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The Next Generation of Planners

Stephanie Brown, AICP | with 0 Comments

The Next Generation of Planners

Growing up, I had no idea what a planner was, or even that the planning profession existed. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college, while in a mandatory geography class for my elementary education program, that I learned about the profession. The next day, I switched majors. Despite the drastic career change, my passion for teaching never completely dissipated. October is National Community Planning Month and thanks to the Illinois Chapter of the American Planning Association – Illinois State Section (ISS), I am able to practice both career paths every October. 
Recently, seven volunteer planners from Central Illinois, the Jr. High School in Bloomington, Illinois and I teamed to educate youth about the planning profession, all while having some fun. The planners kicked off the morning by sharing a little about their communities, what their jobs entail and photos of their favorite planned spaces. Downtowns, bike trails, wind farms and historic buildings were all discussed. Because many of the planners were from the area, students were familiar with the spaces and could easily relate.
Planning IllinoisMy goal in creating the main activity was to familiarize students with the general concept of city planning while letting their imaginations and ideas flourish. Sixty students were divided into eight groups and given a piece of foam core, markers, tape, glue, construction paper, and a multitude of recycled boxes. A volunteer planner then worked beside them as they built their dream city from the ground up.
Next Generation of Planners
For almost two hours, we watched the students morph into a societal mircocosm with varying personalities resulting in conflicts. Every member had a unique vision for the community and a different approach to getting the cities built.  Priorities were worked out throughdiplomatic discussions and conflicts were resolved through consensus.
As they started working together, great things happened. Visionaries were aided by creators and the result was stunning. It was truly remarkable how well these students grasped the concept of planning. They understood the need for efficient transportation systems, centers of employment, sources of power, educational systems, residential units, recreational facilities, shopping centers, and much more. Their designs were uniquely familiar.
At the end of the morning, these 60 students had created eight unique cities and were eager to present their developments to everyone. Highlights of the cities included water transportation, solar and wind power, rail transit, historic civic centers, and bike trails.

I believe I speak for all the volunteer planners when I say that this event was more than successful and to be a part of it was pure joy. I would like to thank Bloomington Jr. High School, especially, Mrs. Brandon, for letting us into the classroom. A special thanks also goes out to the ISS for organizing the event. Even if I am not a trained educator, it is nice to pretend once a year and share my love and passion for well-designed spaces.

The Illinois State Section (ISS) of the APA IL Chapter serves the members of the Chapter that reside outside the nine county Chicagoland area. The Section provides outreach, education, and promotes and supports practicing planners with networking opportunities and knowledge-based training opportunities. The Illinois State Section includes six regions. For more information on APA-ISS or future events and opportunities, visit

Contact MSA’s Stephanie Brown, AICP for more information on careers in planning or for your community’s planning needs.

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