Those of us who attended the National Planning Conference (NPC) in San Francisco in April know what an incredible success it was in terms of attendance, education, networking, and an overall smooth operation. This is a testament to the hard work, know-how, and welcoming attitude of the Host Committee (kudos to Hing Wong, AICP, et al) and the Northern Section as a whole. But NPC 19 was an especially exciting and fulfilling experience for me, as it was the first conference where I felt that APA’s ongoing efforts to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity were truly front and center.
I have been a member of APA’s Diversity Committee for years, starting when it was just a Task Force and not yet a full-fledged committee. I currently serve as Vice Chair of the Committee and work closely with our amazing Chair, Miguel Angel Vazquez, AICP, and our talented committee members. Over the years, the committee has worked hard to promote progress on issues of diversity and inclusion within the organization and on behalf of our members. Each year, our efforts culminated in a Diversity Summit at the NPC, but there was little other visible evidence of the committee’s work at the conference.
That began to change a few years back when an Equity track was added to the conference programming, leading to a much richer choice of educational offerings on the topics of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Then, in April 2018, APA’s diversity efforts were further elevated when the Board adopted a Diversity and Inclusion strategy.
NPC 19 was our first opportunity to roll out this new strategy — and did we ever! At the same time, work was completed on the (now formally ratified) Planning for Equity Policy Guide, under the dynamic and able leadership of Lynn Ross, AICP, and Susan Wood, AICP; and the Social Equity Task Force led by Carleton Eley was also completing its work. So, for NPC 19, we had three major and related initiatives come together to form the basis of a powerful conference theme.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to play a role in the diversity, inclusion, and equity focus of the conference and to witness firsthand the enthusiasm of attendees having a forum where they could learn about and share experiences on these important topics.
It all started at the Leadership Plenary prior to the conference, where members of the Board of Directors, Chapter Presidents Council, Divisions Council, and Student Representatives Council heard presentations from the Diversity Committee, Social Equity Policy Guide Committee, and Social Equity Task Force leaders on our work to date. The session was kicked off by strong supportive messages from incoming APA President Kurt E. Christiansen, FAICP, and APA’s new Executive Director, Joel Albizo, FASAE, CAE. We then reassembled in roundtable discussion groups where each person — enabled by specially prepared postcards and other materials developed by APAs talented communications and marketing teams — committed to push forward on the Diversity/Inclusion Strategy.
That gratifying experience was repeated over and over again for me once the NPC 19 got started.
On the opening Saturday, I participated in a panel on “Everyday Racism: What Planners Can Do.” It included presentations on the fascinating research being conducted by Stacy Harwood and Ivis Garcia, AICP, from the University of Utah, and by April Jackson from Florida State University. Professor Garcia, along with Andrea Garfinkel-Castro and Deirdre Pfeiffer, recently co-authored a PAS Report on Planning with Diverse Communities — a valuable compendium that should be on every planner’s bookshelf. Professor Jackson led the effort on the recent joint APA/Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Diversity Survey — the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and one that has yielded more than 3,000 responses. But the best part of the session was when participants shared their own experiences in roundtable discussions and as individual report-outs.
Next came the Plan4Equity Forum where we once again presented the Diversity/Inclusion Strategy and the efforts of the Social Equity Policy Guide Committee and Social Equity Task Force, followed by facilitated roundtable discussions. Again, the response from participants was informative and enthusiastic. Immediately following the forum, we celebrated our accomplishments at a joint reception with the Arts and Planning Interest Group at the Minna Gallery, where we heard from local artists and enjoyed an Afro-Cuban band.
In addition, to serving as a presenter at the Leadership Plenary, Everyday Racism Session, and Plan4Equity Forum, I also presented at the annual College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners (FAICP) meeting: I have long been a member of the Women and Planning Division and had recently participated in a webinar sponsored by the Division on “The Road to FAICP,” which focused on the Division’s efforts to increase the numbers and proportion of women who are recognized as AICP Fellows. It was gratifying to hear the enthusiasm and support that those at the meeting had for APAs Diversity/Inclusion Strategy and for promoting greater diversity in our College.
I came away from NPC 19 with a terrific feeling of accomplishment and with renewed hope that APA is embracing a culture that recognizes the diversity of our communities, promotes inclusiveness in our planning practice, and is able to support our members in fulfilling their ethical obligations to promote a more equitable society. For those of you considering volunteering your efforts to help support APA — believe me, your contributions at any level really can make a difference!
