APA PA Chapter News: March

The Latest News from PA Chapter of APA…

Making sure that all people’s needs are met is a core principle of planning and, in many ways, is baked into all of our planning work. This is often challenging to do, especially for disadvantaged communities. So, this month, we highlight a wide range of resources that support equity and inclusion, including an upcoming environmental justice Webinar Wednesday, better cultural competency, expanded housing choices with accessory dwelling units, the importance of access to clean water, and new books that highlight equity issues. Enjoy!

APA PA Conference – Call for Presenters Open

The 2024 Call for Presenters is open! Proposals are being accepted online only via the Chapter website. The deadline to submit your proposals has been extended until Friday, March 15, 11:59 PM. Traditional and non-traditional sessions will be accepted. More information is available online.

Please save the date for the Annual Conference October 13-15 at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center. 

Environmental Justice Tools to Help Understand Your Community
March 6 from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

This session will give a brief introduction to the environmental justice (EJ) movement nationally and in Pennsylvania, before drilling down to specific tools and policies that affect planning and land use in Pennsylvania around EJ. Planners will learn about the EJ Policy from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and how it may affect their work.  They will also be shown various national, state, and regional tools to better understand environmental justice concerns in the communities in which they work.  These tools can be used to get more detailed demographic information as well as to assist planners in completing grant application materials. These tools can better help planners understand their communities in ways that help meet the equity aspirations of the profession.

Deadline to register is March 5.

Equity CM credit is pending approval. You must attend the webinar live to earn CM credit.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a Webinar Wednesday or have a session for Webinar Wednesday, please contact us. Send your request to info@planningpa.org

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 9 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.

TransportationCamp PHL 2024
March 23 from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Register online

Whether you work in the industry or simply have an interest, we welcome you physically to our nation’s birthplace at the center of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) for a day filled with ideas at the intersection of transportation, technology, and urbanism. As always, this is participant driven. Transportation Camp conference series follows the “unconference” format, lending itself to a more pertinent, thought-provoking, and active event.

PA Brownfields Conference 2024
March 25-27, 2024

Join the Department of Environmental Protection’ s Land Recycling Program and the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania at The Penn Stater Hotel in State College, PA on March 25-27 for a chance to collaborate with industry professionals and explore a vast array of brownfield topics.

Explore the conference program here and discover sessions on environmental justice, PFAS, solar on brownfields, funding, brownfields success stories, and more!

You will also hear from our keynote speaker, former environmental attorney and author Joel Burcat, along with EPA Region 3 Administrator Adam Ortiz and DEP’s Executive Deputy Secretary Ramez Ziadeh. There are also sessions that include an EPA Grant writing workshop, an all-grantees meeting for those entities that currently have brownfields grants, and state and federal regulatory and funding updates.

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. More information online.

Communication and Membership Committee

We are always looking for volunteers to contribute articles for our monthly E-News and LinkedIn page. It’s a great way to share your work and local news with a statewide audience! Authors are credited with a by line and tagging on social media, if applicable. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact Amy Evans or Amy McKinney.


The Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Education Institute will be offering courses online and in person in 2024. Please check their website for the most up to date schedule.

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.

Could Accessory Dwelling Units Solve our Housing Crisis?
By Brian O’Leary, AICP

Housing issues, especially related to cost and overall supply, have risen to the top of many political agendas, and the state legislature is now considering changes to the PA Municipalities Planning Code that would require accessory apartments to be allowed in homes, similar to changes made a couple of decades ago requiring home occupations to be permitted.

On the face of it, this seems like a great solution to the housing crisis. Theoretically, the amount of homes supplied from single-family housing could double, with minimal impact on the built environment and with most of the new accessory apartments relatively affordable. The reality might not be quite as rosy, given the difficulty of building accessory apartments, but the supply and affordability of housing could be greatly improved with this simple change. In addition, with an aging population that is staying in place, homeowners could have more affordable and supportive living options when remaining in their homes.

