In my effort to interview some of the intellectual leaders in today’s built environment conversations, I caught up with Mitchell Silver, current President of the American Planning Association to get his thoughts on some of the current trends within urban planning today and what we might expect for the future. His outlook really provides a perspective on the pressing issues for the profession as well insight into where focus needs to shift. Understanding Silver’s perspective allows us to cut through some of the standing rumors and conjecture in order to get straight to the heart of what’s important for the built environment.
Josh: First of all can you tell us a little bit about the broad purpose of the American Planning Association and what it hopes to accomplish?
MS: The American Planning Association (APA) provides leadership in the development of vital communities by advocating excellence in community planning and providing the tools and ideas to meet the challenges of growth and change. In terms of what else we want to accomplish, and this is my specific role as President, is to guide the development of a 2-year strategic plan with the Board of Directors. One personal goal is to communicate to planners, elected officials and citizens that planning is relevant. I think planners went down a path where we basically became facilitators as well as code and planning administrators. We want to shift gears to be more forward thinking and that is why I’m saying that we really want to communicate the value of planning and why it is so relevant. We also want to instill a renewed sense of purpose to allow planners to understand why we do what we do and emphasize what is at stake. We also want to look at our Code of Ethics because our Code really gives us a strong sense of purpose about what we’re supposed to do as far as protecting the public interest. Our profession is about place and people. That is what we want to accomplish, creating great places for people. One of my taglines, which I use where ever I go is I want our profession, APA, to start to “lead, inspire, and innovate” to address the emerging trends and issues. That is what we expect to accomplish. We have five goals in our strategic plan, I’ll name three of them and I’ll shorten them for brevity sake:
- Lead domestically, collaborate globally
- Work toward a more just and sustainable future (stop equity washing)
- Inspire the next generation and grow planning knowledge
In our strategic plan we’ve aligned a series of strategies to reach those goals. We have other goals, but those are the goals that are very externally focused.
Josh: In a nutshell, why do you feel that there is a need for professional planners, why is it not something that other disciplines (i.e. architects, engineers, etc.) can perform as part of their job roles?
MS: As I stated, the planning profession is really focused on people and place as well as planning for today and tomorrow. We look at the built environment and we look at the various systems in terms of how they are all interconnected and interrelated. To my knowledge there is no other profession that even focuses on that. We are land managers. We’re placemakers. We also look at the economy of the place. We provide that unique mesh that helps drive how a place grows, shrinks or stays the same. Our profession is uniquely tailored to deal with place and people where we can connect the systems and we can connect the environment. We help promote orderly change and growth over time. We can certainly collaborate with other professions but no one is really that involved in how all those different systems – infrastructure, water, buildings and facilities relate to one another and fit together. Planners maintain a community’s quality of life and manage growth and change.
I would also add that part of our job is to explain the long-term consequences of present actions when you make decisions for land use, infrastructure or for buildings. We also talk about or should talk about the consequences of taking no action because there are consequences for ignoring or not addressing a problem. We take a comprehensive look at the connection between the economy, the environment, and people… that is something that is also unique to our profession. We really see ourselves as guardians of the future, based upon our Code of Ethics. We look long-term to make sure we protect the public interest and that we ensure that the environment, systems and people are all protected and connected.