Emerging Professionals Plug Planning Across Borders

If you were looking for another reason to become involved in APA or the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP ) as a young planner, try this one on for size: We just got back from Ottawa after being asked to share our thoughts in a cross-border dialogue about the state of planning for young professionals.

It’s the latest entry in a long list of opportunities given to us because of our involvement in APA: opportunities to hear and be heard on a [multi]national platform.

We are shamelessly plugging this to everyone reading this because we recognize that the planning profession needs more voices and experiences — your voices and experiences — to have fully inclusive and informed conversations about the future of planning.

The panel began like many others with a short presentation by the moderator to set the scene. This particular scene is likely familiar to many:

  • Planning professionals are generally not representative of the communities they serve
  • Combating climate change through resilient design is quickly becoming the crown jewel of the offerings young planning minds bring to the table
  • Nobody quite knows how to "handle" millennials as they become the largest generation in the workforce

End scene.

So what are professional organizations like the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) and American Planning Association (APA) to do about this? How can these groups remain relevant as these conversations move faster than ever in the age of social media?

It should be no shock that a room full of planners largely answered these questions with more questions, but we’ve tried to summarize below three main actions that planners — individual and collective — can take to help propel the profession forward:

Create pipelines to amplify voices of color within the profession.

Planners must recognize and acknowledge the historic mismatch of those living in and planning for communities to understand the great need for voices of color at decision-making tables. It is imperative that we remove barriers to entry for young planners of all backgrounds.

Foster strong design and data interpretation skills in young planners.

Planners increasingly need a large toolbox of hard and soft skills to effectively do their jobs. APA and CIP can help push planning programs to include courses in design and data literacy to bolster necessary hard skills, and can provide networking and training opportunities that emphasize empathy and conflict resolution skills when working with the public.

Strike a balance between nimble reactions and thorough study of community issues.

CIP and APA must react quickly to contemporary issues to remain relevant. This, however, should not come at the cost of thorough research and understanding of the pros/cons and potential consequences of any decision. Professional organizations should have strong, visionary statements for their members to stand behind, while also advocating for the due diligence and proper study of community issues.

At the end of the day, the vision above cannot be reached by professional organizations or individual planners alone. Making progress requires both individual and collective action: changes in planners’ daily actions and habits as well as sweeping organizational policy changes. Young planners will certainly play a role in bringing this vision to live, but not without the help of those with more experience. By continuing to learn from each others’ successes and failures, APA and CIP can work together to guide the future of planning.

Top image: The current and former chairs of APA’s Student Representatives Council participated in a CIP conference session on the state of planning for young professionals on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. From left, Rachael Thompson Panik, AICP Candidate, Ellen Forthofer, and Canadian planners Nicholas Kuhl and George Benson. Photo by Joel Albizo.


About the Authors
APA SRC Chair Rachael Thompson Panik, AICP Candidate, is a planner/engineer at Toole Design Group. Ellen Forthofer is an associate city planner at the City and County of Denver.

July 24, 2019

By Rachael Thompson Panik, AICP Candidate, Ellen Forthofer