Elizabeth “Libby” Tyler, Ph.D., FAICP, is a consulting planner based in Albany, CA. She is the Ethics Review Director for APA California–Northern Section.
By Andrea Arjona, Richard Boggs, Anthony Nachor, Carolyn Neer, and Mindy Nguyen
In the Spring 2019 semester, San Jose State University Master of Urban Planning students, in partnership with CommUniverCity and the City of San Jose, formulated a community assessment of Downtown San Jose, focusing on connectivity and mobility issues between the Diridon Station, McEnery Convention Center, and San Pedro Square Market. Seventeen graduate students, along with faculty Richard Kos and Jason Su, studied the area over 15 weeks. The objectives were to document current conditions, identify existing challenges, and propose urban design and active transportation improvements for the study area.
The effort was divided into two phases: data collection and community engagement.
During Phase 1, students assumed one of four user-personas to observe and collect data on connectivity in the study area: 1) a person attending a convention at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center; 2) a San Jose State University student; 3) a visitor to San Pedro Square Market; and 4) a visitor who traveled between all four points of interest. Their findings were organized visually and geographically into informal pin-up boards and formal InDesign collage boards, which were presented to, and reviewed by, the project partners. In Phase 2, the students engaged with community members and stakeholders by organizing a public community event and hosting focus group discussions.
A class-organized community event was held at the San Jose Museum of Art on May 4, 2019. More than 100 adults and children attended. Participants were offered free admission to the museum as an incentive to engage with the students through activities including a large map of downtown, a tech hub, surveys, and a kids’ table with toys, maps, and books. At the tech hub, community members viewed story maps and tested the student-produced ArcHub online engagement platform that allows users to learn about projects around Downtown San Jose and submit their comments through a survey.
Community feedback revealed a strong interest in transportation, wayfinding, public events and activities, and beautification in Downtown San Jose. Walking and driving were the most popular modes of travel to the McEnery Convention Center and San Pedro Square Market, but many participants showed strong support for improved public transportation options in and to Downtown. Common recommendations voiced included creating dedicated bus lanes and expanding existing public transit services to improve efficiency, increasing service to Downtown from outlying areas such as Gilroy and Morgan Hill, and establishing a transit ticket validation system similar to parking validation.
Many attending the community event felt that existing wayfinding was inadequate to meet their needs. Sixteen attendees supported increased wayfinding signage throughout Downtown. Their ideas included installing large maps outside Diridon Station to orient visitors to the surrounding city, additional signage identifying locations of bus and light rail lines throughout the station, improving existing signage for vehicular and bike parking throughout downtown, and developing a walking tour map showing the major destinations around Downtown.
Community members also identified activities and streetscape improvements to improve the pedestrian experience and visibility between Diridon and various points Downtown. Many noted they would like to see more farmers’ markets, concerts in the park, fairs, and comedy shows in public open spaces. And there was considerable public support for pop-up shops and food trucks in underutilized parking lots under freeway overpasses. Some participants suggested that more street activity would increase their perception of safety, which would encourage more walking around Downtown.
After analyzing the findings and reviewing feedback from attendees from the community event, the graduate students compiled a list of short- and long-term recommendations to be presented to the city. The short-term recommendations were deemed to be more readily acted on, while the long-term recommendations require further investments and policy changes.
Short-term recommendations include:
Introduce pedestrian wayfinding elements between Diridon Station, the Convention Center, and San Pedro Square, highlighting suggested routes and estimated travel times.
A lack of wayfinding signage was one of the most often-mentioned deficiencies of Downtown San Jose. Wayfinding signs are desperately needed at Diridon Station and throughout Downtown. At a minimum, installing attractive wayfinding elements will create an important first impression of a city that cares about the navigation needs of its residents and visitors.
Designate preferred walking routes that, to the extent practicable, physically separate pedestrians from traffic by using smaller streets, pedestrian plazas, and paseos to save time and improve the visual experience.
Too many Downtown areas feel unsafe or are difficult to walk through, according to many community members at the open house. They noted the numerous physical barriers on sometimes too-narrow sidewalks, and other impediments that clearly favor cars over pedestrians. Clearly marked walking and biking routes for pedestrians and cyclists would greatly enhance the walking and biking experience, which could lead to fewer people driving in the area.
Create appealing spaces to park bikes and scooters in multiple areas around Downtown, including existing parking lots.
