APA PA Chapter News: February

The Latest News from PA Chapter of APA…

With the national planning conference in Philadelphia coming very soon, we highlight two Philly area projects that won Chapter honors – a TOD guidebook that won a planning award and the Delaware River Trail, which was a great place in PA. Also enjoy articles on the ethics of big data, our revamped awards program, and opportunities to learn about planning through social media. Enjoy!

APA PA Conference: Call for Presenters

The 2023 Call for Presenters is open! Proposals are being accepted online only via the Chapter website. The deadline to submit your proposals is Friday, March 10, 11:59 PM. Traditional and non-traditional sessions will be accepted. More information online.

Planning Webcast Series

Earn over 50 CM credits each year online – at no cost to members of participating organizations that support the Planning Webcast Series. Webcasts take place live on Fridays from 1:00 – 2:30 PM ET and are worth 1.5 CM credits (for live viewing only) unless otherwise noted. The first series is scheduled for January 20, 2023. More information online.

For APA members that still need sustainability/resilience, equity and ethics CM credit distance education sessions are available. The Planning Webcast Series, sponsored by APA Chapters & Divisions, are offering credit till the end of the year (12/31/2022). More information online.


The Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute (PMPEI) courses are here for you if you are a local planning commissioner, zoning board member, zoning administrator, elected official or municipal planning staff. PMPEI, established in 1992, is the Chapter’s primary outreach to the planning community and is a collaboration between the PA Chapter of the American Planning Association (PA/APA) and the PA State Association of Boroughs (PSAB). PMPEI offers four, 10-hour in-depth courses, and four 90-minute online courses dealing with the Municipalities Planning Code and Community Planning, Zoning and Zoning Administration, and Subdivision and Land Development Review. Classes are kept small, are within reasonable distances, low cost, team-taught by experienced instructors, and include lots of hands-on instruction. Course listings and descriptions may be viewed at PMPEI’s website, pmpei.org. Contact Terri Dickow at tdickow@boroughs.org (or 1-800-232-7722 ext 1042) to find out how you can be part of the Chapter’s planning education outreach!

APA National Conference is Almost Here!

Save the date!
PA Chapter Social Event at NPC23 will be held on Saturday April 1st from 6-8 p.m. at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia. More details to come!

The American Planning Association will be held the National Conference at the Philadelphia Convention Center, In-person: April 1-4, 2023 and Virtual: April 26-28, 2023.

You can now register for the NPC23 conference here

Communication and Membership Committee

The Communication and Membership Committee is looking for volunteers to contribute articles for our monthly E-News. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact Amy Evans or Amy McKinney.

Opportunities for Giving

Each year the Chapter offers a scholarship to support individuals seeking funds for academic degree programs, internships, and professional development activities.  If anyone would like to contribute to the Chapter’s Scholarship fund, donations can be made here. We accept all major credit cards, or you can send a check. Please make your check payable to “PA Chapter of APA Scholarship Fund” and mail it to P.O. Box 4680, Harrisburg PA 17111.

2023 Virtual AICP Exam Prep Session

The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association is holding an all-day virtual AICP exam prep session on Saturday, March 11 from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM

The session will review the content outline of the AICP exam, which APA recently updated, and provide details on the different content areas. The exam has been updated to reflect the new content outline, and the session will take time to clarify understanding of the revised exam. Questions are encouraged throughout the day. 

Registration is required. You can register here.

Top Five Reasons to Submit for a Planning Award in 2023

The Chapter Awards Committee is pleased to announce several changes and additions to this year’s submission process, Annual Program and beyond to widen the spotlight on planning and planners in Pennsylvania.

  1. The call for entries is open! The announcement date has been moved forward from previous years to allow for additional time to prepare, receive, and review your submissions and nominations. 
  2. An earlier call for entries permits award recipients to be featured in the Annual Conference Program, in addition to the Chapter’s Address and Awards Program.
  3. This year’s event will take place on Monday, instead of at the end of the Conference, providing additional time for recognition of award recipients by their peers.
  4. Award recipient’s submissions will be exhibited as part of the expo.
  5. Each award recipient will be interviewed and highlighted in subsequent editions of APA PA News.

