Planning Magazine

Affecting Positive Change from Within APA

Latina planning professor Edna Ledesma shares how volunteerism within APA can lead to positive, meaningful change in the profession and practice.

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Edna Ledesma and her students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Photo courtesy of Edna Ledesma.

From The Desk Of A Volunteer Leader

As an academic and university professor, I care deeply about training the next generation of planners to holistically plan for equitable communities. In the classroom, I teach students to ensure that everyone is valued and recognized, and to appreciate underrepresented and marginalized voices. As a woman of color, I help represent the traditionally marginalized Latina voice, both in the world generally, and in the planning profession specifically. I take my role seriously, both as an educator and a volunteer leader in the APA community, where I can help drive the change that we need.

I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border, where most people look like me. When I left home for college at Texas A&M University, my entire perspective changed when I encountered the world outside my community. Out there most people did not look me, and they had no inkling of the struggles and beauty that define the Latino community. Throughout my studies, I kept searching for that sense of belonging I'd had at home. I found it through APA's Latinos and Planning Division (LAP) — a group that has helped shape my career, just as I and other LAP members have helped shape the profession.

Edna Ledesma is assistant professor in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Edna Ledesma is assistant professor in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I joined APA in 2013 and vividly remember attending my first National Planning Conference in Seattle. This was my first year in my PhD program and my mentor, who was an active LAP member, told me it was a group I just had to be part of. A group of professional Latino planners representing a diverse Latino community across the United States? It seemed too good to be true. So I attended the business meeting. Even then it was almost hard for me to believe that I had found a network of planners interested in advancing the upskilling of Latino planners and theorizing on what makes a city a welcoming Latino environment. Needless to say, I joined.

That action was the catalyst to my future involvement with APA. Fast forward nearly a decade and I am still engaged in LAP, along with a wide array of networks within APA that are pushing to advance the discourse about diversity, equity, and inclusion in planning.

My level of engagement and volunteerism within APA has evolved over the years, and has put me in a position not only to grow professionally, but also to push for meaningful and positive change in planning practice and the profession. After serving as a student representative for several years, I transitioned into a leadership role. In 2017, I was elected chair of the Latinos and Planning Division.

From there, I served as an ex-officio member of the Divisions Council executive committee from 2019 to 2021; and in 2019 I became an appointed member of the APA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Through these roles I have been invited to serve as a contributing author to the 2019 Planning for Equity Policy Guide and the Planning for Equitable Economic Development Policy Guide, which will be published later this year.

It has been a privilege to have a seat at the table and have difficult conversations with peers about the role that planning has had in marginalizing communities of color and low-income populations. Coming to terms with the dark history of planning is one step toward advancing the discourse of equity within the built environment, but this is only the beginning. There is a lot of work ahead, and I am proud to serve the APA community and continue to move forward, within the organization and beyond.

Edna Ledesma is assistant professor in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.