Over the years, many planning organizations have advocated for accessory apartments, often providing information and examples to local municipalities. The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, for example, has an accessory dwelling unit fact sheet that notes:

An accessory dwelling unit (ADU) is an additional living space located on the same property as an original, larger residence. They’re often called by other names: granny flats, mother-in-law units, casitas, ECHO units and dozens of others. ADUs can offer affordable accommodation to elderly relatives or children returning home, or they can be rented out to contribute toward mortgages and other associated housing costs.

You can access this fact sheet on their planning toolkit online.

In one of their guides to promoting workforce housing, the Montgomery County Planning Commission offers an accessory dwelling unit model ordinance.

And the Chester County Planning Commission has an online etool that provides links to local municipal examples of accessory dwelling unit regulations.

It will be interesting to see where the proposed state legislation goes, but, hopefully, it will lead to more affordable, workforce, and starter housing getting built, including many more accessory apartments.

Mark Your Calendars
World Water Day is March 22, 2024

By Betsy Logan, AICP

World Water Day

An annual United Nations (UN) Observance Day since 1993, “World Water Day celebrates water and inspires action to tackle the global water crisis.” It focuses on supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to achieve water and sanitation for all by 2030. This year’s theme, “Water for Peace,” is the focus because restricted access to water, water scarcity, and polluted water can cause tensions to rise between countries and communities (UN, 2023). However, transboundary cooperation on the water can improve weather resilience and adaptability, stabilize economies, and unite communities.

Importance of Water

Water transcends political boundaries, and access to water is a human right. It is also a significant factor in climate change, with melting polar caps, increasing storm intensity and frequency, flooding, and droughts. In the United States, aging infrastructure is increasing containments in the drinking water. According to a 2023 study by the U.S. Geological Survey, forever chemicals are estimated to be in at least 45% of the nation’s tap water, which can cause adverse health effects with long-term exposure (usgs.gov).

Action Ideas

  • Host a World Water Day event.
  • Promote World Water Day on social media.
  • Encourage school-age activities related to World Water Day.
  • Recommend policy direction to decision-makers.

Resources are available for download 

By the Numbers

  • 80-100 gallons – Average daily water use per person in the United States compared to 5 gallons/day for an average African family (savethewater.org).
  • 2 billion – Number of people who live without safe drinking water worldwide (data.unicef.org).
  • 6 billion – Average number of gallons of water withdrawn daily from reservoirs, rivers, streams, and groundwater sources in Pennsylvania (Penn State Extension, updated March 19, 2023).
  • 9 trillion – Gallons of water consumed in the United States per month (theworldcounts.com).


New Planning Books
By Kate McMahan, AICP

March is National Reading Month, so it’s a great time to curl up with a book about planning! Here are a few recent planning-related books to consider:

  • Mayor’s Desk: 20 Conversations with Local Leaders Solving Global Problems
    By Anthony Flint
    If you missed Anthony Flint’s Pitkin Lecture at the 2023 Annual Conference in Scranton, Mayor’s Desk is for you. In this collection of interviews, 20 mayors from five continents share their strategies for tackling global challenges at the local level. During a period dominated by racial unrest, the Covid pandemic, and the increasingly vivid impact of the climate crisis, these enterprising leaders have made their cities more healthy, functional, fiscally sound, and sustainable places to live and work.
  • Dream Play Build: Hands on Community Engagement for Enduring Places and Spaces
    By James Rojas and John Kamp
    Did you attend the Plenary Session at the 2023 Annual Conference with James Rojas and John Kamp and want to learn more about their innovative public engagement techniques? Dream Play Build expands on their “Place It!” engagement approach which focuses on three methods: the interactive model-building workshop, the pop-up, and site exploration using our senses. Using our hands to build and create is central to what makes us human, helping spark ideas without relying on words to communicate.
  • Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It
    By M. Nolan Gray
    In many communities, the need for affordable housing has become a crisis. The arbitrary lines of zoning maps across the country have come to dictate where Americans may live and work, forcing cities into a pattern of growth that is segregated and sprawling. Arbitrary Lines discusses why zoning abolition is a necessary condition for building more affordable, vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities.
  • Racist Roots: How Racism Has Affected Trees and People in Our Cities- And What We Can Do About It
    By Christine Carmichael, PhD
    Interested in learning more about the intersection between nature and environmental justice? Racist Roots explores how our nation’s troubling history with racism has affected urban forests across the country and specific steps you can take for healthier urban forests for all people in the cities and towns where you live. Racist Roots discusses what environmental justice truly means as well as how you can make the most of your involvement to create a fairer future for urban forests and the people in our communities.

