Phoenix National Planning Conference Recap

By Eric Goodman, AICP, Snohomish County Representative, Puget Sound Section

The National Planning Conference is a whirlwind of activity that passes by too quickly. There are so many good sessions and mobile workshops overlapping that it is literally impossible to attend most of the ones that interest you. It’s important to focus on the ones you do attend, sharing experiences and wisdom gained with colleagues. Last year in Seattle, planners from around the country pulled my thoughts away from contemporary skirmishes and helped me remember how advanced planning is in Washington State. For someone always looking to do better, that was a reassuring reminder of why I love this place as it is.

Phoenix was my fourth conference and my schedule was busier than ever before. It was a great opportunity to see a part of the country I hadn’t been to, to catch up with family who live in the area, to meet with old friends and make new ones. The honor of serving as a mentor and a state delegate, along with Reid Shockey, Yorik Stevens-Wajda, and Hiller West, added a sense of responsibility that hasn’t been part of my past experiences. The assembly discussed, amended and adopted 2 new policy guides for APA, on Freight Transportation and Water Resources. Our state delegation was able to discuss the draft policies and solicit members for comments in the weeks leading up to the conference. We advanced suggestions on both policies and made positive improvements before they were adopted.

Meeting my mentee was a special thing for me because it feels like I’m finally reaching a career stage where I have useful wisdom to impart to new planners entering the profession. There was a lot for me to learn too. Jenny, my mentee, attended Western Washington and now works in California on co-housing communities. She had questions about my daily routine, going to grad school, looking for jobs, whether to seek public or private sector work, the list goes on. We met early on at the conference and discussed how to get more from the conference. Checking in with her a few times to see how it was going, I heard that she was having a great time attending really interesting sessions and meeting people to build her professional network. It’s always encouraging to see the enthusiasm and passion that young planners bring to the field. The conference included a particularly good career sessions track, where planners of all ages were able to freely discuss challenges and expectations for their careers. One session included the former Planning Director for the City of Los Angeles (now with the Urban Land Institute), who described her career path and what had made it successful.

The privilege of organizing a session and speaking motivated my attendance this year. I was nervous, lost my voice, and ditched my notes half way into the presentation. Still, I made it through fine. It was scheduled for 8am on the last day of the conference, so the audience was light and willing to go along with the strange journey I took them on. The topic was “Planning Principles for the Network Age.” Michelle Poyourow from Jarrett Walker + Associates presented with me. She had a great explanation of network level planning and the advantages of a transfer based transit network over everywhere to everywhere systems. I described the current state of innovation and proposed the hypothesis of a transition in era-defining paradigms from Informationalism to Networking. The central part of my talk explained why the exciting developments in transportation today are an evolution of current systems rather than a revolution like what happened in the 1800’s. This set me up to explain some timeless aspects of planning that can be recognized as guiding lights in the darkness of uncertain futures.

A series of short talks was a highlight of the event. There was one about social media posts that either responded well to constituents and customers or failed in funny ways. Another was an older planner showing he could still impart wisdom, with a bit of self-directed humor. My favorite was a passionate young planner describing Massive Small, “An ambitious project to build a better urban society” that is transforming planning through radical incrementalism. There were sessions about food systems, technology, and economic development, new transit projects and techniques to measure and plan for effective network improvements. Mobile workshops can be a highlight of the conference. The two walking tours I took highlighted public art funded by a 1% dedication from public projects that has made downtown Phoenix a pleasant and interesting environment. There were many small and creatively shaded plazas with seating, cafes and fountains for natural cooling. Light Rail and bike share made getting around very easy. My conference ended with a walking tour through the historic

 Roosevelt Row neighborhood which is home to an arts community between freeways and the downtown campus of ASU. The tour finished at a locally owned microbrewery where I made a few more friends from other places around the country. The Washington Chapter of APA had a get-together one evening at a local pub that was a great opportunity to meet colleagues from around the State that were attending the conference. In the Network Age, there is an imperative to build your network. So if you went to Phoenix, please share the lessons you learned and if you were unable to go, think about heading to NYC next year. It’s sure to be packed with great experiences and opportunities.

Photos courtesy of Eric Goodman.

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