1. Proposal: Establish a 'Sustainable Community Planning' Division within the APA

* Scroll to the bottom of this page to add your email address in support of this proposal.


To be submitted with collected signatures of support at the April 2009 APA conference in Minneapolis by:
Sharon Ferguson, Senior Planner, Municipality of Anchorage (AK)
Daniel Lerch, Program Director, Post Carbon Institute
More than fifty percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. As the U.S. and the rest of the world’s population shift to higher density communities we must figure out how to make our communities more sustainable, especially in view of depleting oil supplies, dwindling water resources, and accelerating climate change. Communities must look for ways to reduce their ecological footprint.

=== Why create a new division and not combine this topic with an existing division?

1. There is demonstrated interest in forming a new Sustainable Community Planning division among APA members.

At the 2007 National Planning Conference in Philadelphia, Sharon Ferguson collected over 600 signatures (with contact information) of planners who supported the creation of a new APA division for "sustainable community planning." This number represents a significant percentage, considering that approximately 4,000 planners attended the conference, and Ferguson was the sole signature collector. The planners who signed their names represent a wide range of planners working in all levels of government practice, private firms, and universities.

The top of the sign-up sheet stated: "Yes, I’m interested in membership in a new APA Division – Sustainable Community Planning" and requested name, organization, email address, and APA membership. Approximately 99.99% of those signing were APA members.

2. Sustainable community design and planning is a topic of extensive scope and can stand alone on its own merits.

Sustainability has become a mainstream issue. The media is filled daily with headlines and news stories containing the words 'green' and 'sustainable.' These stories range from where to buy 'green' products to sustainable storm water management techniques to green building design. Green and sustainable design will soon encompass all facets of our lifestyles to include the way cities are planned and managed.

In an effort to curb sprawl, sustainable planning concepts were introduced through the tenets of Smart Growth. Principles of Smart Growth such as mixed land uses, improved public transit, the design of safe and pleasant walking environments, and compact higher density developments were the first wave of smarter planning. Sustainable community design and planning moves the profession beyond that level to the next stage in the design of human settlements.

Planners are uniquely qualified to assume a leadership role in confronting and solving the evolving uncertainties that humanity faces. This is too great a topic of interest and concern not to be a significant part of the APA. A division solely devoted to this topic is sorely needed and is, frankly, overdue.

3. A Sustainable Community Planning division would be a bridge between existing divisions.

Sustainability issues would not fit well within a single existing division -- in fact, it overlaps with nearly all of them, including City Planning and Management; Economic Development; Environment, Natural Resources, and Energy; Federal Planning; Housing and Community Planning; Information Technology; International; New Urbanism; Regional and Intergovernmental Planning; Small Town and Rural Planning; Transportation Planning; Urban Design and Preservation; and County Planning.

While a case could be made that each of these divisions has a supporting role to play in the overall goal of creating more sustainable communities, the Sustainable Community Planning division would focus on leading the effort.
4. A Sustainable Community Planning division is needed to serve as the hub for dissemination of ideas, strategies, training and networking with other planners invested in the same topic.

The new division is meant to serve the purpose for which APA divisions were initially created. To that end, below is a list of tasks and concepts that could act as a starting point for Division discussion and could grow into Policy Guides and national conference workshops; they can also be used to purposefully educate citizens, policy makers, and influence policy changes.

APA has already begun the discussion on sustainability through its issuance of three Policy Guides dealing with sustainability in recent years: Planning for Sustainability, Community and Regional Food Planning, and Climate Change. The latter Policy Guide speaks to the growing professional recognition regarding planning’s role and contributions toward identifying change agents and finding meaningful solutions.

=== Tasks the Division could take on:

• Work to increase the number of communities with an office or department of sustainability, or a planning department with an explicit sustainability focus (e.g., Portland, Oregon).

• Formulate model community sustainability plans that could be adapted by communities to fit their individual situations.

• Develop model sustainability assessment tools—and popularize existing tools—that can be incorporated into a city’s planning process to measure progress towards meeting sustainability goals.

• Develop resources to help communities meet more of their basic needs locally -- especially including energy, food and manufactured goods-- and to fully understand the economic, social and environmental benefits of doing so.

• Generally identify and promote "best practice" methods, models, and policies for retrofitting communities for greater sustainability.

=== Questions the Division could work on:

• How can individual planners and elected officials further the goal of increasing local sustainability in our communities?

• The British Government recently set a target for all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2016. Architecture 2030 is already working towards a U.S. goal of carbon neutrality for all new buildings by 2030. What can the division do to encourage such efforts?

• How can planners who work on sustainability issues build relationships with like-minded practitioners in planning-related fields such as architecture, urban design, engineering, real estate development and law?
=== A Sustainable Community Planning division will benefit APA organizationally

Many professional organizations now provide products or support to their members on sustainability issues, including the National League of Cities, the US Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Managers Association, the Urban Land Institute and the American Institute of Architects. The APA can remain a leading voice on these issues by actively engaging its members—a massive pool of knowledge and expertise—on sustainable community planning through a new division.

Planners—especially younger planners—are increasingly finding their voices on sustainability issues in the workplace. The creation of this division would engage these planners more directly with the APA, and attract new or lapsed members for whom sustainability is of high importance. The division would especially be of use to the APA in engaging the thriving green student movement across the nation. What would be the consequences for future APA membership and effectiveness if the APA does not clearly state that sustainability is a primary issue?

Planners must lead the way in rethinking how our built environment must change if we hope to avoid the economic, environmental and social crises that now threaten our world in climate change and global energy depletion. The future of planning is in creating more climate-friendly, energy-smart, resilient communities—and the APA is in a position to lead this transformation.

Submitted by:

Sharon Ferguson
Senior Planner
Planning Department
Municipality of Anchorage
Anchorage, Alaska

Daniel Lerch
Program Director
Post Carbon Institute
Portland, Oregon

* 1. Do you support this proposal to create a "Sustainable Community Planning" Division within the American Planning Association?

* 2. Are you an APA member? (you do not need to be a member to endorse this proposal)