Has Planning Changed?

If planning hadn’t changed, the profession and practice would no longer be in existence.


So, the first obvious response is to acknowledge how much technology and its tools have changed planning. The biggest trends APA has covered in its education programs has been data and information management. Equally important has been the development of tools for the visual display of a wide array of information from graphics to maps to photography. More recently the profound impact that technology has had on communication, access and control of information, and engagement has shown up in a wide variety of conference sessions and articles.

Telling the Planning Story Visually

An equally important development is the growing sophistication of how planning explains itself visually. The New Urbanists led the way with their elegant clear graphics that demonstrated planning principles to a very interested public. Today few planners leave school without a sophisticated set of skills in presentation. At the Phoenix 2016 conference this visual energy proliferated in the Tech Zone, on posters, and in some of the increasingly sophisticated Fast, Funny, and Passionate short-session presentations.

Not All Planning Is the Same

While planners remain loyal to the comprehensive plan as the bedrock of community planning, they have also invented a wide range of approaches to plans. In the early years of The Commissioner we could publish articles on “how to do the transportation element of the comprehensive plan.” Now we are hard pressed to find planners who approach plans in such rigid format. Instead, they deliver articles on how transportation is integrated with environmental and health plans and policies or simply say, “Carolyn, that’s not the way to ask the question.” Planning has truly become more integrative, more nimble, and more specific to the culture and the circumstance of place.

Some Things Don’t Change

Planners remain committed to equity and social justice. Since its formation, APA conferences constantly return to the question of how to make communities good places to live for all people. If APA serves as a gathering place for people to discuss important issues for communities, then issues of equity are infused throughout both education and the wider organization. Is it enough? Of course, it is never enough and we all need to keep the conversation moving forward.

Have I Changed Planning?

As I begin the countdown to my retirement, have I contributed to the evolution of planning during my years at APA? Will my successor have the opportunity to contribute to this dynamic, exciting, and important profession and practice?

The National Planning Conference remains for me the Report Card on Planning. Each year we ask ourselves: What are the important new trends? Who has important ideas to share? Is the work that planners are presenting moving the practice forward? The conference today has greatly expanded the opportunities for members and colleagues to present and actively participate. The number of people eager to propose has more than quadrupled over these years. As we have tossed out new ideas, conference presenters have embraced new formats and made them even better than first imagined. As the director responsible for the education program at the conference I am proud of the conference we have built together.

Planning for hazard mitigation and recovery emerged in the 1990s and has now become an important part of the practice of planning. Indeed, from the day that Ken Topping, FAICP, visited with Jim Schwab, FAICP, and other APA staff to discuss the importance of hazards to planning, we marshalled conference and education resources to shine the light on the subject and spread the word. My contribution was to provide the opportunity for the conversation to take place.

Finally, the growth of distance learning and digital education at APA is a matter for pride for me. Beginning in 1994 with simple audio conferences, the array of tools we have used to make education more accessible to more members, planning officials, and the public has meant that national education programs (including the conference) that once reached around 5,000 annually now reach as many as 20,000. Casting the APA net to include all the exciting webinars and CM-credited programs being offered throughout the year, the number reached must be in the tens of thousands.

About the Author

Carolyn Torma is APA's director of education and citizen engagement.

Top image: Thinkstock photo.

September 13, 2016

By Carolyn Torma