By: Sabrina Alonso
This year, I had the honor of being selected as one of the 2018 APA California Conference Ambassadors, representing the Orange County APA Chapter. The theme of this year’s conference was “Shaping Our Future, Planning Places for All”. As an emerging planner, fairly new to the field, the insights I gained from the keynotes and sessions was that the future of urban planning looks like rethinking existing spaces for diverse communities, considering the environmental impact and resilience to the challenges we face in California.
A prevalent issue facing my generation, in particular, is the housing crisis in California. The issues contributing to the housing crisis are that there are fewer housing units than population, and the gap between housing cost and income is increasing. The challenge we face as planners is to rethink existing places that could be utilized for housing or mixed-use. However, planners are also faced with the opposition of community.How then, do we as planners create more housing when every year more legal cases reduce or eliminate proposed units? Some of sessions which helped me to answer this problem were ‘The Great Debate: Can Housing in California Be Affordable and Environmentally Conscious’, the Diversity Summit, and ‘In the Thick of Things: The Role of Central City East in Changing Downtown Los Angeles’. From these sessions, I believe part of this solution is to utilize our abilities as planners to solve complex problems by creatively rethinking the infill spaces we have, working with the community, and utilizing existing exemptions through CEQA and those created in this year’s housing bill package. Further, as planners we have a responsibility to create spaces for all types of people. Today, most of the world’s population is living in cities. Creating spaces for all means rather than excluding people from the city and displacing them through gentrification, rethinking space to include the suburbs, transit-oriented housing in cities, and in both housing the city and outskirts, having housing for all income levels.
In addition to the issue of housing in California, we must also face the issues with limited water supply and natural resources, and natural disasters such as fires and flooding. How do build more housing, protect our limited resources, and plan for resilience? Some of the sessions helping me to answer these questions were the ‘Thirsting for Compatibility: Where Groundwater Sustainability and General Planning Goals Collide’ and ‘the Rs of Resilience’. There is not one answer to this question, and planners as in most situations, must take a multi-pronged approach. First, planners need to do what they do best, plan. General Plans, Specific Plans, Urban Water Management Plans, Sustainable Groundwater Management Plans, and as we are now seeing in City of Los Angeles, Resilience Plans and Sustainability Plans. But, these plans must all take each other into account and the various jurisdictions creating theses plans. As the Rs for Resilience session also touched upon, planners aren’t alone and can look to the strength of the community for what they want their cities to look like and how the private sector can help come up with solutions.
We did not enter this field because it would be easy, and from attending the conference and speaking with other planners, the challenges we face will continue and always change. With the strength of the community in collaboration of with the private and public sectors, we can work to meet the needs of our continually changing cities.