The submission process is easy, go online at planningpa.org/events-training/annual-awards to review the Guidelines, complete the Submission Form and upload the attachments.

The competition is fierce, 90 submissions were made over the past five years.

The award is prestigious! Get recognized by fellow professional planners as the best and brightest in Pennsylvania Planning.

The Awards Committee awaits another year of outstanding submissions and new opportunities to showcase award winners at this year’s Annual Conference in Scranton.

2022 Award Winner Spotlight: Montco TOD Guidebook

Montgomery County has a long and distinguished record of producing high quality zoning guides, and their most recent award winner is no exception. The county’s Transit-Oriented Development Model Ordinance and Guidebook aids communities interested in encouraging Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) in a way that respects the physical scale and character of their existing neighborhoods.

The model ordinance is structured around five station area “typologies”. Within the model ordinance, land use mix and dimensional standards such as height, can be modified based on station area typology to meet the goals of each municipality. This flexibility allows each community to modify the ordinance language to meet their needs. This self-analysis process encourages municipalities to be forward-thinking, by proactively planning for the whole station area. Encouraging station-wide planning reduces the tendency to rely on developer-driven, parcel-by-parcel development.

The Commission created a digital “web experience” version of the guidebook as a way to interactively explore the TOD concepts. The Commission also developed an audit tool for community planners to use to assess a municipality’s existing ordinances around their transit stations. Following a two-year planning process, the Commission tested the TOD Ordinance and Guidebook with local professionals skilled in land use law and real estate development and planning professionals in the public and private sectors. The Transit Oriented Development Model Ordinance and Guidebook is one of the best in showing examples and diagrammatic representations of towns. It is admirable that all work was done in-house.

With Big Data Comes Great Responsibility – and Opportunity for Equity

As our profession’s ability to collect, share, and analyze data grows by leaps and bounds, planners have an opportunity to think about data with an equity lens. This viewpoint is especially important when we use data to allocate community resources or predict future behavior or community characteristics.

Predictive analytics rooted in machine learning and artificial intelligence offer new opportunities to communities but come with new challenges as well. The Annie E. Casey Foundation identifies a primary concern in its “Four Principles to Make Advanced Data Analytics Work for Children & Families” report:

Algorithms implemented by systems (private or public) will tend to automate decision-making criteria already in place, learning from data that capture how these systems have historically allocated resources … . The problem for civil rights advocates isn’t chiefly bias or naivety on the parts of those building these models – it’s the racism built into the policy and historical practice of many institutions.”

Sharing of decision-making power with community members is one best practice, especially as distrust in private and public sector use of data grows nationally. Transparency before, during, and after development of advanced analytical tools is critical.

Another best practice is to search for opportunity in data as often as you look for challenges. Analytics tools often have a tremendous capacity to identify opportunity, whether that’s a community that’s doing well despite disadvantages, or locating untapped community resources, or sequencing improved processes, routes, and networks.

Remember also that advanced analytical tools assess specific data points. Parameters that lay outside the data– things like local policy decisions and individual actions and judgement – are not considered even when they play an important role in producing the data being analyzed. At its worst, this gap hides and perpetuates disparities by giving a false understanding of the factors affecting communities.

From the same report, a good example of a community using advanced analytics to increase opportunity comes from New York City, NY:

“New York City has used advanced analytics to identify landlords who discriminate against potential tenants because of their source of income, in violation of the city’s Human Rights Law. The Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics ‘pinpointed areas with available housing, high-performing schools, and little crime, but suspiciously low use of housing vouchers,’ writes Chris Bousquet for Data Smart Cities at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Ash Center. Using this model to target 24 neighborhoods for increased investigation by the Fair Housing Justice Center, New York City lodged 120 income discrimination complaints against landlords from the Council on Human Rights and levied a record-high $100,000 civil penalty.”

As planners, we have access to a large volume and variety of data. We also have a choice in using it to maintain the status quo or embracing it as an opportunity to build a shared understanding of local conditions and needs, an understanding that can target longstanding systemic barriers and inequities.