Upskilling: Cultural Competency & Where to Get Started for Planners
By Amy Evans, AICP

One of the first things to understand about cultural competence is that it applies to both individuals and organizations. According to Georgetown University’s National Center for Cultural Competence, “cultural competence is a developmental process that evolves over an extended period. Both individuals and organizations are at various levels of awareness, knowledge, and skills along the cultural competence continuum.”

Culturally Competent Organizations
The National Center defines culturally competent organizations as ones that:

      • Have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
      • Have the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of communities they serve.
      • Incorporate the above in all aspects of policy-making, administration, practice and service delivery, systematically involve consumers, families and communities.

With much of the literature on cultural competence focused on the delivery of health and human services, it’s role in the planning profession is not always clear. For a brief grounding in how cultural competency can enhance our ability to serve the interest of the public, planners can refer to APA’s free-to-access Research KnowledgeBase article titled Implementing Cultural Competency in Urban Planning.

Culturally Competent Planners

Culturally competent planners understand and respect values, attitudes, and beliefs that differ across cultures. They consider and respond appropriately to these differences when engaging with the public, when creating plans and other documents for communities, and when implementing and evaluating their work. One of the key principles of cultural competence as it relates to planning is self-determination, or the moral mandate to empower communities and the people within them to identify their own needs and define the appropriate solution or path forward for themselves. Culturally competent planning values resident experiences, leverages natural informal community networks, shares decision-making power with community members, and results in reciprocal transfers of knowledge and skills between planners and the people they serve.

Culturally competent planners also turn a critical eye to the profession’s legacy of planning practices like urban renewal, practices that have harmed and continue to harm ethnically and racially diverse communities throughout the nation.

Cultural Competence in Planning Practice

Because cultural competence requires an ongoing commitment to learning, the first step on the road to cultural competence can be as simple as understanding the cultural makeup of the community you serve, learning about groups you are unfamiliar with, and checking your assumptions about groups you think you know. Look at all dimensions of diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identify and expression, age, and belief systems. Focus on materials generated from within a community while taking care to not place undue emotional burden on community members if asking someone to share their perspective with you. Other practical strategies for cultural competence recommended by APA include a constant and intentional focus on valuing the knowledge that people have in relation to their community and a constant and intentional monitoring of implicit biases – both our own and when facilitating discussions with people whose actions and statements may be demonstrating their own implicit biases.

Lastly, culturally competent planning is trauma-informed planning. Being trauma-informed starts with understanding that planning practices have contributed to historic and community trauma and that healing may require the creation of emotionally and physically safe places for members of affected communities to express emotions like anger and grief. Trauma-informed planning also means linguistically and culturally accessible, user-friendly administrative procedures; offices that physically and mentally signal that all people are welcome; the incorporation of trauma-informed principles into policies and procedures, and the creation of plans – and ultimately, communities – that reflect the needs and desires of the people that live in them.

For additional PA-specific reading in this area, check out Betsy Logan’s March 2023 article on Equity and Planning, February 2023 looks at data and equity in planning and engaging underserved communities, our March 2022 review of Planning with Diverse Communities, and our February 2022 review of The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.