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Is the American Planning Association Too Greedy?

A great op-ed appeared today on Planetizen that questions the proposed American Institute of Certified Planners Certification Maintenance Program. The author, Leonardo Vazquez, AICP/PP, has this to say about the program:

The proposed Certification Maintenance program requires that planners get at least 48 credits of continuing education every two years to maintain their AICP status. That’s not a bad idea. But the way the APA is structuring the program is wrong on many counts. It will hinder fair competition, and most importantly, will fail to meet the goal of ensuring that AICP planners are more knowledgeable and current.

Under the Certification Maintenance program, at least half of the eligible credits have to come from APA or APA-sponsored programs. This means programs that APA produces itself or has a strong hand in producing. The rest can come from programs that are “registered” by APA. A quarter of the credits can come from “self-study” — which means reading books. AICP planners are not required to show that they’ve actually learned anything. They only need to prove that they showed up. Under the program, an AICP member can get 48 credits simply by going to the national conference every other year and “reading books”.

APA, which unveiled the proposal on December 9, will take comments until January 9. The Board of Directors is likely to vote on the proposal at its meeting in April.

I strongly encourage planners to read the entire article. Of course, I had to weigh in with my opinion. Here are some comments I left below the article:

Finally, someone else that is critical of the APA’s practices!

I know there are many great people with good intentions that work for the APA, but I often question the organization’s motives. In fact, I thought of creating a website and organization to rival the APA a few years ago but decided to go in a different route. Thankfully, Planetizen is serving that role quite well now. Part of the reason I wanted to create the site was the exuberant prices that the APA charges for most everything. I realize that they need money to function as a successful organization, but this article highlights another example of where I question their motives. I have considered attaining my AICP certification for a while now, and the biggest reason I haven’t is because I’m not sure if I would like to be affiliated with the APA. I think there are many many changes that need to happen in the planning profession and I feel if I speak out about them, I might lose my certification. And hence, money down the drain. I’ve also questioned why once you passed the AICP, you just pay your yearly fee to keep certification and that’s it. It kind of makes me wonder what the intent is – to have well-educated and well-rounded planners, or a grand scheme to keep people paying extra each year for this certification. I know that the salary survey they released a few months ago showed that those with AICP certification made considerably more money, but did the study take into account that those with AICP certification are likely to have more years work experience and are also more likely to seek out positions of power since they went through the trouble of passing the exam?

I commend you for bringing these issues to light, Mr. Vazquez. I certainly hope we are successful in changing the proposed guidelines for continuing education requirements.

A few other comments I wanted to make about the APA: I’ve been very frustrated that at recent conferences they’ve been having keynote speakers that effectively promote sprawl (or say it’s inevitable). The fact is, sprawl exists because the only real mode of transportation considered in the community design is the automobile. When, on average, 30% of citizens in a community do not have direct access to an automobile, sprawl land use types and lack of multi-modal transportation options should be made illegal. How dare they invite speakers that do not consider the needs of all members of the community? In my mind, it goes against the very ethics that the AICP Code of Ethics promotes.

Also, some of their “plan of the year” awards, after implementation, have turned out to be some of the worst sprawl I have ever witnessed in my life.

There are many great things about the APA, but it’s time to see some changes.

LATER, I weighed in again, responding to his reply to my comment:

I certainly understand your point. I wanted to add my few cents on the APA while I was on the subject. I knew that you were only critical of the changes. I was willing to take it a step further.

I also want to say that I don’t hate the APA. I love their magazines and journals, their website is an excellent resource, and I’ve worked with great APA leaders and members. I’m probably guessing that you’ve worked with James Rojas, who is one of the most talented planners in the profession.

I let my frustrations show that sometimes I feel planners are a bit too accepting of our profession as it is. I have often wondered if Burnham, Olmstead, Jacobs, and others would be supportive of the way the profession has progressed. When a large percentage of planners I encounter seem to either not care or not acknowledge serious issues like climate change, it worries me. The information you provided is just another example of ways that I see our profession taking steps backward.

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