2023 National Planning Excellence Awards
Congratulations to this year's National Planning Award recipients, whose achievements highlight planners' best efforts to create stronger, healthier, and more just communities.
Read more about these exemplary planning projects
The jury is tasked with reviewing all of the award nominations and identifying the ones worthy of receiving national honor and recognition.
Ben Hitchings, FAICP
Ben Hitchings, FAICP, is the principal of Green Heron Planning, LLC, in Durham, North Carolina, and an adjunct faculty member at the UNC School of Government. He has 30 years of experience working on planning issues, and has developed award-winning plans at the local and regional level. He is the former planning director for the Town of Chapel Hill and the Town of Morrisville in North Carolina. He received his master's degree in planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a bachelor's degree from Amherst College. An active association member, Hitchings is a past president of the APA North Carolina Chapter and a current member of the APA Board of Directors. He co-chaired the Student and New Member Task Force and chaired the Chapter Presidents Council.
Narciso Lansdown, AICP Candidate
Narciso Lansdown, AICP Candidate, holds a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in public administration from Boise State University, and a master's degree in regional and city planning from the University of Oklahoma. He is currently a caregiver for his grandmother in Mountain Home, ID.and has been actively involved in APA at the state and national levels, including three consecutive stints as a National Planning Conference Proposal Reviewer. This is his first term on the Awards Jury.
Beneetta Mary Jose
Beneetta Mary Jose (she/her) is a planning student at the University of South Florida earning a master's degree in urban and regional planning. She graduated with a bachelor's in architecture from India. She is currently employed by the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization as a student fellow. Beneetta has a keen interest in resilience and transportation. She has been awarded the 2023 Mark Bentley APA Suncoast Section Scholarship. She also serves as the USF Student Planning Organization's communication coordinator. At the 2023 APA National Student Design Competition held in Philadelphia, the team led by Beneetta was placed third.
Cecilia Giusti is Associate Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, School of Architecture, at Texas A&M University. Dr. Giusti teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on economic and community development and international development. Her work focuses in low income micro entrepreneurs and their contribution to local economic development from a multidisciplinary approach, involving access to financial sources, gender and ethnic concerns, and built environment constrains. Her systematic community engagement continues to inform her research and outreach. Dr. Giusti has been involved with the APA Latinos and Planning Division and led two "Dialogos" in Texas.
Meg Bower, AICP
Meg Bower, AICP, is the founder and lead planner for Trunk Branch Twig Bud, a new capital facility planning firm. Meg has worked in the planning arena for 27 years, focusing on the space between client problems and traditional A&E services. Her practice includes capital facility needs assessment and master planning services for municipal campuses and buildings, with a specialty in justice facilities. She is passionate about collaboration, creative problem solving, and solutions that align capital facilities to current processes while reaching forward to deepen access. Meg received her bachelor's degree from Michigan State University and her master's in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She has been a longtime member of APA and received her AICP in 2007.
Michelle R. Stearns, AICP
Michelle R. Stearns, AICP is a retired Community Development Director and private consultant with over 40+ years of planning and development experience in both Washington and Alaska. In addition to her public agency career in the Pacific Northwest, Stearns has successfully worked with numerous private developers on coastal, land use, housing, commercial, natural and environmental resource conservation and development projects including the preservation in perpetuity of 3000+ acres of productive farmland in the San Juan Islands, Washington through the purchase of development rights. She received her Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her Masters of Urban Planning Degree (Urban Design focus) from the University of Washington-Seattle. She is a lifetime APA and AICP member and has held numerous leadership positions including former Chair and Vice-Chair of the (now) Women and Planning Division, member of the Divisions Council Board leadership and Local Host program Co-Chair of the 1999 APA Seattle National Conference.
Ranu Singh is an architect, urban designer and planner working on research-based design and policy solutions to develop holistic urban environments. A graduate from the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, she is currently practicing as an urban designer and planner at NBBJ, working on mixed-use developments, campus master plans, and climate adaptation and resilience planning projects. She has previously led work on housing, civic and cultural design, water planning, among other projects. Ranu has authored several research papers, articles and books with her current research focusing on sustainable mobility solutions and urban planning for South Asian cities.
Yu Emily Liu, FAICP
Emily Liu, FAICP has been serving as the Planning Director for Louisville Metro Government since 2013. Her office maintains and monitors compliance with the Comprehensive Plan, the Land Development Code, and manages 18 Boards, Commissions and Committees. Major functions of her office include current planning, transportation review, zoning enforcement, urban design & historic preservation. Prior to the current position, she has worked for urban and suburban communities across 3 states focusing on long-range planning, transportation, zoning, and public engagement.