Planning In The Wild West, Western Planner Conference 2015

Planning In The Wild West, Western Planner Conference 2015

I recently returned from this year’s Western Planner Conference, held in Laramie, Wyoming. The Western Planning Association is a diverse organization, operating as an affiliation of the 13 western states that are part of the American Planning Association.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Planning in The Wild West.” Conferences enable us to learn firsthand some of the successes and challenges of different planning issues, and to share our similar experiences. This year proved to be no exception to this understanding.

As I reflect back on the people I met, the sessions attended and the conversations with those whom I have known for some time, several key commonalities seemed to be present in our work and in the western communities in which we work:

  • Smaller western communities continue to struggle with bringing economic prosperity to their areas. Many western communities are still recovering from the boom-bust economic cycle their community has been trapped in, and are looking for ways to attract people and jobs to their communities by investing in their downtowns and creating economic diversity. To this end, linkages between public and private investment, integration of land use and transportation planning principles and planning for economic development are critical.
  • Western Planners struggle to engage their communities in important conversations about what the future should like. Planners continue to develop new outreach strategies that bring different participants into the process. As population dynamics change it’s even more critical to hear from youth, young families and our elderly residents. Many new engagement strategies harness the appeal of social media and the internet to use platforms such as Facebook, Mind Mixer, My Sidewalk, Survey Monkey, etc., as well as clicker voting technology, and pop-up workshops to attract new voices and ideas to the process.
  • Small staffs wear many hats. This is an interesting challenge for planners to have that often results in benefits larger communities are hard pressed to achieve: Better internal integration of planning concepts into the fabric of government operations. In smaller communities, staffers are constantly juggling the priorities between one department and another and trying to make sure all the pieces fit together seamlessly, and can be managing both planning and implementation. In some cases, staff may have the responsibility of being both the engineer and the zoning administrator. The advantage that this has created in these smaller communities is better synchronicity for project delivery, shared understanding of project goals, and support for the community vision.
  • The importance of Community Resilience. Over the course of a few days visiting with conference attendees and attending sessions, I mentally noted the dedication of many of the smaller communities to step up and identify how to address and overcome some seemingly persistent obstacles. Community Resilience is a focus area, Revolution Advisors, and we spoke about it at this year’s Wester Planner Conference. When we speak about community resilience and evaluate how to pinpoint the attributes of a resilient community, I am reminded of the tour of downtown Laramie I took, where the public officials, businesses, the community and a dedicated staff of planners have begun to reshape and reinvigorate their downtown through a combination of local economic strategies, asset building and financial incentives. To be sure there are obstacles to overcome, but the results that emanate from collaboration, strong leadership, and the long term commitment of resources to change- represents some of the core tenants important for long term community resilience.

Reflecting back over the past several days of the Western Planning Conference and our theme of “Planning In The Wild West.” I have to chuckle: It is true that western states may have an atypical approach to more urbanized city planning, because the context of the environment is different (Butch Cassidy was incarcerated and held in Laramie!), but I found the shared experiences through similar planning challenges , combined with the spirit and veracity of the western planner themselves, to be the most illuminating aspect of Planning In The Wild West.

For more information about Community Resilience and our presentation at Wester Planner, please contact Melissa Antol at 720.409.5306 or mantol@revolution-advisors.com.

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