For Commissioner, Region 2
Arlova J. Vonhm, AICP
Biographical Background Information
I derive genuine pleasure from public service and am most effective at the intersection between the practical application of policy and the people it is meant to benefit. In the 20+ year span of my professional career, I have had the opportunity to express this in a number of ways. As a Chicago native and DC resident who works in Virginia, I have practiced planning in a variety of settings, regulatory frameworks, and geographies. My pursuit of the AICP Commissioner position is the next step in demonstrating my committment to the profession that has and continues to enrich the lives of so many.
Professional Work Experience
- Zoning Administrator for Arlington County, VA
- Lead a 30-member team responsible for interpreting, enforcing, and administering the Zoning Ordinance.
- Prior professional work experience includes:
- Zoning Update Manager for the DC Office of Planning
- Zoning Planner/Zoning Administrator for the City of Evanston, IL
- Associate Planner for the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (currently CMAP)
- Planning consultant for a Chicago architecture firm
- Board member, National Capital Area Chapter (NCAC) of APA (2009-2014), including four years as a Professional Development Officer. Developed, organized, and promoted over 80 conferences, webinars, and training events resulting in over 238 credit hours of educational opportunities for planners in the DC metropolitan region.
- APA Mentor (2014)
- External AICP Application Reviewer (2011-2013)
- Host Committee Volunteer (2003 National Planning Conference)
- APA member since 1993; AICP member since 2002
- ULI Regional Land Use Leadership Institute (2015-2016); ULI Washington Technical Assistance Panel (2017)
- Resource team expert — American Architectural Foundation’s Sustainable Cities Design Academy (2014)
- CityVision Volunteer, National Building Museum educational initiative that introduces DC middle school students to urban planning and architecture (2008-2011)
- Member of the Planning, Building, and Construction Committee for Alfred Street Baptist Church, located in Old Town Alexandria, VA
- Sociology Major/City Planning Minor, University of Virginia
- Master of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Michigan
I am driven by a personal desire to utilize my training and talents to help create and sustain healthy and equitable urban communities. My initial interest in planning was derived from and remains rooted in finding ways to create more opportunities for affordable housing, encourage environmental stewardship, and develop high quality public spaces.
My aspirations as an AICP Commissioner are to elevate the importance and expand knowledge of, and enhance access to the varied and sometimes nontraditional educational opportunities that are relevant to practicing planners. To that end I think a more inclusive approach to how we define "practicing planner" is needed, paricularly regarding citizens who serve on planning and zoning boards and commissions. Demonstrating the importance and relevance of AICP, the Code of Ethics, and the value of the credential to these local decision makers is key, as they directly influence how planning policies are implemented. Additionally, I want the Commission to raise their profile to ensure that current AICP members are aware of the many ways that the organization can support their career and professional development.
If chosen to serve as the Region II AICP Commissioner, I would work to make continuing education fun and relevant to planners across the spectrum of experience, geography, and subject matter. Looking to the future, I believe the ways we approach professional credentials should be reevaluated as planning and our priorities continue to evolve and change. I am ready and willing to take on this challenge and support the crucial role of the profession in shaping the physical, social, environmental, and economic success of my and future generations.
What do you believe is the most important member service APA provides? Why? How would you propose strengthening this and other member services?
"Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality." — Dalai Lama
The most important member service APA provides is access to information. APA offers open and often free access to a multitude of publications, studies, videos, photographs, and other resources to its members, on a wide range of topics. In doing so, APA provides a platform from which thousands of planners can learn from and share knowledge with their peers, including direct connections to the people — often other members — who created the content. Access to information is an immeasurable benefit, particularly for planners working in communities without limited resources. This is important because it allows members to learn from colleagues who are experiencing similar challenges and creates opportunities for sharing resources.
Overall APA does a great job at providing a high-level overview of major initiatives, issues, and current trends. However, so much of what planners do is influenced by local decision making and requires applying conceptual guidance on the ground level and in a variety of regulatory environments. I think the services currently provided would be enhanced by highlighting the resources found within the membership itself. As a practitioner it would be beneficial to have more direct connections to planners working on the issues being reported on, at the local level. It would be great if people could search for subject matter experts among APA members willing to assist with a problem or issue. Perhaps it's a simple as adding a few questions to members at renewal time, including their areas of expertise, willingness to be contacted, etc. And since good things can always get better, I think it's also a good idea to regularly engage the membership to inquire about issues, topics, or concerns they would like to know more about to help identify potential gaps in the knowledge base and keep them aware of the services already available to them.