Encouraging active transportation modes — such as bicycles and scooters, as opposed to driving — is an important goal for any city wanting to attract a younger workforce and provide options for those who cannot drive, or choose not to. Replacing vehicle parking spaces with clearly demarcated bike and scooter spaces is an important step in this direction.
Partner with landowners and parking lot operators to allow for street vendors and food trucks near the Convention Center and around Diridon Station, and energize existing alleys with music and art.
Community members, concurring with the city’s goals for placemaking and greater social connectivity, asked for more vibrant and active public spaces. A relatively simple way to invigorate spaces is to allow and encourage street vendors and food trucks to cluster near major destinations like the Convention Center and Diridon Station. San Francisco’s StrEatfood Park is an example of such a space. The formerly moribund parking lot pulses with social and economic activity centered on rotating food truck selections.
Long-term recommendations include:
Establish a legacy business program.
This program would provide grants to help businesses at risk of displacement because of property value increases triggered by nearby development activity. The funds could come from new developments, such as proposed by Google. The grant program could be modeled after the City of San Francisco Legacy Business Registry and Preservation Fund, established to preserve businesses more than 30 years old.
Construct a multimodal path from Diridon Station to the Convention Center and San Pedro Square.
Connecting areas of Downtown with multimodal paths will encourage walking, bicycling, and scootering, and deter automobile use. One path would run from the Diridon Station to the Convention Center parallel to the light rail tracks. The second would extend South San Pedro St. as a pedestrian paseo south through Cityview Plaza.
Expand employment programs for the homeless to redevelopment areas.
A large number of homeless encampments exist throughout the Diridon Station area. Future developments in this area can provide needed funding to address this issue through the expansion of the existing Downtown Streets Team/Groundwerx program. The Downtown Streets Team’s goal is to transition homeless individuals into employment, which in turn opens the door to other opportunities. The program provides work opportunities for homeless individuals while also keeping the streets around Downtown clean. Expansion of this program to the Diridon Station area can boost the visual quality and improve cleanliness of the neighborhood during and after the construction of major development projects.
Alternatively, new developments like the Google Village can partner with organizations like Code Tenderloin from San Francisco to provide the local homeless with job readiness trainings relevant to the local technology industry.
Through this assessment, the graduate student team sought to create a resource for the City of San Jose by exploring in depth the current conditions of these areas of Downtown and advocating for the local community. The area residents want their neighborhood to be better connected to the surrounding districts. They see opportunities for the anticipated developments to improve aesthetics in the area. They want green spaces, parks, and buildings that promote walkability and a sense of community. They are eager for changes that will improve their neighborhood and give them access to sustainable modes of transportation, while being adamant that developers work with residents to meet their needs and achieve the goals set by current community members.
The community around Diridon Station shares the aspirations and goals outlined in the City’s Envision 2040 General Plan. By pursuing those goals with the concerns and hopes of the community in mind, the new Diridon Station and surrounding area can bring San Jose one step closer to becoming a world-class destination as an urban center, a major transportation hub, and the cultural heart of Silicon Valley.
The authors are graduate students in urban and regional planning at San Jose State University:
Andrea Arjona is a Micro Mobility Specialist at the City of San Jose. She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in environmental economics from Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, and a master’s degree in applied anthropology from San Jose State University.
Rick Boggs is a geographic information systems analyst in the Campus Planning and Development Department of CSU Monterey Bay. He received his bachelor’s degree from CSU Monterey Bay in social and behavioral sciences.
Anthony Nachor, originally from Manila, the Philippines, is an aspiring transportation planner currently residing in Novato, California. He received his bachelor’s degree in urban studies and planning at San Francisco State University.
Carolyn Neer is an Environmental Planner at Rincon Consultants, Inc. She received her bachelor’s degree in history from University of California, Berkeley.
Mindy Nguyen was raised in San Jose and received a bachelor of science in biochemistry and a minor in studio art from Santa Clara University. She is a Registered Environmental Health Specialist with the County of Santa Clara.
The results are in!Come celebrate the best of Northern California planning at our annual Awards Gala on Friday, June 7, at the Starline Social Club. To purchase tickets or find our more information regarding the benefits of sponsorship, visit our Awards webpage.
Our jurors were: Martin Alkire, Principal Planner, City of Mountain View; Hanson Hom, AICP, planning consultant and APA California Chapter Board Vice-President of Conferences; Rebecca Kohlstrand, AICP, Vice President, Parsons Brinckerhoff; and Aaron Welsh, Senior Associate, Raimi + Associates.
