APA's Emerging Issues Challenge

Thanks for all of the great ideas that were submitted for APA's Emerging Issues Challenge on APA's Facebook page.

APA's Emerging Issues Task Force wanted to know your thoughts about the most important emerging issue, the driving forces behind it, and the implications for planning and the built and natural environments. We received many great ideas — you can check out all the comments below.

From these 10, one commenter was randomly selected to win the iPad Mini. Congratulations to Chris Pettit for winning the iPad Mini.

The Task Force reviewed all of the comments and selected the following 10 to include in their final report to the APA Board of Directors:

Amanda Mahar
The most important emerging issue for planning is dealing with the progressively failing infrastructure not in cities but in smaller communities, towns, and villages. Infrastructure in this country is reaching the end of its life cycle, but it's easy for big cities to raise taxes and find the money to get these projects done. In villages and small towns where they can't raise taxes and don't have the budget, without receiving grant money, it is nearly impossible. There are no safe streets because roads and sidewalks are crumbling and septic systems are failing and polluting wells, but public water and sewer are too expensive to hook up to. The implications are having non appealing and unsafe communities for people to live and are resulting in people moving elsewhere with no draw to bring in new people. Leaving these smaller communities to crumble even more and in some cases dissolve as a community altogether.
Anna Brawley
I think an "emerging" issue is actually just the newest manifestation of the oldest and really only planning issue — can we actually plan for what's to come? Or will we only ever be responding to crises that we either didn't see coming, or did see coming and didn't harness the resources and willpower to prepare? Climate change, economic change, demographic change, any kind of change... as someone else said above, we need to educate the public about the importance of planning, but more fundamentally we need to shift the country's thinking to assessing long-term costs and benefits, and making long-term decisions. We're always fighting with the political cycle, the more immediate/urgent fires to put out, and our own human nature to continue doing what we're doing. As the stakes get bigger and our actions' consequences are more clearly and deeply felt, we need "planning" to not just be a profession but a universal perspective.
Bruce Donelly
The intersection of Tactical Urbanism and the end of labor.

The loss of labor jobs to automation has been masked by the rise of offshoring. As transportation costs rise and manufacturing shifts back, it's apparent that it's a structural problem. In addition, the capital requirement is also being lowered: general-purpose robots and 3D printing are just the start. More, it's not just unemployment, but "idle hands."

At the same time, we're looking at the kind of activism that can employ those "idle hands." To the extent that the "idle hands" are in cities, and are therefore physically positioned to remake them, we're all going to be Portland (OR) soon.
Chris Pettit
For my generation, the greatest planning challenge will be overcoming the issues with moving away from an oil based transportation system to a transportation system built around an unknown source of energy. There will be two critical phases of this challenge. The first challenge will arise in the transition from oil based to "unknown" based transportation. During this period, there will be significant changes in land use patterns and likely transportation infrastructure as well. Low to moderate income families will likely struggle more than ever as it becomes more difficult for them to afford to live close enough to job centers and transit opportunities. Also during the transition period, "gas stations" as we known of them today may become obsolete. This will leave parcels not only vacant but also potentially contaminated. The second phase of this challenge, post-adoption of the new energy source, will likely pose problems to all precedence established regarding land use and transportation planning. We will have to approach planning in a different way. While this isn't a new problem, I think that the potentially quick time-frame of the transition (not by choice, but by necessity) could pose significant problems as we learn to plan in a new transportation energy world.
Cole Grisham
I think regionalism, or the lack of regionalism, is one of the major issues facing the planning profession. Many urban and metropolitan problems cross multiple jurisdictions, such as environmental concerns, but are rarely confronted in a unified manner. I see intraregional competition and a lack of regional approaches to planning problems as a major impediment to confronting many other pressing issues.
Eric Weiss
The full and partial capping of freeways, especially in our inner cities, as a way to re-bridge communities that had been cut apart, expand downtown areas, provide more housing, and open up high-demand land in high price areas. The potential selling of air rights and development rights over freeways as a way to pay for public improvements.
Jessica Hall
The most important emerging issue for planners is the impending conflict over fresh water resources and the likely consequent spatial upheaval in settlement patterns across the nation and globe.
Michael Rodriguez
Quantifiable data, and their use in decision making. In transportation planning, we see funding decisions more and more relying on measurements like benefit-cost analysis, cost-effectiveness, etc. This, in some ways, is a move back towards rational-comprehensive planning and away from communicative planning. These two forces have been at odds for decades, but we are seeing data used to justify project decisions more since our analytic techniques and data processing tools are improving. There is a tension there that ultimately requires attention so that the comprehensive-rational viewpoint (or technocratic, if you will), can be reconciled with the communicative paradigm that has been what most planners have learned at least since the late 60s and 70s.
Paul Norby, FAICP
Preparing our communities for the impacts of the dramatic demographic changes that are underway and will be increasing. This is and will be affecting land use, housing, services, transportation, accesibility, public facilities and livability. The communities that are early adapters will be the most succesful ones.
Robyn Bancroft, AICP
One positive has occurred from all our economic woes, the mission of planners is quickly shifting from a decades-old focus on GROWTH & BUILDING to one of EFFICIENT OPERATIONS & STEWARDSHIP. As planners, we've got to put on our economic development "hats" and strive to cultivate public/private partnerships to fund, maintain and make the most of our existing assets in order to compete GLOBALLY! "There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction."
John F. Kennedy