all neighborhoods to the park and communities beyond.

Orange County Great Park Comprehensive Master Plan (pdf)

Planning Pioneer Award

David A. Wallace, AICP

David Wallace (1918-2004) was experienced in every aspect of urban design, development, and redevelopment planning. In an illustrious career that spanned the second half of the 20th century, Wallace contributed significantly to the fields of planning and urban design as a professional, as a builder of communities, and as a teacher.

A founding partner of Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), he retired in 1992 but continued to work until his death in 2004. He was in charge of the master plan for Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and had been responsible for designing and documenting the Harbor's public infrastructure for 30 years. With former partner Ian McHarg, he authored the Plan for the Greenspring and Worthington Valleys, which became the international benchmark for regional environmental planning.

With an urban design philosophy leaning heavily to implementation, he brought a specialized knowledge of the potential for urban redevelopment and revitalization strategies. A professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania, Wallace taught urban design as a discipline that describes and evaluates the characteristics and interrelationships of all elements and dynamics of four-dimensional urban form (including time), and prepares design guidelines and principles for improvements as well as action programs for implementation. He was the author of Urban Planning/My Way, published by Planners Press in 2004.

Leadership Award for a Student Planner

Emy Mendoza
San Jose, California

Ms. Emy Mendoza has shown outstanding leadership in serving the planning profession, her fellow students, and the larger community while maintaining an excellent academic record as a graduate student in the Master of Urban Planning program at San Jose State University. During this time, she has served the larger community by participating on the Steering Committee of CommUniverCity San Jose — a partnership between the City of San Jose, San Jose State University (SJSU), and the Five Wounds/BrookWood Terrace (FWBT) Community in San Jose that plans and helps implement programs and policies for improving the quality of life in the FWBT neighborhood.

Mendoza's enthusiasm for serving the community was also evident when she, along with a team of 15 students, took the initiative to bring the urban planning process to the local high school students. The students built physical models of the proposed Alum Rock BART plaza, and brought the models to the high school students to brainstorm about potential BART plaza sites and configurations. She was able to teach the students how urban planners think about the built environment, and gave the students encouragement for pursuing urban planning professions. She also has served the planning students by advocating for student interests in her role as the Student Representative for the Northern Section, California Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Legislators of the Year

U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.)

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) brings to the Senate an ongoing commitment to advancing infrastructure planning and investment. From his post as the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, he has jurisdiction over legislation regarding transit, housing, and community development programs and used this post to advance a wide variety of key planning programs and legislation. Sen. Dodd has been a leading advocate of infrastructure planning and investment, and authored legislation to create a new infrastructure bank aimed at financing critical, nationally significant infrastructure projects. His approach also would prioritize investments based on performance criteria that include smart growth principles. Last year, Sen. Dodd's committee created new important programs with the affordable housing trust fund and neighborhood stabilization program aimed at helping communities hard hit by the foreclosure crisis. He has a long record as a champion of Community Development Block Grants, transit, and other programs that enable planners to build communities of lasting value.

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.)

Doris Matsui Congresswoman Doris Matsui has been a leading advocate for good planning and smart growth in the House of Representatives. Among the important planning issues she has championed in Congress are Complete Streets and urban forestry initiatives. She introduced the Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2008, which was designed to make the nation's roadways accessible to alternate modes of transportation, including transit, bikes, and walking. The bill advances good planning and promotes roadway design that accommodates all users and promote local livability. Rep. Matsui also has been a vocal leader in local planning through her instrumental support for the nationally renowned Sacramento Blueprint initiative to guide the region's growth toward a greener, more sustainable future.

AICP Student Project Awards

The 2009 AICP Student Project Awards jury was chaired by Robert E. Blanchard, AICP.

Applied Research

Planning the Process: Updating Seattle's Neighborhood Plans

Submitted by: 2008 Masters of Urban Planning First Year Studio, University of Washington-Seattle, Department of Urban Design and Planning, College of Built Environments

The project, updating Seattle's 1990's neighborhood plan, called for respecting previous efforts while drafting plans that were relevant to the needs of a changing population, responded to new social issues, and reflected a different financial and political landscape. Through focus groups, the 30-student team not only identified new planning issues, but also assessed the current conditions of neighborhood plans citywide. The final report offered city staffers best practices gleaned from other parts of the country.

