I was excited to be included in the local host committee for the planning of the 2023 National Conference of the American Planning Association in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection (aka Philadelphia) from April 1-4. The conference, which draws attendees from the U.S. and abroad, is the premier gathering of professional planners in the United States.
Philadelphia last hosted the National Conference in 2007, so it was a terrific opportunity for us to show off the impressive advancements in social, economic, and environmental/sustainability projects since folks last visited our city. Philadelphia is known as the city of firsts, something I didn’t know until I was asked to co-chair the Orientation Tour Committee.
Our task was to plan a three-hour bus tour of Philadelphia, targeted to planners, that would give them a broad introduction to its iconic landmarks and neighborhoods, as well as its challenges. The committee included staff from our city planning commission, regional and county planning agencies, students, and members of several organizations. We had specialists in architecture, historic preservation, housing, and transportation. Our challenge: create a tour highlighting Philadelphia’s vibrant neighborhoods, quirky street patterns, famous tourist attractions — like the Liberty Bell and the Rocky Statue — its amazing urban park, nationally recognized trail systems, and two riverfronts.
If that wasn’t enough work to do, my fabulous co-chair, Christina Arlt (Senior Project Manager, Planning and Communication Services for McCormick Taylor), spearheaded the creation of a walking tour. Both the bus and walking tours had to meet certain educational standards to be eligible for continuing education credits required of certified planners. We worked with the APA National Staff and conference consultants on all aspects of our tour planning. We also recruited and trained guides for both tours.
Our official test run in early February featured bus tour guides, APA National Staff, and, of course, a real coach bus. Things were going well until our return to the Convention Center via South Philadelphia, where construction on a one-way street blocked the intended route and trapped the bus. Eventually, the talented bus driver managed to escape by executing about 20 turns to reach a street that could accommodate the bus and take us safely to the end of the tour.
With that adventure in mind, we changed the route and revised the narrative to prepare for the conference. We scheduled 13 bus tours over the first two days of the conference. Each tour had two assigned guides, one to narrate and the other to navigate.
The four-day conference proved popular. Four thousand people attended, and nearly all the bus tours and the walking tours sold out. Our attendees and tour guides (including our very own Patrick Starr) reported that they had a successful experience. While I don’t yet have access to the participant surveys, I am glad to hear that the tours went well and that everyone returned safely.
In addition to the orientation tours, PEC helped to coordinate and host a separate mobile workshop (one of over 60 planned for the conference) designed to highlight our collaborative work in suburban Philadelphia communities as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. PEC water team staff (Paul Racette, & Diana Maher) coordinated with partners including the TTF Watershed Partnership, Wissahickon Trails, Temple University, and Cerulean Environmental to visit three sites where a range of Green Stormwater Infrastructure projects were installed and continue to be monitored. This tour was also sold out, with 25 participants hailing from the U.S. and Canada.
Planning any conference does take a village, and I was proud to be a part of the host committee to show off the city and to participate in the mobile workshop, which showed off the work of PEC and its partners in Suburban Philadelphia.
Susan Myerov, AICP joined PEC in July of 2013 as Watersheds Program Director, where she leads a number of PEC’s watershed and water resource management programs. Myerov has over 25 years of planning experience in public, private, and non-profit organizations, concentrating on watershed planning and protection along with land use and open space planning projects.