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Conversations in Boston at APA2011 and beyond

I’ve been back in Vancouver for just about 48 hours now — enough time to get a little distance without being too far away from the conversations I had at this year’s American Planning Association conference. While I often look back and think that the event is really intense and overwhelming — especially since it has without fail coincided with the last week of classes, when I’m undoubtedly drowning in papers and deadlines — I’ve always been glad I’ve gone, because the people I meet and the conversations I have just make my brain do the happy dance. For 4 days straight. (While severely sleep deprived.)

I did want to highlight some particularly memorable and helpful conversations:

  • I met Frank Hebbert. Cool chap doing some really awesome shiznit!
  • I met Susan Bregman, editor of The Transit Wire, and we had a great time talking shop of all sorts — she’s working on some excellent research around social media and transit, and I really valued getting to hear her perspective.
  • I caught up with the APA Planning Technology Division crew both at the PlanningTech@DUSP event, and at their meeting at the conference. I threw in my two cents and heard a bit more about the ins-and-outs of engaging planners around technology. At the former, I met some other students who are working on really neat topics on planning and technology who seem to have certainly had some comparable experiences to my own in the planning academy. It was almost cathartic, actually.
  • Met some awesome Code for America folk and hung out at their booth a little bit. One of them will be speaking at Open Gov West in Portland in May, which I am helping convene as a volunteer, so that was also really neat.
  • Beers in Beantown was the sequel to last year’s unstructured panel on technology and “disruptions in planning,” but this year I got to interact at a little more depth with Jason Lally, which was great. There were people there who remembered me and who I also remembered too! I was really enthused by the ideas the panelists presented, and welcomed the chance to build on some of my own thinking and share those thoughts with the cloud. (Update [05/03/2011]: The first half of the video for this session has now been posted to the PlaceMatters Blog.)
  • As with last year, I indulged in a technology training session at the APA: this year, it was a GIS-enabled charrettes session focusing on using CommunityViz by the fine folks at Placeways. I’m quite a GIS lightweight (spatially illiterate, you might even say), but this session definitely got me dreaming of some neat possible integrations…
  • I also shared a few stories with Chris Haller (who also writes the Engaging Cities site) working the APA Twitter booth.
  • (and please don’t take offense if I haven’t mentioned you, I haven’t rifled through the stack of business cards in my bag yet either.)

Putting faces to so many avatars, websites and names was an incredible experience. Being at the end of the semester and nearing (with any luck!) the end of my degree, it’s giving me a lot of thought as to what route I see myself going down when my degree comes to a close. More academia / research? Applying for fellowships to roll up balls of project-based awesome? Working as a consultant or at a non-profit? Settling down in the local or provincial government and working for open gov from the inside (like so many other brave souls)? All have some appeal in one way or another.

This quote from an interview with Alex Steffen struck me as somewhat illustrative of my predicament:

How do we talk about those kinds of changes, making clear that they’re something to pay attention to but keeping a realistic perspective on the current landscape? What’s possible is moving really quickly, but what is reality is still largely unchanged.

Whether it’s open government data, service design, transportation data collection, social media for storytelling in planning, citizen science for community movements on sustainability…the theme of transition has been weighing heavy on my mind. That we are twisting and flexing new muscles under the cocoon of what we have always done. The security of staying inside continues to be alluring, even as the tension, the urge to stretch out, mounts. I’m excited to be part of so many cool, neat, new things, even as I bow my head to good old path dependency.

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