As you probably know, the American Planning Association hosts an annual conference in a major U.S. city in the spring of every year. This year the conference was held April 13 - 16 in San Francisco, California. I would consider registration fees to be fairly expensive at $735, especially for a small business owner. However, this year the APA Mississippi chapter was so gracious to cover those fees through a scholarship that I was awarded.
This was my first trip to the city, so clearly, I was in awe of the natural beauty. The mountains, the bay, the unique architectural features, the housing. I wanted to see it all. So, on the second day, I signed up for a Mobile Workshop – the last “Orientation Tour.” I was on standby and didn’t quite make the cut. So, I and another planner that I had just met from the HUD office Washington D.C. decided to jump in an Uber and take our own tour. Our first stop was at Pier 39 where we went to the aquarium and some other shopping spots. Then we were off to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Prison, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, and Chinatown, all while observing their unique housing, churches, and other architectural structures. Needless to say, I did my fair share of sightseeing while there.
The conference was held at the Moscone Convention Center. The set up was great! There were so many different exhibits that encouraged involvement or participation that it just made you feel a part. I was even fortunate enough to be interviewed by APA National my first day and was asked to give my personal feedback and told them just that. (There were even two ping pong tables upstairs. How cool is that?)
The sessions were great as well! I tried to focus on those that fit my current role, which is one of a consultant, woman, and minority, working mostly for rural communities. Yes, there were plenty of sessions for me to attend. One of my favorites was entitled “Women of Color, Piercing the Ceiling.” It dealt with some of the unique challenges that we face as women of color working in our profession. “Ethics for Small Town Planning” was also another great session and to make it even better, our own Bob Barber was one of the panelists. They really brought to light some of the unique challenges faced in small towns and offered suggestions even from the audience on how to help prevent or correct potential ethical conflicts. Another session, “The Dating Game: Selecting a Consultant” offered a fun interactive game with an audience mixed with both consultants and governmental or other hiring agencies. The session presented interesting processes and things to think about from both perspectives when making consultant selections. I found it insightful.
And lastly, the reoccurring theme of the conference was “Equity.” “Equity in Action” was another great session. Mitch Silver, Parks and Recreation Commissioner for New York City was truly inspiring as he discussed how he made sure that EVERY park including those in poor inner-city areas was not just usable, but appealing and served as a play area to the youth. He captured the important role that planners play in helping communities understand how departmental budgets ensure that plans are fully carried out.
Overall, the 2019 National Planning Conference was a great experience and one of the best conferences I’ve attended thus far.
La'Keylah White was this year's recipient of the Mississippi chapter's National Planning Conference registration scholarship. She is the president and CEO of Grants Unlimited, a planning consulting firm in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.