Planning the Process: Updating Seattle's Neighborhood Plans (pdf, 9MB)

Contribution of Planning to a Contemporary Issue

The Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan

Submitted by: Community Planning Workshop, University of Oregon, Department of Public Policy, Planning & Management

City planners, students, and community organizers partnered on the project, using input from 600 residents. The plan addresses infrastructure, safety, education, and funding, with implementation actions assigned to both the city and community groups. The resulting plan, The Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan, was adopted by the city in 2008. In the year the plan has been in place, 20 of the plan's 82 action items have been initiated.

Eugene Pedestrian and Bicycle Strategic Plan (pdf)

Project website:

Application of the Planning Process

Climate Change: Impacts and Responses in the Delaware River Basin

Submitted by: Community Planning Workshop, University of Pennsylvania, School of Design, Department of City and Regional Planning

This report analyzed the potential impacts of climate change in the Delaware River Basin and uncovered alarming findings: By 2050, 1.4 million residents, 147,000 jobs, and residential property worth $20.4 billion could be in danger from sea level rise, flooding, and storm surges. Drafted by a team of 15 graduate students, it also offers policy recommendations and specific design interventions. The authors point out existing and planned development at risk of inundation, and suggest a regional dialogue on long-term planning.

Climate Change: Impacts and Responses in the Delaware River Basin (pdf, 42MB)

APA Journalism Awards

Large Newspapers (circulation above 100,000)

Dallas Morning News, Dallas Texas

The Dallas Morning News has won the 2009 journalism award for a large newspaper (circulation above 100,000). Its winning entry, "Bridging Dallas's North-South Gap," consisted of a collection of more than 40 editorials published during 2008. The newspaper's entire editorial staff contributed.

Medium Newspapers (circulation 50,000-100,000)

No award was given in 2009 to a medium-sized newspaper (circulation 50,000 to 100,000).

Small Newspaper (circulation below 50,000)

Casper Star Tribune
Writer: Christine Robinson; Editor: Tom Mast; Photographer Dan Cepeda

"Taking Root: Can Wyoming Keep Its Newcomers?" was the subject of an 11-day series, which appeared in November and December 2008 in the Casper Star Tribune — winner among small newspapers (circulation below 50,000). Reporter Christine Robinson, business editor Tom Mast, and photographer Dan Cepeda contributed to the Star Tribune's articles.

The year 2009 marks the 49th year of the APA Journalism Award Competition, which honors North American newspapers for excellent coverage of city and regional planning topics.

Judges for this year's competition were the Rachel Davis Mersey, assistant professor of journalism Medill School of at Northwestern University, and Drew Petterson, AICP, senior vice president of TD&A consultants. Both of them are based in Chicago.

Journal of American Planning Association Award

In recognition of the best contribution during the year to the scholarly journal of APA. David Sawicki, FAICP, chaired the committee that selected the article.

"Safe Urban Form: Revisiting the Relationship Between Community Design and Traffic Safety," v. 75, 3, Summer 2009.
Eric Dumbaugh and Robert Rae

The article shatters myths about the safety of suburban road design and associated community design. The authors focus on a critical issue associated with urban design, the research design is well-conceived, the statistical analysis is rigorous, and the implications to the practice of urban design are powerful.

2009 Awards Jury

APA's National Planning Excellence, Leadership and Achievement Awards recognize the best planning efforts and individuals. The 2009 National Planning Awards Jury was chaired by Carol Rhea, AICP, of Rhea Consulting in Shelby, North Carolina. Rhea is also a member of the APA Board of Directors. 

The jury included: Fernando Costa, FAICP, assistant city manager for the City of Fort Worth, Texas; Quinn Fahey, land use planner for Parametrix, Inc.; Denise Harris, AICP, program manager in Fauquier County Administration Department; David Lee, vice president of Stull and Lee; Mike McAnelly, FAICP, senior planner and project manager for Jacobs in Dallas, Texas; Frederick Stiener, dean of the School of Architecture and Henry M. Rockwell Chair in Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin; and Marie L. York, FAICP, Associate Director for the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University.

2009 Awards Jury in Fort Worth November 2008