Great Places Spotlight: Delaware River Trail

The Delaware River Trail was a Great Places recipient in 2022 in the Great Greenways and Trails category. Located in the City of Philadelphia, the Delaware River Trail is a 3.3 mile waterfront trail that runs between Pier 70 in South Philadelphia and extends north to Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown.

The development of the Delaware River Trail is guided by a master plan that was adopted by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in 2012. The plan was developed following several large-scale public engagement events to receive input on the trail development. The master plan recognized the strong public desire for a continuous waterfront trail with a close connection to the river where possible.

The Delaware River Trail accommodates walkers, joggers, and cyclists and provides access to a variety of businesses, residences, and public attractions such as Spruce Street Harbor Park and Cherry Street Pier. The trail includes landscaped planting beds that provide safe buffers between different modes of traffic; hundreds of new trees, shrubs, and grasses; solar-powered pedestrian light poles; and distinctive furnishings, including benches and bicycle racks. The trail development also improved stormwater management through new inlets and strategic garden beds. The Delaware River Trail is widely used with more than 10,000 pedestrians and 8,000 cyclists each month.

To learn more about the Delaware River Trail, visit delawareriverwaterfront.com.

Planning and Everyday Life

Planning plays a critical role in shaping our communities and the experiences we have in them. Popular podcasts and social media accounts such as TikTok and Instagram accounts are helping to raise awareness of the importance of good planning. As planners, we know that the quality of the built environment affects our everyday life. Our profession is now getting a boost in awareness. Podcasts and social media platforms such as TikTok promote the daily impacts of planning on our communities. One of the most popular podcasts on this topic is “The Urbanist.” The podcast covers a wide range of urban planning issues, from transportation to housing, and features interviews with experts from around the world. It offers insights into how cities adapt to changing demographics and the role urban planning can play in creating more sustainable, livable communities.

On TikTok, the hashtag #urbanplanning has over 7 million views, and it features short videos discussing urban planning issues, from the impact of traffic congestion to the benefits of green spaces.  TikTok accounts like @talkingcities, @signedbritt, and @pedestriandignity provide insights on various planning issues. Accounts like these offer a fresh perspective on planning from the viewpoint of young professionals. On Instagram, accounts like @thecityfix and @strongtowns offer a platform for discussions on planning and design while sharing inspiring examples of urban innovation worldwide. In addition, APA has a podcast, and both APA and APAPA have accounts on most social media platforms. Regardless of where you get your information, these platforms create a more informed and engaged public, essential for creating sustainable, livable communities.

Engaging Underserved Communities

On President Biden‘s first day in office, he signed Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which charged the Federal Government with advancing equity for all, including communities that have long been underserved, and addressing systemic racism in our Nation’s policies and programs. The term “underserved communities” refers to populations as well as geographic communities that have been systematically denied the opportunity to participate fully in aspects of economic, social, and civic life.

Planners can help advance equity by supporting and empowering all residents of the United States, including the many communities in America that have been underserved, discriminated against, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.

Start every project with a thorough stakeholder analysis. In what ways might there be disadvantaged or underserved residents in the community you are working with? For example, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission performed an Equity Analysis for the Greater Philadelphia region that looked at Indicators of Potential Disadvantage, such as youth, older adults, female, racial minority, ethnic minority, foreign-born, limited English proficiency, disabled, and low-income populations. Don’t forget to think about intersectionality, the term coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how many systems of oppression—like racism, classism, ableism, sexism, and ageism—are intertwined and interact. 

Next, craft a strategy to reach the underserved. The Orton Family Foundation offers a free Community Network Analysis tool that I think is helpful for identifying neighborhood connections for each underserved group you identified in your stakeholder analysis. The American Planning Association’s Planners Advisory Service (PAS) Report 592, Planning with Diverse Communities, is also valuable. If you need additional engagement strategy ideas, consider resources like the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s Engage! Toolkit or PennDOT’s Public Participation Plan. Don’t forget to ask community members how they think you can reach others.

Engaging underserved communities takes trust, extra time, and often additional resources. Be willing to iterate, adjust, and be flexible. Finally, consider advocating for policies that support equity in all aspects of planning at local, state, and federal levels, as described in APA’s Planning for Equity Policy Guide.