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Event to Watch: U.N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development

The United Nations’ Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, commonly called Habitat III, will be held in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016. The goal of this third conference is to “reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization” and set new global standards for sustainable urban development.

I hadn’t heard about this conference until my roommate, who coincidentally has been to Quito, sent it to me via Nature magazine. I wish I was farther along in my career when attending would be feasible – hearing a global perspective (literally) on urban growth would be amazing. And the Habitat conferences only come along every 20 years.

I’m excited to hear what comes out of the conference. There’s already some great implementation plan commitments (search them here) at different level of scope, responsibility, topic, and location.

Anyone going to Quito next week (or know of anyone who is) who can offer some insights into what you’re expecting from the conference? If you’re not going, what would you hope to see come out of Habitat III?

Update October 17, 2016: Check out CityLab’s beginner’s guide to Habitat III.

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Thoughts from the APA-NC Conference

Last week I had the privilege of attending the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association’s conference in Asheville, NC. I wasn’t originally planning to go, but how could I pass up a trip to Asheville?! In addition to the gorgeous mountain setting, vibrant downtown (with breweries aplenty), and a roadtrip with new friends, there would of course be the chance to meet practicing planners and to hear from folks outside of the UNC/Chapel Hill bubble.

I was at the conference for 2 days along with about 20 of my fellow DCRP students. I attended 5 sessions and made a connection with 4 practicing planners (yay, networking!). I also ate 3 biscuits and visited 2 breweries but you’ll have to ask me about those separately (omg the biscuits…).

Here are some of my takeaways from the sessions I attended:

  • Ensuring that community members, stakeholders, planners, developers, elected officials, etc. are speaking the same “language” when it comes to discussing options for planning is critical. One way to do this is to include terminology sessions in the community outreach process. For example, the community cannot make decisions about prioritizing a transit system’s ridership vs. its coverage without knowing what those two terms mean first. This is something we’ve also talked about in my PLAN740 class and it was cool to see it put into action in Wake County. —Strategies for Building Community Vision – The Wake County Transit Plan Process (Tim Gardiner, Teresa Gresham)
  • Walkability is measured in many different ways. One way I hadn’t heard before was to think about planning for walkability in terms of 1) adjoining land uses, 2) connections to other modes, and 3) barriers such as missing sidewalks. I also got to hear about Durham’s Station Area Strategic Infrastructure Study (SASI) where they are assessing pedestrian and cyclist circulation around future planned light rail stations (10+ years out!). This is wonderful because the light rail project won’t spontaneously generate adequate pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, so it needs to be planned for ahead of time in order to make light rail successful. This is the opposite of what they did with the silver line Metro stations in Tyson’s Corner, VA. —Is Your Community Really Walkable? Find Out and Fix It (Dick Halls, Paul Joyner, Garrett Artz, Scott Whiteman)
  • Another session was a panel with a few of the authors from the Carolina Planning Journal‘s 2016 issue on just creativity (emphasis on “just”, as in justice). I found the discussion of the American Tobacco Trail’s history as a divider of the community fascinating, and an example of great regional planning that was missing local level engagement, thus the project is not as successful as it could have been. Throughout the panel discussion were critiques of Richard Florida’s Creative Class and the missing ingredient from his agenda for the city, which is justice. I’m biased because the Carolina Planning Journal is run out of my program, DCRP at UNC, but it was the best session I went to all week.  —Just Creativity: Perspectives on Creative Placemaking (Julia Barnard, Kofi Boone, Ben Hitchings, Carly Hoffmann, Adam Levine, Rachel Wexler)

DCRP students are, as a rule, brilliant and social justice oriented. As such, we identified some things about the conference that we’d change, if we ruled the world:

  • Lack of racial & ethnic diversity of conference presenters and attendees. I couldn’t find demographic information for APA-NC members specifically, but according to the Census data, North Carolina is about a quarter non-White. The panelists didn’t reflect this, but it is imperative to hear from people who are representative of the state’s makeup, especially as we continue to grow and become increasingly diverse.
  • Lack of gender diversity of conference presenters and attendees. Of the 5 sessions I attended, 3 were all-male panels and another session had only one woman. If DCRP is any indication of what the future of planning looks like (lots of women among the first years), in a few years this should be in balance.
  • Absence of social justice in the conference session topics. The only session that discussed equity and justice openly was the one (mentioned above) put on by the Carolina Planning Journal. This shows me that justice is not at the forefront for many practicing planners in North Carolina. If equity was a major aspect of projects it would be something we’d hear about at a conference, right?

Overall, a great conference and I’m glad I went! I also had many observations about Asheville itself, including the walkability, reflections on how the city is growing, the walkability, the beg buttons and crosswalks, and the walkability. It deserves its own post, so look for that in the coming days!

