People Behind the Plans Podcast Series
People Behind the Plans is a podcast series from the American Planning Association that explores the business of planning for the built environment.
Hosted by Courtney Kashima, AICP, planner and small business owner of Muse Community + Design in Chicago, this podcast series features conversations between planners on work, life, ideas, and problem-solving in a variety of communities.
Get details on the podcast episodes and access each episode below. You can find additional podcast series on the APA podcast page.
During NPC19 in San Francisco, host Courtney Kashima, AICP, sat down with John Rahaim, the city and county's planning director. On the table during their conversation were issues the city's grappling with now, from the housing crisis and homelessness to design review and short-term rentals. John divulges the route he took to his current position — he grew up in Detroit, got plugged in to planning in Pittsburgh, and eventually made a move to the West Coast. The two unpack the phenomenon of highly visible planning leaders, the growing pains San Francisco experienced in dealing with Airbnb, and the importance of the Citywide LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy. Through concrete examples of actions the department has taken in its work, John underscores the need for planners to experiment with the programs and policies they develop.
Jana Lynott, AICP
How livable is your community? The AARP Livability Index sets out to tell residents just that, based on ratings in several categories: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, engagement, and opportunity. First launched in 2015, it was comprehensively updated in 2018. As senior strategic policy advisor with AARP Public Policy Institute’s Livable Communities team, Jana Lynott, AICP, was responsible for its development. She and host Courtney Kashima, AICP, talk about how the index is being used as a tool, but they also delve in to other areas of Jana's work, such as mobility as a service (MaaS), or universal mobility as a service. Most of the focus in transportation planning has been on how we move around cars, but universal mobility as a service looks at how we can best move around people. The two also discuss the language we use to talk about aging and why planners need to think about how the built environment affects people of all abilities.
The City of Vancouver, British Columbia, has a lot to brag about. City manager Sadhu Johnston knows that many of its successes are due to smart, collaborative planning, such as the work the city did to get car trips to the current rate of 45 percent of all trips, down from 90 percent in the 1970s. There’s the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, which Sadhu helped implement when he started in Vancouver; the plan seeks to set Vancouver apart as a global leader in sustainability efforts. It aims to reduce carbon emissions, add green jobs, and reverse urban tree canopy loss, among many other items. But the city is also grappling with serious issues, such as the housing and opioid crises. Sadhu tells host Courtney Kashima, AICP, that the current average home price in Vancouver stands at $1.5 million. But the city council is taking action — among the ground-breaking solutions they've implemented to stem the tide of rising housing costs are building modular housing and implementing an empty homes tax. Courtney and Sadhu also discuss his time in Chicago, where he worked on the Chicago Climate Action Plan and helmed the Department of Environment, and before that, his time in Cleveland, where he worked with the Cleveland Green Building Coalition.
Trevor Dick, AICP
Trevor Dick, AICP, hates dry planning events. That means whenever he's involved in a National Planning Conference session — like the always popular Fast, Funny, and Passionate series — or an APA Illinois Chapter conference event, he makes things fun by using some ... unexpected tactics. Trevor and host Courtney Kashima, AICP, bring the same lively spirit to this episode of People Behind the Plans. Not only does Trevor divulge some of his off-the-wall presentation antics, he also reveals his favorite planning references in pop culture and regales Courtney with stories of public meetings gone awry.
The two switch gears to discuss the exciting developments underway in Aurora, Illinois, where Trevor is Director of Development Strategy and Facilitation. Currently one of the city's big projects is revitalizing the Fox Valley Mall, which sits squarely within the Route 59 commercial corridor, the second biggest retail hub in the state after Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Trevor also talks about the city's plan to create a downtown International Marketplace District and how it will serve as an inclusive space for all residents. He goes on to praise the diversity of the city's workforce, as well as his staff's efforts to ensure that every resident's voice is heard as they work to make positive change in the city.
