Housing, Resiliency, & Equity: Highlights from Day One of NPC20 @ Home

The first day of the sold-out NPC20 @ Home didn't hesitate to dive into how planners are helping communities navigate challenges facing our communities, focusing on themes of housing, resiliency, and equity.

Catch some of today's highlights. Be sure to join and follow the conversation online with #NPC20atHome.

"Planners are great conveners — that skill is needed now more than ever."

Keynote: Rebuilding Community

The morning keynote kicked off with a conversation about the challenges of COVID-19, and the role planners can play in an unpredictable future. APA President Kurt Christiansen, FAICP; APA CEO Joel Albizo, FASAE, CAE; and moderator Silvia Vargas, FAICP, discussed opportunities for adapting processes to reflect the new normal, connecting and learning from each other globally within the planning community, and addressing inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.

Christensen emphasized that planners are great conveners and that skill is needed now more than ever. He concluded asking attendees to connect and share what questions the profession should be asking at this point in the pandemic.


Planners around the country are rethinking the way planning is addressing both housing affordability and housing choice.

Panelist Yolanda Cole in Attainable Housing Challenges: Rules and Engagement spoke to the importance of meeting housing needs that will be exacerbated due to impacts of COVID-19. Planners need to be innovative with public engagement and communicating with elected officials to address increasing disparities moving forward.

In Reaching Beyond Single-Family Zone Districts, session participants indicated that 58 percent were considering changes to their respective single-family zoning districts. Of those not considering, 39 percent indicated it was because of a lack of political will. Minneapolis used data to understand the impact of existing zoning laws on different residential populations.

Taiwo Jaiyeoba from Charlotte, North Carolina, encouraged planners to consider livability and how housing changes can make communities more livable for all. He encouraged planners not to be rash, remember that ordinance changes have real impacts on resident's lives — be thoughtful, flexible, and ready to negotiate.


Resiliency takes on many meanings, especially during a global pandemic. Day one of NPC20 @ Home showed the breadth of issues planners must consider when tackling resiliency — from food systems to hurricanes.

One of the major takeaways discussed in Pathways to Prosperity: Differentiating Rural Assets, is that COVID-19 has exposed the fault lines of our food systems. Panelist Julia Freedgood from the American Farmland Trust shared that farmland loss and food insecurity have been a problem for decades, but the pandemic has laid bare the dangers of relying on overly consolidated farms and food supply chains. Currently, approximately nine counties in the U.S. supply majority of our food. Now more than ever, it is crucial to protect our farmland as part of resiliency planning.

Resiliency plans are designed to deal with a variety of shocks and stresses and can be applicable even during the current pandemic as panelist Jeff Hebert discussed in Resilient Houston: The 101st Resilient City. Hebert discussed a plan action item focusing on helping small businesses withstand any disruption: "That was a core focus of the resilience strategy because whether it be a hurricane, tornado, flood, or economic disruption, we already knew that the vulnerability of small businesses was an issue — as it is in most places. Being able to prepare small businesses was important, and we're seeing that bear out today."


Panelists and attendees spoke necessary truths on the topic of equity in several sessions on day one, as it is applied to disaster recovery and microtransit, and in informal networking discussions on online engagement and diversifying the planning profession.

Panelists in Demanding Equity: Planning for Disaster Recovery, discussed how planners can interact with disaster-affected low-income and marginalized populations, whether that disaster is from a hurricane or pandemic. Dr. Marccus Hendricks highlighted the distinction between cultural competency and cultural humility, which is the idea that there will be community characteristics that planners will not fully understand after only a brief community encounter. Hendricks proposes that instead of seeking cultural competency, "[cultural] humility that will lay the foundation to then lay that equitable outcome."

If there is such a thing as a virtual standing ovation, it would have gone to Texas A&M University professor Shannon Van Zandt.

Examining Informal and Emerging Microtransit Services dug into a New York City Department of Transportation study on commuter vans. The city's commuter vans carry around 90,000 people every day to and from places like work, school, and medical appointments. And while they're often seen as competition for public transit, the study found that nearly 40 percent of riders use both in their journeys — so policies that encourage cooperation between all modes are vital to the broader transportation landscape and user experiences.

To quote Justin Moore, AICP, speaking in the Focused Networking Session on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, "It's important in your work to leave some bandwidth to work on and advocate for equity."

The day ended with a virtual happy hour for conference attendees, connecting attendees regardless of distance.

Top image: Urban housing in Minneapolis. Photo by Kubrak78/Getty Images.

Reports compiled by APA staff.

April 30, 2020