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Learning Globally to Plan Locally

06 January 2015

Planners are constantly taking initiative to learning how they can better serve their communities and thinking about ways to create vibrant places to live, work and play. The American Planning Association (APA) offers their members several methods of continued education and learning opportunities, allowing them to enhance their planning knowledge and place them at the cutting edge of the planning profession.

The APA’s International Professional Study Tour

One of these continuing educational tools is APA’s International Professional Study Tour.  These tours offer members the opportunity to learn about planning issues in other countries, and experience first-hand how planning challenges in these cities are addressed. Participants meet with elected officials, private and public sector planners and community representatives and go on guided walking tours.  While the focus of the program is mostly on local solutions to local challenges, US planners are dealing with many of the same challenges (affordable housing shortages, transit connectivity, employment challenges, water resource management and mega event planning).  As these similarities are discovered and discussed, planning techniques and even solutions suddenly evolve from international solutions into solutions that could be reworked and replicated in different communities in different countries

With successful study tours held in China and the Netherlands, APA held its latest study tour in London, England.  A city rich in planning history and architecture and host to some of the world’s most ambitious infrastructure and redevelopment projects, London provided endless opportunities for a group of American- based planners to learn from their British colleagues.   

London Study Tour

In June 2014, with tremendous support from our partners at RTPI, APA brought 25 planning professionals and three graduate planning students to London to explore, learn, and engage with local planning professionals.  Each day was a combination of walking tours, lectures, networking events, and more walking tours (we walked a lot- thanks to some very cooperative weather). As an added bonus, with an agenda packed with four or five events a day, study tour participants earned their credit maintenance to retain professional certification. 

The following are some highlights of the tour that our participants particularly enjoyed throughout our week long adventure:

  • The group spent an afternoon at RTPI, meeting staff and learning about RTPI’s planning agenda. Chief Executive Trudi Elliott gave a wonderful presentation about RTPI’s Centenary year and how RTPI advocates for planning as a part of the solution to many challenges facing the UK. She discussed initiatives under the Future Proofing Society and talked about RTPI’s stance on issues like extreme weather, energy, and social cohesion. RTPI Past President, Peter Geraghty briefed the group on the National Planning Policy Framework as well as the UK’s housing crisis.  The topic of affordable housing resonated with group, as this is a challenge many planners are facing in the US as well.
  • A visit to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was a highlight for many.  Throughout the week we heard presentations on how various public and private sector entities were involved in the creation of a successful Olympic Games so the group the eager to visit the park. Participants were specifically interested in the planning principles that guided the forward thinking post-Olympics Legacy Plan, which focused on reconnecting affluent Central London neighbourhoods and historically impoverished Eastern London neighbourhoods through improved transit networks, housing, and social and cultural programs.  Many facts and statistics grabbed the group’s attention, but there were two specifically.  The first was that the neighbourhoods that encompass the Olympic park venue are the most deprived in the UK.  The second was that every Underground stop moving away from Central London equates to losing one a year of life.  In the case of Stratford, home to the Olympics, that equates to 7-10 years.
  • The group enjoyed an afternoon at Crossrail learning about this important and ambitious infrastructure project.  The group received an in depth presentations about the various components of the projects, including a presentation on the twin borough tunnel being constructed under London as well as the impact the project is having on surrounding boroughs. Many tour participations identify themselves as transportation planners or work with the transportation sector and as such, they appreciated learning about the process and implementation of the Crossrails Project. Participants especially enjoyed the opportunity to visit the Bond Street East Ticket Hall viewing platform, an experience they certainly would not have been able to have on their own. 

APA’s Professional Study Tour participants enjoyed a once in a life time opportunity to experience London through the eyes of those dedicated to preserving its past while also securing its future.

APA’s Professional Study Tour participants enjoyed a once in a life time opportunity to experience London through the eyes of those dedicated to preserving its past while also securing its future. The group spent their days learning about the ways London planners are solving various planning issues and then spent their evenings discussing how these solutions might be applicable in their communities back in the US.  A week of learning from their British counterparts left APA’s study tour participants, excited about planning and energized to share what they had learned with their colleagues back home.  You can learn more about APA’s Professional Study Tours as well as read student blogs from the tour here.

APA would also like to thank RTPI for being wonderful partners and helping us create a thoughtful, educational and most importantly FUN itinerary for our study tour participants.  We simply could not have done this without you!  Thank you!

Jennifer Graeff is the Associate Director of International Partnerships for the American Planning Association