CPAT: Putting Planners on the Ground

The Community Planning Assistance Teams program, or CPAT, is one of the most direct ways APA demonstrates the value and flexibility of planning to help find workable solutions to real world problems in today's communities.

CPAT is multidisciplinary. It's collaborative, intensive, and solutions oriented. It's also an opportunity and a benefit to not only the communities that participate but the volunteer planners and other allied professionals who serve on teams.

Teams address myriad issues — all of them unique to each community.

Post-disaster communities, for example, face a daunting range of complications. After Katrina, several teams helped Gulf Coast communities, like Mandeville, Louisiana, plan their futures with a new eye toward resilience. In Lyons, Colorado, a team aided a town devastated by a high-velocity flood that forced the entire town to evacuate, many for several months. In Franklin, Tennessee, a team helped a divided community find agreeable solutions to a flood-prone historic district in their downtown.

In Franklin, Tennessee, CPAT members developed this concept for a low-rise commercial building in their flood-prone historical district. Source: Franklin CPAT Final Report.

Teams foster collaboration and bring people and organizations together, like the one that visited the city of Helena and Lewis and Clark County in Montana to help develop smart growth solutions.

In Dubuque County, Iowa, an impressive number of stakeholder groups representing small towns, the county, city of Dubuque, the regional planning organization, conservation groups, economic development groups, bicycle, running, and snowmobile enthusiast groups, and hundreds of residents all across the county participated in planning a 26-mile multi-use trail.

More than 40 stakeholder groups and residents came to the table in Buzzard Point, an industrial area with increasingly rare affordable housing in Washington, D.C.

A team in 2009 led by Alan Mallach, FAICP, spoke with over 40 stakeholder groups in Southwest Washington, D.C. Photo by Ryan Scherzinger.

Teams also find unique ways to engage communities. Residents of East Greensboro, North Carolina recently enjoyed a place-it exercise during a creative visioning process. Some communities had never participated in the planning process before, like La Feria, Texas, where the team sought their input for the first time — and provided English-Spanish translation during the public workshops.

In December 2017, a team worked with City of Greensboro staff to engage residents with a PlaceIt exercise to help envision a future for a growing area of East Greensboro, North Carolina. Photo by Ryan Scherzinger.

La Feria, Texas, is a border town in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. In 2013, a CPAT engaged residents there for the very first time to help plan their historic downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Photo by Ryan Scherzinger.

Issues on the rise, like public health in Saginaw, Michigan, are unique opportunities for communities to call on the CPAT program for help. A team met with stakeholders and evaluated affordable housing initiatives in the comprehensive plan for Charles County, Maryland.

As the original impetus for the CPAT program, social equity is always an important element of CPAT projects.

A team worked with the Crestdale neighborhood of Matthews, North Carolina, which is considered the first freedmen settlement in the state, to help plan a future that respects and celebrates their history amid significant demographic and other changes to the area.

In the Yarborough neighborhood of Belize City, Belize, the team recommended changes to the south side's waterfront spaces to equalize the amount of investment made to public spaces on the north side of the city. As a city faced with limited resources, the team provided examples and strategies for low-cost initiatives and encouraged community members to take the lead on many other neighborhood improvements.

Team members held a youth roundtable to discuss the Yarborough neighborhood on the south side of Belize City, Belize. Photo by Ryan Scherzinger.

Top image: CPAT volunteer team member Triveece Penelton, AICP, enjoying her time engaging with East Greensboro residents during a community workshop. Photo by Ryan Scherzinger.

About the Author
Ryan Scherzinger, AICP, is APA's professional practice programs manager.

January 5, 2018

By Ryan Scherzinger, AICP