And here are our 2019 award winners!
Awards of Excellence
Advancing Diversity and Social Change in Honor of Paul Davidoff
L. Robert Ulibarri, AICP
San Mateo County Second Unit Center—21 Elements | Home for All | San Mateo County
Comprehensive Plan, Large Jurisdiction
Central SoMa Plan—San Francisco Planning Department
Comprehensive Plan, Small Jurisdiction
Vallco Town Center Specific Plan—City of Cupertino | Opticos Design
Hard Won Victory and Planning Agency
City of Santa Rosa Resilient City Development Measures Ordinance—City of Santa Rosa, Planning Division
Innovation in Green Community Planning
Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan—County of Santa Clara | Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority
Housing Voices Community Outreach Process—City of Santa Cruz
Elimination of Minimum Parking Requirements Citywide—Office of San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim | San Francisco Planning Department
Pier 70 Project—Brookfield Properties | Port of San Francisco | SITELAB urban studio
I love how cycling changes my experience of moving through the city, and I love sharing that experience with others, which is why I’ve been organizing and leading urban geography rides for Walk Oakland, Bike Oakland (WOBO). Stories of urban investment and disinvestment, advantage and disadvantage, come to light as you ride through the neighborhoods.
WOBO recently gave me the opportunity to lead a group of officials and planners from Portland, OR, who were in town to meet with local groups to learn about best practices in the Bay Area. Right up my alley. They had requested a mobility tour, so we planned to do one loop on Ford GoBikes, and another on Lime scooters. With help from Kerby Olsen — City of Oakland, Department of Transportation (OakDOT) — and Chris Hwang of WOBO, we obtained discounted passes, and headed into the city.
Oakland really showed up for the day. On the way to the starting point, I saw Fantastic Negrito being filmed in front of the Paramount, and there was an International Worker’s Day protest in Frank Ogawa Plaza (photo below).
Sarah Iannarone (Portland State University), the Portland group’s organizer, also practices urban field geography. She appreciated the itinerary I’d prepared, which focused on the challenges of planning in a deeply unequal city like Oakland.
A number of folks from OakDOT came along, including Lily Brown (head of the bike plan process), Hank Pham, Ahmed Ali Bob, David Pene, and Mikaela Hiatt. We started by talking about the bike plan. Phoenix Mangrum (Cycles of Change) contributed his generally positive impressions of how the bike plan had allowed his organization to provide leadership in their community engagement. Then we headed off along Telegraph and into West Oakland.
The idea of an urban geography tour is to help participants gain greater understanding of the city. Planning issues become more visible when observed at human speeds. This tour began by riding on Oakland’s first protected bike lanes through the energetic Uptown district, then into the less affluent West Oakland neighborhoods on the other side of the freeway. Along the way, we observed the Tuff Shed Shelter village at 27th and Northgate, the Paint the Town mural at the California Hotel, the abandoned but still dramatic 16th Street Station, and the Mandela Parkway “linear park” that replaced the former alignment of Interstate 880 and the Cypress Structure which collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
At each stop, we discussed people’s observations of the neighborhoods we had ridden through, and I provided a talk about the location — illustrated by handouts highlighting its history — and current planning issues. For example, the poster below discusses how the California Hotel once sat at an important transportation hub, but became isolated by freeway development. The street mural project there addresses a significant safety issue at what had been a very long crosswalk, with art honoring the site’s history as a venue for Black musicians and travelers.
When we stopped adjacent to the 980 freeway and some of the West Oakland federal housing projects, I talked about how the neighborhood had been disadvantaged by infrastructure and urban renewal projects. Oakland has floated a proposal to remove 980, but I challenged the planners to consider this: If 980 goes, how can we ensure that its removal will benefit the disadvantaged community?
We were running late, mostly because “new mobility” services aren’t designed for large groups. So by the time we got on the scooters, we were down to a handful who had a good time scooting around Lake Merritt, passing both a serious-looking scooter crash on Broadway, and a serious Gig car-share crash on Grand. Then two of our scooters quit and we doubled up for a while. The lake was beautiful, and we returned to Frank Ogawa Plaza without further incident.
As an introduction to new mobility, the tour was real. The logistical and technical issues, and vendors’ tendencies to avoid dealing with those, are a real part of the mobility landscape.
If you are looking for experiential learning about the city, highlighted by real-world locations, illustrated by data and history, and a perspective rooted in social justice, please contact me.