2008 Diversity Forum

By Rana Salzmann
APA Research Librarian

The Fourth Annual Diversity Summit convened in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The forum featured presentations by Mitchell Silver, AICP, member of the APA Board of Directors and chair of the APA Diversity Subcommittee, Jeannette Dinwiddie-Moore, member of the APA Diversity Task Force, and Carla Corroto, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The presenters highlighted the strides APA has made toward increasing diversity in planning since the inaugural summit at the 2004 National Planning Conference in Washington, D.C., announced the launch of the new APA Ambassador program, and offered some new, thought-provoking perspectives on diversity issues.

In order to contextualize the discussion of diversity in planning, Silver presented statistics about a startling demographic shift in store for professions and communities across America. As Baby Boomers retire, we will experience the "browning of America." By the year 2050, the percentage of Hispanics and blacks in the United States will increase from 25 to 45 percent. Silver said the future of planners lies in understanding this demographic shift and in recruiting within the black and Hispanic communities. Planners need to "be prepared or be in denial." Further, Silver advised that diversity is not just a social equity issue; to be competitive in the long term, planners must understand and proactively address diversity in the profession.

Diversity Forum Photo Gallery

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Jeannette Dinwiddie-Moore, member of the APA Diversity Task Force, updated the audience on the progress APA has made toward diversity initiatives launched at the 2004 Forum. Moore reported that 2004 initiatives were accepted by the APA Board in 2005 and were incorporated into the Development Plan and the APA Growth Strategy in the form of a goal to increase minority membership. Acknowledging that APA has a lower percentage of minority members than other professional organizations, Moore said that future projects will focus on student recruitment, developing a web portal, ensuring acknowledgement of the accomplishments of minority planners through venues such as Planning magazine, and an evaluation of direct marketing to minority groups.

Further, Moore highlighted some of the diversity initiatives undertaken by APA chapters, including scholarships and recruitment efforts in California, the National Capital Area, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. She also cited roundtables , conferences, and other initiatives of APA divisions, including Planning and the Black Community, Latinos and Planning, Indigenous Planners, Planning and Women, and Gays and Lesbians in Planning. Finally, Moore noted that the Planning Foundation has launched scholarships, fellowships, and internships designed to promote diversity in the planning profession.

APA Ambassadors Launched

Silver then took the stage to announce the launch of the new APA Ambassadors program.  Members with five or more years professional experience are asked to visit high schools and colleges, particularly those with minority student populations, to promote the planning profession. Ambassadors commit to one year of outreach visits helping spread the word about planning as a career option.

The forum's featured speaker, Carla Corroto, holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the Ohio State University and is a member of the faculty at the University of Wisconsin — Whitewater. She earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in architecture and worked in that profession for many years. She studies the intersection of race, ethnicity, class, and gender in the design professions. Her engaging presentation addressed why diversity matters in planning, offered attendees strategies for change, presented a foundation for inclusion and challenged some of the definitions of terms often used in discussions about diversity.

Corroto began her presentation by asking the audience members to fold their arms. After a pause, she asked attendees to take note of which arm naturally fell on the top, right or left, and to re-cross their arms the other way. The point of this exercise, she noted, was to illustrate that talking about diversity can sometimes be uncomfortable. To frame her discussion, she quoted from the APA mission statement and noted that diversity is already implicit in our goal to "shape a community vision." We "make great communities happen," but, she observed, sometimes we can be unsure how to plan with populations whose cultures fall outside the historically dominant ones.

Diversity is important to the planning profession because diverse planners represent diverse identity groups. Becoming culturally literate helps us build better communities. Further, increasing professional diversity is a way to ensure that we harness all our resources to the fix enormous problems planners face every day. Corotto stressed the importance of shifting the way we think about diversity. She said diversity is "not a problem to address, a legal problem to be avoided, a business strategy or a market share." Instead, she advocated proactive leadership and even ceasing to use the term diversity in favor of what she termed "social justice in an inclusive profession."

Corroto stressed that color-blindness is not a solution to the diversity issue. Instead, we should recognize difference and value diversity. Through scholarships, mentorships, and other initiatives, planning as a profession can begin to embrace new people and new perspectives, and in so doing, create new, inclusive models that move beyond traditional white, male institutional patterns. These new models can benefit us all in our communities and in our workplaces.