How could APA improve and strengthen the relationship among APA and its components (AICP, Chapters, Divisions, SRC)?
"All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections." — Arthur C. Aufderheide
The best way to improve and strengthen any relationship is through transparency and honest communication. If this is an issue that current leadership in the various sectors of the organization have identified, then APA should provide a vehicle for open discussion and constructive problem solving towards a resolution. APA should invest in educating current and future leaders by making clear the purpose, role, and function of each component of the organization. This could help ensure that, as organizational changes occur, new leaders are aware of the expectations, responsibilities, and benefits of their individual roles. Something as simple an infographic could go a long way to identifying and illustrating how all the various components of the organization work together, or in some cases, how they could accomplish this better. If all parties are more knowledgeable about their role as well as that of the other parts of the organization, barriers can be broken down and opportunities for collaboration are created. APA should also do more to incentivize chapters and divisions to work together, perhaps in the form of financial support for joint activities, cross-training, or other initiatives. APA could also highlight and support initiatives that demonstrate how chapters and divisions can pool resources to do more impactful things together.
Now that the Planning for Equity Policy Guide has been adopted, how should APA use this guide to shape itself organizationally?
"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." — Maya Angelou
The simple answer is to lead by example. As an organization, APA should put the Planning for Equity Policy Guide into practice by referencing it whenever possible and showcasing what they have already done, are doing, and plan to do to implement the policies presented in the guide. APA should also use the guide as a metric against which to evaluate and guide and their decision making about APA resources. Specific suggestions include the following:
- Increase exposure. Planning for Equity should take the form of a national planning conference track to promote and encourage the conversation about issues of equity at all levels and sectors of the profession.
- Bring it to life. Work to make the guide an interactive tool as opposed to a static document. Challenge members to incorporate it in their work and create a place for people to discuss and share how it is having an impact.
- Expand our knowledge base. The ideas and policies proposed should become a formal part of the APA planning knowledge base. Questions that relate to the policy guide should be incorporated into the next AICP exam update. APA should also work with our accredited universities and other institutions to update their curriculum to encourage its usage in educating the next generation of planners.
What is the biggest challenge facing the planning profession, and how should APA address it?
"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." — Henry Ford
"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." — Booker T. Washington
As existing issues like affordable housing and gentrification become more and more pervasive amongst a greater percentage of our communities, the challenge for the planning profession will continue to be how to address the resulting displacement that inevitably follows. Planners work hard to improve, revitalize, enhance, and otherwise make better spaces, places, and communities. As a profession we must figure out how to do this in a way that does not effectively displace those who have lived and remained in a community through periods of decline. As highly visible leaders managing environmental, physical, and social change, planners are in danger of becoming the de facto face of displacement, which makes all our work even harder. I think the role of APA in helping address this challenge is to find allies to work jointly on broader policy solutions as well as ensure that planners have the information and tools needed to effectively address it at the local level.
APA will have to partner with allied professionals in our industry to develop impactful solutions, including lobbying at the national level for change that can more comprehensively addresses these challenges (e.g., property tax policy). These issues are bigger than the profession and will require the collaborative industry-wide efforts of planners, architects, housing advocates, real estate professionals, builders, and others to resolve. I also think APA should provide access to a wider array of tools and resources to arm planners with the data and information needed to influence and improve local decision making. To this end, APA has already taken a step in the right direction with the development and publication of the Planning for Equity policy guide, which includes practical guidance for how planners can and should combat inequity. Additional resources could include practical tips and communication strategies for planners working on projects in communities already experiencing displacement. Another example could be simply providing a space for planners to share information about how existing communities are combatting these issues already. Planning as a profession is only as effective as the people we empower and engage to practice it. As such APA has a responsibility to arm its members with the best resources and information to implement the policies it supports.