A Call to Planners! Integrating Diversity + Planning: Recap of the 2016 American Planning Association CA Conference Diversity Summit

By Todd Nguyen

Todd Nguyen Blog_12-13-16

The 2016 APA CA conference held in October 2016 kicked off with its much-awaited Diversity Summit with this year’s theme, ‘Changing Faces, Places, and Planning in California’. The distinguished panel included a breadth of experience including Hilda Blanco of USC, George Davis of the California African Museum, David McNeil of Baldwin Hills Conservancy, Brian Mooney of RICK Engineering, and Todd Nguyen of WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff. Anna Vidal of City of Los Angeles and Veronica Siranosian of AECOM moderated the panel.

The panel proved to be a lively focused discussion of integrating diversity in planning all through various lenses of those with just a few years of professional experience to others who are community leaders with decades of experience. Nguyen was the freshest face on the panel by bringing new-aged concepts of how he sees integrating diversity in planning. He shares that here.

I grew up as a second generation Vietnamese-American whose parents fled during the time of the Vietnam War and was raised in the suburban enclaves of California’s San Fernando Valley. My approach to diversity stems from growing up with friends of all ethnic backgrounds and unconsciously developed ‘color blindness’. Color blindness is typically a disadvantageous trait and diagnosed as someone unable to differentiate certain colors from one another. I advocate Planners to understand this disadvantage as I believe it’s the cornerstone of successful planning for diverse communities.

Being color blind removes the superficial layer of someone’s skin tone and see a person living in a community. I facetiously say communities can be green, purple, or blue; at the end of the day, Planners are to plan for people and their needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a famous psychology concept that can help Planners better understand people. It begins as a triangle with varying elements of what a person needs beginning with the base as physiological needs like food and shelter to the very top of the pyramid as self- actualization or better known as “What’s my purpose in life?” I believe Planners role is to be a surrogate for these needs like providing food access opportunities, outreach, transportation planning, and more.

For anyone in the Planning industry, a pre-requisite into the field is the inherent need to help people by shaping communities to achieve their goals and needs. Actively being color blind to some appears to be regressive, but I’m convinced that by removing the colored lenses and seeing people as people, we can plan for all communities, ethnically and generationally. Being color blind comes with its consequences as others will continue to have cultural bias, and we do our best to empathize and understand those around us. As planners, we must understand that people are subconsciously compartmentalizing the world around them through labels.

Integrating diversity in planning is not only looking at ethnic boundaries, but also generationally. Planners can implement color blindness to plan for generations. After removing the colored lenses, we must utilize Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) or Design to plan for communities and be the approach of choice. Planners are to see CSS as an imaginary planning toolbox including best practices, historical case studies, planning concepts like grid design and planned communities, and more. Planners are perceived as highly observant professionals, and we must use best judgment to apply the appropriate tools for a given community.
Diversity across generations is equally as important as millennials are the next largest workforce. We are in unique time frame of embodying 5 generations starting from Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Radio Babies. The diversity of a multi-generational community is in keeping of color blindness as this includes all people. An example is the rise of active transportation like bicycle and pedestrian facilities. This mode shift is one of the greatest pivots planning has experienced in recent years as there are numerous State and Federal initiatives like Active Transportation Grants, Safe Routes to School, and First-/Last- mile connectivity.

Diversity will continue to remain as the cornerstone of planning, and it’s critical that Planners collaborate on a broad spectrum across the spectrum and generationally. Color blindness serves as a method to see the world around us and contribute to a long lasting future for successful planning in diverse communities.


This editorial was provided by Todd Nguyen, Transportation & Environmental Planner for  WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff and is entirely his opinion. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author on this web site do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the IES-APA Board and Members.