Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Conference to Remember

Now that I have written that title I am a bit perplexed to its meaning. Was it that good? Or was it that bad?

I wrote the other day, about the week or so I spent in Boston. Today, I want to focus on why I was there. Each year I try and attend the American Planning Association's National Planning Conference. I am what's known as a certified planner. I have passed an exam declaring I am proficient, and have to maintain a certain level of professional development credits each year. In total I need 16 hours a year of professional development. The conference offers a good opportunity to get these credits in. In 2008 I earned 31 credits by attending the conference, and while I don't look to cram that much learning in each year, with web casts and other seminars I do try to attain double my requirement.

Anywho, this year's conference was in Boston and I couldn't pass that offer up.

Overall, the conference had three tracks:
Improving the Planning Department
Communication skills

All three of these tracks appeal to me. I think we are working strongly on two of the elements, and interested in the third.

Improving the Planning Department
This track focused on thinking less like an office and more like a holistic process. Part of the thinking was that you need to include Inspections, and Engineering and the Legal aspects into plan review.

Another aspect, which in some ways was more important, was realizing that if consultants did plan review they would include overhead and profit in their costs. While the government shouldn't include profit, there is nothing wrong with including overhead. We need to include overhead. This would be the cost of lights, heat, AC, discussions with the City's attorney, or the City Manager. We need to track the true costs of plan review and ensure that the applicant and not the tax payer covers those costs.


This is the green movement. I think we have continued to be ahead of the curve with this. Many of the offerings looked at things we already cover, such as the dichotomy of the municipal organization vs the community. The idea is that we need to represent the best efforts in our management practices for day to day operations, so that the municipal organization becomes a leader in the field of sustainability and that the community sees our progress and matches up with us.

There were many sessions on transit and encouraging multi-modal projects, such as a community trail, or the FasTrans service. At the same time there were many sessions on environmental hazards that might be mitigated by being more sustainable. Both efforts are important.

Communication skills
This breakdown I loved. I attended a session on the use of social media, not just twitter or Facebook, to encourage participation. I also attended a session on the use of graphics and images. It was interesting to see the variety of ways people present information and how some are more adept at the use of white space, and the need to show and not tell all of your data. Also, it was interesting to see planners so used to the old school report where the mimeographed pages had a slew of plans or maps attached in folders in the back. You would not, hopefully, see this today. Hopefully after the conference you won't see it from planners.

So that in a nutshell was the conference. My favorite session? Well glad you asked, probably the 4 hour walking tour of the Rose Kennedy Green-way that is in place of the now underground Central Artery. This session covered the political, process and participation issues and definitions that took place in completing the Big Dig, and the realities and misconceptions associated with the project. Great learning experience.

Well, that's it for 2011's conference. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to let me know.

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