Commissioner Josina Morita
The Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world's supply of surface freshwater. When urban planner Josina Morita moved from California, where a mentality of scarcity around water dominates, to Chicago, where the opposite is true, it got her thinking: How can we be good stewards of the Great Lakes, one of our most precious natural resources? How can we keep ourselves accountable to the rest of the country and the world? Josina now serves as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), which manages stormwater and sewer water for Cook County, Illinois. But the organization also sees themselves as an environmental agency, and they pilot exciting new green technologies at many of their plants. Josina describes several of them in the episode and the promising ways they're advancing the industry, saying, "The last thing anybody thinks about is drinking their own sewer water, but the technology is there, and water is becoming its own renewable resource." She and Courtney also discuss how budgets are a reflection of a community's values and why taxes make all the difference in a community's infrastructure, as well as Josina's passion for racial equity and making sure everyone has a seat at the table.
Nina Idemudia, AICP
During her upbringing in Detroit, Nina Idemudia, AICP, thought a lot about how the built environment influenced her life. She went on to discover planning during her studies at the University of Michigan, and she knew it would be the framework she'd use to instill lasting change in the world. Currently Nina works as a city planning associate with the City of Los Angeles Planning Department, and she serves as the Young Planners Group coordinator for the APA California Chapter. Nina shares her passion for community engagement with listeners, talking about the sometimes surprising roadblocks that prevent residents from participating in the planning process and the simple ways planners can address these problems. Throughout the entirety of this lively conversation, she underscores how dire it is that planners make equity the bedrock of everything they do — and why it's OK to ask for help in this area whenever needed.
Mark de la Vergne
What is mobility? It’s simply the ability to get somewhere, says Mark de la Vergne, chief of mobility innovation for the Mayor’s Office in Detroit. But when it manifests in the real world, this essential facet inevitably presents challenges for all types of municipalities, from New York to Austin to Seattle. In Detroit’s case, those challenges have been built up over years of policy decisions, but Mark’s job is to alleviate pain points by bringing in new technologies and services. In the last year, the city has embarked on a series of innovative pilot projects revolving around transportation solutions, such as bringing more car-share vehicles to Detroit's neighborhoods so residents living beyond the city's core have alternatives to car ownership. His big-vision goals include improving existing and adding new connected technologies to the city's infrastructure — not to drum up hype but to actually address safety and operational issues. Mark names empathy as a crucial aspect of his work, because knowing what kinds of frictions exist for different people around the city is key to serving all Detroiters.
Resilience, civic infrastructure, participatory design — these topics and more play important roles in Taryn Sabia's work. Taryn is the director of the Florida Center for Community Design and Research at the University of South Florida's School of Architecture and Community Design, where she's also a research associate professor. In a wide-ranging conversation with host Courtney Kashima, AICP, she talks about why planners must encourage the development of a civic infrastructure in their communities — and how they can do that. Taryn discusses the Mayors' Institute on City Design, which she hosted in 2014 and 2017 and gives city officials the opportunity to work with planners, architects, and designers on tough development challenges in their cities. In reflecting on the interdisciplinary nature of her work, she underscores the need for allied professions to come together on resiliency issues — such as building erosion due to saltwater inundation — as many Florida communities grapple with these realities on a daily basis.
Bob Becker, FAICP
New Orleans’s City Park claims some impressive titles: At 1,300 acres, it’s the largest regional park in Louisiana, and it ranks as the most visited park in the state at nearly 15 million visits per year. But that wasn’t the case 13 years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, and devastated the city — including that well-loved civic space.
For this special episode of People Behind the Plans, recorded in New Orleans at the National Planning Conference earlier this year, Courtney hears from Bob Becker, FAICP, CEO of City Park and an adjunct professor at the University of New Orleans. During the first half of the episode, Courtney and Bob look back on the effect of Hurricane Katrina on the park — every building damaged, 2,000 trees destroyed, and 90 percent of its funding gone overnight. Just five months before the storm hit, the organization finished devising a new master plan for the space, and Bob stresses how important that document was for charting a course forward during the recovery effort. (In fact, their work was recognized with a 2010 National Planning Excellence Award for a Hard-Won Victory.) During the second half of the episode, Bob talks about his career trajectory, including how he ended up doing planning work in Kuala Kencana, a company town in Papua, Indonesia, and how he finished a PhD program at a later-than-typical point in his career.