2010 National Planning Conference

Diversity Forum

By Joseph A. MacDonald, AICP
APA Program Development Senior Associate

The 2010 Diversity Forum focused on initiatives to involve youth in planning and non-traditional approaches to attracting Latinos to the profession.

The Monday forum was moderated by Elizabeth Delgado, economic development planner for the City of Berkeley, California. Panelists were Aldea Douglas of Prince George's County, Maryland, Planning Division of the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (MNCPPC); Larry Vasquez of Vancouver, Washington; and Greg Winterowd of Winterbrook Planning in Portland, Oregon.

Delgado framed the 2010 Diversity Forum through APA's five-year old Ambassadors Program, an initiative to "promote the growth and diversity of the planning profession by universities, colleges and high schools to talk to students about careers in planning." Delgado took the audience back to the formation of the 2004 Diversity Task Force and the Diversity Summit at the 2005 National Planning Conference in San Francisco. The summit marked the inception of the Ambassadors Program as a way to increase diversity in the planning profession through increased awareness, scholarship programs and chapter diversity programs. This brief look back at the history of planning diversity through APA provided the backdrop for the panelists' stories non-traditional forms of community outreach. Such creative outreach strategies enabled planners to successfully engage minority youth in critical dialogues about planning policy and project implementation. Delgado also noted that this year commemorates the 30th anniversary of APA's Planning and the Black Community Division.

Aldea Douglas, treasurer of APA's Planning and the Black Community Division, presented a successful program in Prince George's County, Maryland, to engage youth in the planning process through the Ambassadors Program. Through three different planning projects (Takoma/Langley Crossroads; Bowie State University MARC Station; and Envision Prince George's), planners in the county reached out to youth through a variety of conduits to engage them in planning processes. An example of creative outreach included working with multi-lingual children in immigrant households so that the children could communicate plan updates and meeting outcomes with their non-English speaking parents.

Students at Bowie State, where there is no formal planning department or degree program, networked with planners through mandates for student leadership involvement, a promotional cover design contest and strategic location in high-traffic areas. Finally, county planners worked with high school youth to create "robo calls" (pre-recorded messages) to connect with other county high school students to encourage them to participate in a Saturday planning workshop.

Larry Vasquez, representative for APA's Latinos in Planning Division in APA's Region V, focused on non-traditional approaches to involving Latinos in planning and decision making in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. He illustrated methods to get the "pulse" of the community by reading community newsletters, looking at hot-button issues and having a presence on the streets, public spaces and shopping centers. Vasquez also reported on the Health, Housing and Access program from Clark County, which examined distribution of food retail stores and household income. He emphasized that this information provided a solid foundation for reaching out to Latino students on local campuses (Washington State University-Tri Cities; Portland State University; Western Oregon University) and involving them in planning initiatives. Vasquez also pointed out that Latino student could potentially provide a rich source of active stakeholders and potential future planning professionals by engaging them in events such as the Latino Community Outreach Conference.

Greg Winterowd reiterated Larry Vasquez's call for non-traditional means to engage Latino groups in community planning efforts. As Immediate Past-President of APA's Oregon Chapter, Winterowd shared his experiences working with Latinos and the innovative methods he found successful to help integrate them into mainstream planning activity. Winterowd emphasized the need to "think locally" as he relayed non-traditional efforts in the North Willamette Valley communities of Woodburn and Gresham.

A formerly rural community about 35 miles south of Portland, Woodburn was a timber town of just 2,000 residents in 1950. Tremendous growth in the last few decades, increasingly fueled by a rapid increase in Latinos in surrounding agricultural districts and a subsequent rural-to-urban migration by area Latinos dramatically changed the character of Woodburn. Now a legitimate edge city of Portland, Latino culture was predominant throughout the community but the Latino community was not actively engaged in local plan making. Projects such as the Nuevo Amencer Community Center and the Esperanza Court Housing Development provided an opportunity for a stronger Latino voice in planning.

Future Planners of Oregon held a community forum at Nuevo Amencer and Spanish-speaking leaders were used to convey the planning message to eager youths. Greg Winterowd pointed out that by coming to their turf and speaking their language, Latinos were much more eager to work with planners. Direct community involvement would only occur, he urged, when planners used non-traditional approaches such as those employed during the Future Planners of Oregon event. Traditional public meetings were largely unsuccessful because Latinos held strong suspicions and fears of "the man" and "the law."

Non-traditional approaches were also successful in Gresham, Oregon, because of an Education and Outreach committee and "serendipity." Greg Winterowd emphasized the need for planners to seize opportunities. In Gresham they found eager activists in the public works department who spoke Spanish and wanted to help defuse concerns among non-Latino residents about public park use by Latinos. Non-Latino residents complained about loud music and lively soccer games; education and outreach programs helped non-Latinos better understand Latino culture and appreciate the need for parks and open spaces to serve the needs of all residents and their diverse cultural characteristics. Winterowd emphasized the importance of leadership and follow-through to achieve success in education and outreach initiatives and again emphasized the importance for planners to seek non-traditional ways to engage communities of different cultures.

Moderator Delgado bridged the formal presentation and question-and-discussion segments of the forum with two expressions of personal perspective toward APA and its efforts to incorporate greater diversity in planning. First, she emphasized that outreach must come from alternative methods through actual planning processes; this may mean significant changes in the ways planners approach public participation and community involvement. Second, Delgado shared her own experience as a student new to APA and how she felt planners of color were only a small group within a much larger organization.

Because of her experience, she felt personal responsibility to up-and-coming minority students and young professionals to continue to work on their behalf through more scholarships, mentorships and other programs. Her motivation is to ensure that APA's professional planning membership continues to evolve to always reflect the diversity of the communities planners serve.

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