By James Rojas and Olivia Joncich
Students and planning professionals from Los Angeles and the Southern California region gathered at the University of Southern California for the 11th Annual American Planning Association (APA) LA Student Symposium on Saturday, February 11, 2017. The event is sponsored by the APA and rotates between planning programs in the Greater Los Angeles area. This year, the Student Symposium was entirely planned and organized by Master of Planning Students within the USC Price School of Public Policy. Attendees from all over Southern California were invited to participate in workshops and discussions with professionals that examine their daily work and academic study within the framework of innovation, guided by the underlying effort to improve upon the current status quo.
As influential forces within cities and neighborhoods, planners are constantly asked to question their understanding of the communities in which they work. Urban planner and community activist, James Rojas, posed this question to attendees of the Symposium by conducting a “Place It” workshop in which participants were asked to recreate a childhood memory and collaboratively plan their ideal city using an assortment of plastic objects, toys, and figurines. The Place It activity requires planners to utilize lived experience to cultivate genuine relationships with their constituents and to consider each individual’s attachment to the place in which they live, work and play. By inviting participants to take on a new perspective, Rojas’s workshop encourages a new generation of planners to apply notions of trust and understanding into the community engagement process.
The Symposium continued with a panel discussion that encompassed the many dimensions of innovation in the planning field. Jacqui Swartz of LADOT, Francisco Contreras of the City of West Hollywood, Steve Baule of LADWP and Cynthia Gonzalez of Drew University presented their respective professional work, which examines the role of data in all aspects of planning. Students supplied questions about the challenges and trends the panelists face in their daily work and each professional delved into the emerging trends of user feedback, community influence, and data dominance. Each panelists spoke to the importance of recognizing the connection of tangential industries and sectors to the rapidly evolving world of urban planning. The Student Symposium provided undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of topics that impact the planning field.
The University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy and the Associated Students of Planning and Development would like to thank everyone who participated and volunteered to execute a wonderful event!
James Rojas is a globetrotting planner who developed Place It, a visualization method to engage the community in the urban planning process. Rojas lives in Alhambra, California. He is a member of the California Planning Roundtable and a founder and member of the Latino Urban Forum. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.