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NPC24 Minneapolis: Envisioning our collective future through empowering planners

Joshua Singh is a Chartered Planner, Regeneration Team Leader at Sandwell Council and the RTPI National and West Midland’s Young Planner of Year 2023.

From a professional, personal and planning perspective this APA National Planning Conference in Minneapolis (NPC24) had almost everything a Young Planner could dream of, literally! In this first blog, I want to dwell on the energy, dynamism, leadership development and empowerment of Planners that is emerging across the Pond!

The APA has just over 40k members with well over 4000+ attending NPC24. The opening plenary speeches from President, Angela Brooks, FAICP and CEO, Joel Albizo, FASEA, CAE and key note speaker Lori Pace set the tone for the sun soaked Conference.

Both spoke of courage, innovation and inspiration as the core qualities of planning leaders. All qualities, which both are leading with and trying to instil into the next generation of planners. Lori picked up the energy even more with reflections around why we plan, planning for all with legacy in mind and pushing ourselves further as place leaders.

The message was clear; we all need to embrace these qualities and foster a culture of empowerment at all levels of our global planning associations from the youngest members to the top.

This message continued throughout the Conference, with the energy and discussions around the need to continue to articulate the mutual benefits of our shared professional associations and how we can empower each other.

I had the unique opportunity of attending a Leadership workshop for the GPN with Presidents / CEOs of respective Planning Associations from Australia, Canada, New Zealand. During this workshop we debated more deeply the role our Associations and how effective partnerships, member engagement in the form of constant communication can help articulate a shared global envisioned view of the future; a collective narrative that all layers of membership can contribute towards. We heard from Petra Hurtado, APA Chief Foresight Officer about the 2024 Trend Report and the future of Foresight Planning in helping to shape envisioned futures and how as planners we need our imagination to become more agile, forward thinking and future orientated; shaping reality around us.

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Josh attended a leadership workshop for the Global Planners Network

The message I took away was around the role leadership must play in ensuring as planners we have the tools, resources and skillsets to tackle the collective problems we have on both national and global scales and to be empowered as leaders to have the confidence to do this. Across the USA they need to deliver 2m+ houses annually, reverse staggering levels of deprivation, reverse systemic problems of segregation, compounded by legacy zoning laws, convoluted layers of institutional governance and a highway dominated streetscape.  These are all challenges which US planners are embracing with a collective ambition to bring equitable, diverse and paradigm shifting solutions with a greater influence on collaboration with communities and empowering each other to be part of the solution in a positive and constructive manner.

The energy levels went up a notch to end the week on a high note! Speech used a combination of his Grammy Award winning hits from the 90s and his grasp of the power of the sub-conscious and the way we use language to inspire all those in the room. Before that though Angela’s closing statement focused on the fact we are all leaders as planners, we are all helping to make a difference but we need to be bolder in all that we do.

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Josh meets Speech Thomas (Arrested Development) who gave an inspiring speech at the conference

Speech embodied this in the mantra “Do what you can, with what you have and with the people around you”. With this, we can all make a difference no matter what – something I’ve been reflecting on with a planning philosophy emerging around Legacy Planning. Speech talked about how we deliver our best work in uncertain times, but we need to be brave. Less odds but more possibilities and it’s clear the APA are trying to bring this mantra to the forefront of foresight and planning with long term vision rooted in the actions of the now. Speech talked about what brave leaders were to him:

  • Boldness – stepping up to fill voids, how the impossible dream is just a big idea. This coupled with foresight brings the future of planning into full sight. The power of language influencing those around us. Planners have the capacity and privilege to set the narrative of place and bring forth transformation that benefits all.
  • Resilience – and our personal disposition as planners to be resilient to change and resilient to setbacks, misinformation and public apathy. Be resilient even in even in your weakest moments.
  • Adaptability – the need for planners to pivot in an instance, the power of adaptive reflection to step back re-evaluate and adapt and pivot in new directions.
  • Vulnerability – when we are weak, then we are strong. Planners need to be able to plan without fear and use our collective sub-conscious to find solutions in times of adversity and be confident about being vulnerable.
  • Encouraging – critically to all of the above, as leaders we need to use our powers to encourage others at all levels of interaction through positive planning.

The whole week will be a powerful part of my own leadership development as a Young Planner. Having the opportunity to learn from interactions with CEOs/Chief Planners/Presidents from across the globe and supporting conversations with Victoria and Lindsey, I felt a renewed sense of optimism about the role of planning in the UK to bring about change for all.

There is so much more we can do to articulate the positives around the role of planning, rather than the continued fascination with the negatives. We need to imagine a future filled with solutions; which seems to be emerging in the minds of young planners in the US. Our young planners are envisioning the same, but perhaps as in the US, it’s time that these thoughts were harnessed to create an envisioned future we can all collectively be part of.  


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Spoonbridge and Cherry is a sculptural fountain in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

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Third Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis

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