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Game Changing: Local Planners Rising to Meet Global Challenges


March 17, 2015 by Jill Sterrett
Category: Climate Change , Planning Advisor

Game Changing: Local Planners Rising to Meet Global Challenges

In my article last October, I talked about Climate Change in the news and some of the actions that planners in the Washington Chapter of American Planning Association are taking to plan for the changes that Washington will face.  Today, I’d like to update you on our progress and talk about the upcoming National Planning Conference.

We are at a critical turning point in how we define the future of our state and our nation. With the recent recession and a paralyzed Congress, many significant national issues have largely been ignored, compelling us to step up and take action.

As a profession, urban planning engages the public and decision-makers to define and achieve the future they desire. It is our job to make the choices clear and consequences of those choices understood. Planners in the Pacific Northwest are seeking ways to make far-reaching and fundamental social change on a variety of major issues, in short: Game Changing!

The Game Changing Initiative started over four years ago as Fellows from the Oregon and Washington chapters of APA met to discuss what we could give back to our profession.  Focusing on the mega-issues of the economic recession, polarized politics, and climate change, we initiated a joint effort to engage our members at the local level in these emerging global challenges.

Planners from across the Pacific Northwest have been meeting to discuss these complex and enormous “wicked problems” facing our region and the nation in order to chart a course to the year 2050. Through the initial launch with a symposium of 60 regional leaders, various conference sessions in both states, and a Daniel Burnham Big Ideas Forum, sponsored by national APA in 2013, we have engaged hundreds of our members in this process.

Washington APA’s Big Ideas for Washington’s Future represents the outcome of these discussions for Washington. The Big Ideas effort is divided into ten working groups, including:

  1.  Address Climate Change - Step up to address climate change mitigation and adaptation at state, regional and local levels.
  2. Enhance Regional Decision-making - Strengthen regional decision-making to address regional problems.
  3. Restore and Protect Ecosystems - Restore and protect healthy natural systems and incorporate the value of ecosystem services in decision-making.
  4. Link Health & Urban Planning - Plan communities to combat the growing epidemic of obesity.
  5. Increase Local Government Capacity - Provide local governments the capacity to do the job and educate the public on local fiscal constraints.
  6. Support Economic Development - Empower sustainable economic development and incentivize local business growth.
  7. Foster Social Equity - Incorporate issues of mental health, displacement, and affordable housing in planning for local communities.
  8. Support Sustainable Agriculture - Address sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems in both rural and urban areas.
  9. Build Social Capital - Build social capital by increasing civic engagement, supporting a culture of education & fostering leadership & entrepreneurship.
  10. Rebuild Infrastructure - Plan and fund updates to infrastructure (water, roads, transport, energy, storm-water, communications) to create sustainable, smart, and energy-efficient systems.

These ten working groups are helping to move this effort from ideas into action, by providing a variety of work products including models for practicing planners, education programs for the public and elected officials, legislative proposals, and partnerships with other organizations.

Planners from across Washington State have put in countless hours to craft and refine actionable tools and resources for planners, elected officials, and the general public. We are sharing these tools with planners across the country, as part of our contribution to the national conference. These tools and resources will be available by April 15th on our new website. Please check it out and offer us your comments and ideas for improvements.

Also, in mid-April, the National Planning Conference comes to Seattle.  Held annually, this national conference visits cities around the U.S.  It’s a rare opportunity to be able to join in this conference right here in our state- it was last in Seattle in 1999.  Some 5,000 planners will be gathering together to talk about the latest approaches to urban planning and the kinds of emerging issues that are mentioned above. Consider joining the conference or sending your staff. The conference will be held:

  • April 18, 2015 - April 21, 2015 Eastern Standard Time, 
  • Seattle, WA, Washington State Convention Center

As the conference organizers say: “Explore the state of planning in one of America's most sustainable cities. See what gives Seattle its edge while you sharpen your skills for your career and your community.”

You don’t need to be an APA member - or a planner - to attend.You can see the full program and register here.

Hope to see you there!

Photo courtesy of WSDOT.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Jill Sterrett

Jill Sterrett writes for MRSC as a Planning Advisor.

Jill Sterrett has more than 30 years of experience as a planner and consultant to federal agencies, utility companies, and local governments in Washington State, Oregon, and California. Jill's areas of expertise include planning for climate change, comprehensive plans, historic preservation, strategic planning, and environmental planning. Jill is currently teaching as an affiliate instructor at the University of Washington in the Department of Urban Design and Planning, where she teaches a graduate course in Climate Change and Infrastructure.

The views expressed in Advisor columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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