Trip: Carrboro to Asheville (round trip)
Total trip time: 3.5 hours x2
Total trip distance: 217 miles x2
Mode: Car (Note: there is no public transportation option between the Triangle and Asheville, except for an airplane)
Line: N/A
Frequency: N/A
Cost: $10 contribution to gas
Level of crowding: Traffic was light both ways
Trip quality: 4 of 5 stars
+ for convenience, speed, and gorgeous mountainous country route
– for no public transit option

Opportunity to provide input on Chapel Hill’s Mobility and Connectivity Plan

Chapel Hill is currently developing a Mobility and Connectivity Plan which should be completed in 2017. According to their website:

Do you walk, bike, run and wheel around Chapel Hill? The Town of Chapel Hill wants your input in developing a Mobility and Connectivity Plan that will recommend connections to significant destinations, close gaps in walkability, and encourage healthier and more active behavior in residents and visitors. The study will be an overall network exercise, looking at bicycle, pedestrian, and greenway connectivity.

There are plenty of opportunities to provide your input on what the priorities for the plan should be:

  • Take their short survey.
  • Join me tonight, Tuesday September 6th, for a drop-in public input session between 4pm and 7pm (you can drop in any time and stay as long as you like) at the Chapel Hill Public Library Meeting Room A.
  • Add your comments to the interactive wiki map.

Hope to see some of you tonight at the input session!

Reflections on why I’m here

My big takeaway from my first day of classes last week, other than wow I can’t believe I’m here yayayayay was the realization that I don’t have a succinct way to describe my planning interests.

Let me first clarify something. I don’t think that being able to “succinctly” or “articulately” describe my passion differentiates me in any negative way from my classmates. We’re all first year students, and we’ve all had different pathways to planning, to this degree, and to Carolina.  We speak different languages (literally) and use different vocabularies that reflect our life experience. So, some of us are going to come across as a little more “polished” than others. I use these words in quotes because they are reductive, relative terms based on perceptions, and they don’t form great basis for judging ourselves or others.

Okay, now back to my desire to be succinct and articulate.

For years, as I was considering graduate school for planning, I found myself telling people “I just love transit.” (True.) Then it evolved to something like “I don’t have a car, and I just think that’s really important, you know? Cars are killing us.” (Also true, but not very clear as to what should be done about that.) And then it morphed to “I’m going to graduate school to study transportation policy and planning.” (Bingo! But still very high level.)

Now that I’m here, with exciting and diverse areas of focus all around me, I find myself getting pulled in so many directions. Land use! Social equity! Climate change impacts! It’s okay to be interested in everything. That’s what school is for. But I also think it’s important to reflect on why I became interested in planning, why I came to this program, and what impact I’m hoping to make on the world when I leave.

So here goes:

  • Equity. I want to learn more about why inequality exists and what can be done to mitigate it and prevent it entirely, across the entire planning spectrum (housing, transportation, land use, economic development, etc.).
  • Pedestrian safety. I had a bit of a lightning-bolt moment last week that safety is at the root of everything I’ve been geeking about over the past few years. It probably warrants its own post. Every time I cringe about beg buttons or yell at someone for rolling through a crosswalk without stopping or feel unsafe walking alongside large buildings with blank walls, it’s because there’s a safety issue at hand.
  • Transportation as a civil right. I need to refine this one a bit more, but essentially I believe that having access to where you need to go is a fundamental human right, and that unless we stop basing that on personally-owned single-occupancy vehicle trips, our health and our economy and our planet are in trouble.

Those are my first-week thoughts. I’ll keep refining my elevator speech (you can take the girl out of consulting…) and learning as much as I can, and of course sharing it here!

Around Town: “Walk Chapel Hill” Signs

As I was leaving an event this afternoon, I noticed a “Walk Chapel Hill” sign on the sidewalk. While the information on the sign was helpful in terms of finding my way around to various landmarks (e.g., that the ArtsCenter is an 8 minute walk), it really communicated three things:

Walk Chapel Hill Sign 1

  1. The town of Chapel Hill recognizes that there are many walkers on its streets.
  2. The town places importance on the comfort, safety, and mobility of those walkers.
  3. The town is designed (and hopefully will continue to be designed and improved) with walkability in mind. Among other things that means pedestrian-sized and pedestrian-oriented street infrastructure and development density.

 

Thanks to the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership for the great signage!

There are no national standards for pedestrian wayfinding (the technical term for signs that help people walking to find their way), but there are many best practices and firms that specialize in helping cities and towns do this well. I can’t find who may have helped the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership with these. If you’d like to learn more, Alta Planning gives a nice overview on their site and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has also written about the concept.

Walk Chapel Hill Sign 2

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