Let’s talk about urban planning! APA 2012

Sorry I have been lost, but this past week, I was able to attend the annual American Planning Association (APA)’s conference in Los Angeles, California! This was an exciting event for me, because from everything that I had read, this would be THE place to learn about the up and coming tools, projects, and ideas for bettering our cities in terms of transportation, food system, design, health, and overall quality of life. Though I don’t believe my exceptions were high, I think my expectations were a bit different than what I experienced over a few days of being a complete nerd at this conference. There are a few things I absolutely loved and a few things I wish were different about the structure of the conference.

Things I absolutely Loved at APA 2012:

  1. Meeting new people; this conference is one of the best ways to learn about other planners, their projects, challenges, ideas, firms, and hopes for the field. As long as you can put on a smile, and start talking, you will meet a lot of interesting individuals who have traveled from all of the country -and the world, in my experience- to discuss the challenges and opportunities they are facing in the field. There are lots and lots of great networking opportunities planned by various student organizations, firms, and corporations. Depending on  your interest, this is a wonderful place to start learning more about that group you’ve always wanted to work with!
  2. Mobil Workshops; these were such a great idea! This is especially good because the sessions at the conference were planned intensely, so these workshops provided the attendants with an opportunities to learn about the city while sightseeing. Thanks to a bright friend of mine, I attended the “New Housing in Old Buildings”, led by Ken Bernstein (the Manager of the Office of Historic Resources and Principal Planner of the Citywide Planning Division for the City of Los Angeles’ Department of City Planning), and Hal Bastin (Senior Vice President & Director of Economic Development at Downtown Center Business Improvement District). They were perhaps two of the most interesting people I met at the conference. This workshop consisted of visiting multiple old buildings (banks, office buildings, train centers, etc) within downtown that have been converted to lofts and contemporary living spaces as a part of the city’s adaptive reuse project. These places were astonishing, walkable to various entertainments in the neighborhood, and the pricing were not at all outrageous for what they had to offer. This was probably my most favorite part of the conference.

Favorite Session at the Conference
Planning Experience in Other Cultures; this was, hands down, the best session I attended during the conference, and I think the main reason is that the format was completely different. This session was, wait for it, facilitated of four very talented and fascinating planners with international planning experiences. The attendants were split into four groups, to discuss their experiences planning for/in various countries around the world. It was so very interesting to learn about the hidden opportunities and the frustrating challenges one has to go through to improve anything overseas. Here is where I learned a lot about the planning challenges and opportunities around the world. Here is where I got inspired.
Things to Work on for APA 2013
  1. Session Descriptions; One of the problems I came across at the conference was the misunderstanding and misguiding descriptions of the sessions. For the most part, the descriptions promised a different thing than what was really delivered at the sessions. For instance, heading towrads Worst Planning Mistakes Ever Made, my expectations were to hear about case studies of the absolute worst planned cities. Instead, we listened to urban planners from around the country speak in regards with  their worst planning mistakes ever made, which was still interesting, but you see where I am headed with this discussion.
  2. Session Format; I spoke to many attendants who agreed that the Powerpoint presentations could be relatively boring I mean difficult to follow, if you have been attending many session continuously throughout the day. I think this is one of the reasons that the Planning Experiences in Other Cultures  was my absolute favorite session at the conference.
 All in all, the conference was very interesting, I met a lot of new people, learned about new trends, and learned what not to do as a planner. As a graduate student, entering my first year in the fall, the conference provided me with an opportunity to think outside the box. I am most definitely looking forward to next year’s conference in Chicago, and I think I will go there with a different perspective!