Planning January 2017


Finding a Path Forward

From the Desk of APA's Chief Executive Officer

By James M. Drinan, JD

The intensified public discourse of this election poses new challenges for planners, prompting members to look for help in finding a path forward. As the voice of planning, the American Planning Association and the American Institute of Certified Planners exist to promote informed civic dialogue, good policy, ethical behavior, and best practices to help planners serve their communities.

APA's mission is to encourage planning that contributes to public well-being by developing communities and environments that effectively meet the needs of people and of society. Now, more than ever, adherence to our principles and the promotion of policies fulfilling that purpose illuminates a path.

What principles? APA's Ethical Principles in Planning guide all those who engage in the planning process. AICP's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct begins with principles applicable to certified planners. Particularly relevant is the aspirational principle that our primary obligation is to serve the public interest and that we owe allegiance to a conscientiously attained concept of the public interest formed through continuous and open debate.

What policies? APA's Policy Guides are a foundation of what we stand for. For example, we believe that:

  • Behaving ethically is good policy.
  • Good policy is good politics.
  • It is good policy to promote diversity and social equity.
  • It is good policy to promote vital housing, transportation, and environmental policies that support inclusive, prosperous communities.
  • The human contribution to greenhouse gases increases global warming and exacerbates climate change, sea-level rise, and other environmental challenges that planners must address.

Planners are trusted to bring people together and meet the needs of society. Credibility drives our success, and a key element in maintaining it is being able to distinguish between policy and politics. A point of view is essential, and should be incorporated into the broader approach to carrying out our respective responsibilities. The wide range of planning means that some members engage in advocacy on specific proposals, and other members are constrained from doing so. In either case, planners can and should play a role in providing the resources policy makers need to make decisions that benefit their local communities and the nation.

Hazard mitigation is an excellent example. Planners integrate best practices and effective policy approaches with the ability to facilitate the public discourse needed to impact this critical issue.

Since the election, APA has provided information on issues that have both political and policy aspects, analyzing local ballot initiatives, advising on the transition period, and engaging with newly elected officials about the value of planning. We are redoubling our efforts to provide members with resources on important planning issues, starting with making Planning Advisory Service publications available to all members. Look for a new policy guide on social equity in 2017 and more to come.

We encourage your engagement in a variety of ways: Join our grassroots network or become involved in policy guide development. Provide input on initiatives such as an infrastructure package and tax reform as they move from campaign rhetoric to proposals. Your involvement is critical in helping identify policy solutions and the political will to advance them.

There is much to encourage us. The record success of state and local ballot measures advancing important planning priorities from affordable housing to transit infrastructure shows that the public's appetite for vibrant and equitable communities is as strong as ever. The planner's approach of helping communities craft collective visions and manage change with practical solutions for all residents is more important than ever. APA continues working hard to advance these ideals and policies.

APA's recent Planning Office of the Future report challenged planners to lead, noting that "the art of influencing [major policy] decisions requires planning agencies to exercise leadership not only within their formal organizations but, more importantly, within the broader communities that they serve. It requires them to nurture trusting and productive relationships with decision makers so that those with the authority to make decisions will be receptive to planning information and advice when critical issues arise."

Planners promote civic involvement, provide a framework for public commitment, and foster thoughtful debate among differing views to reach constructive societal decisions. Reliance on these consistent principles and values offers the best path forward.