Urban Planning Trends at the APA’s 2011 Conference

Background on the APA 2011 Conference

I just returned from the American Planning Association’s 2011 Conference where I volunteered to run the Twitter table. Upon the return, I wanted to identify urban planning trends that were being discussed at the conference. Last year, I was able to suck down all of the conference tweets a few days after the conference. This year, there were so many APA conference tweets that Twitter cut me off after sucking down 1312 tweets. So I only have the last 1312 tweets sent by 203 planners between April 10th through April 13th (even though the conference technically started on April 8th). Next year if the APA ask me to run the Twitter table again, I’ll definitely set up an archival tool before the conference starts. That way we’ll have even better data to identify the urban planning trends.

Urban Planning Trends: 33 Thought Provoking Tweets

About 25% of APA2011 tweets were re-tweets (or interesting enough for someone else to forward on).

About 25% of APA2011 tweets were re-tweets (or interesting enough for someone else to forward on).

Below are 33 of the most re-tweeted tweets of the conference according to my limited dataset. I removed re-tweeted tweets that were sent about the conference itself, since a tweet saying “hey, come to my session” isn’t all that interesting now that the session is over.

If you don’t speak Twitter, retweeting a tweet is like forwarding an email. To translate the Twitter language below, “RT @arouault” means “I’m forwarding a tweet on from @arouault” (which is a person’s twitter handle–like an email address).

The stand out urban planning trends that I see from these 33 tweets are: social media & technology, food systems, open data, how to plan for shrinking communities, jobs & entrepreneurialism, and what role do planners serve in today’s economic climate. We can pretty confidently say that there is a population selection bias towards the topics of social media and technology–since planners on Twitter are inherently interested in, surprise, social media and technology.

33 Popular APA 2011 Tweets in Alphabetical Order

Again, please remember that I only have Twitter data from the last 2 days of the conference. There were great tweets the first 2 days of the conference, but alas, Twitter won’t let me access them.

  • RT @arouault: Urban ag at #apa2011 growth of small farms and New word ‘agripreneurism’! Vermonts’ CSA membership is 15xs national avg
  • RT @AurashKhawarzad “70% of public data is in private hands.”(Ben De La Pena) #apa2011#ogov
  • RT @barrettlane: “No great town can long exist without great suburbs.” Reinvented AND Authentic? #APA2011
  • RT @barrettlane: MIT & OSU: cities need to take social media research seriously, but analysis methodology has room for improvement #APA2011
  • RT @cubitplanning Avg Twitterer: makes $50-75K, some college, age 35-44 http://bit.ly/cAAhpX #apa2011
  • RT @cvillian: The concept of “citizens, not consumers” is a part of the emerging “public value theory” in public administration.#apa2011
  • RT @CWSGroup: What are people looking for in a community now? Jobs, then qual of life. Via @vhb
    http://bit.ly/eLSuJj #econdev#apa2011
  • RT @d_rovillo Those communities who practice good planning will recover first #apa2011 opening keynote
  • RT @eclisham #apa2011 Idea: use tablets w/maps at community meetings; people can participate remotely, image can be projected for attendees.
  • RT @EvansCowley What’s Next for Planning Technology http://slidesha.re/fEHQdJ
  • RT @EvansCowley: as planners we need to push our attorneys and public officials to provide ways to use social media. #apa2011
  • RT @fkh: The rise of the IMMBY: I Mapped My Back Yard. http://bit.ly/eF3rU9 Thx, @theplacematters#APA2011
  • RT @georgiamoon: “data centric model to planning democratizes process” @Immerito #apa2011
  • RT @GrownInTheCity Conard: demand for local food in NYC exceeds supply by $800M annually #apa2011^al
  • RT @hborys “As far as I know, no one has cancelled the future.” Steve Freeman #APA2011
  • RT @hborys: plan w/ parking in 1st lot layer being paired with mixed use, and billed as place to live, work, play. Just don’t walk.#APA2011
  • RT @HollyStClair: Employment will return to 2008 levels in 2021.#apa2011
  • RT @jenhoverstad Transpo isn’t only about infrastructure-it’s about linking travel to community values, furthering value priorities#apa2011
  • RT @jenhoverstad: As a planner, you are a salesperson of ideas. Communication is a key skill. – Mitch Silver #apa2011
  • RT @jenhoverstad: Great advice – don’t ignore your strengths to improve your weaknesses. Continue to strengthen the strengths!#apa2011
  • RT @jenhoverstad: Planning isn’t always about growth. When Youngstown pop. declined, it managed sustainable change.#apa2011
  • RT @mhmcgrath: Sandel: the “skyboxification” of America has eroded the common civic life #apa2011 // The limiting of a shared experience
  • RT @PatternCities #Tacticalurbanism report covers soft infrastructure that can revitalize and repair cities.http://j.mp/eWeBqB #apa2011
  • RT @rachelalonso: Community gardens in Boston save families $400-500 a year. #apa2011
  • RT @sacwho: Conventional zoning is a Polaroid camera for a digital camera generation. #APA2011
  • RT @scotthallen: Mayor Menino: “The Planning Dept takes the hits bc they’re always coming up with crazy ideas.” …in a good way…#APA2011
  • RT @SeekingEcopolis: “Declining cities generally have enough infrastructure & housing; they need investment in PEOPLE.” Glaeser #apa2011
  • RT @shana_johnson: Menino: Boston growing faster than SF, NYC and Chicago. New economy based on collaboration not competition#apa2011
  • RT @skcopeland If you want a truly urban environment, you have to force structured parking – Lane Kendig#apa2011
  • RT @skcopeland What elements of today’s planning orthodoxy will be considered disasters in 2040? #apa2011
  • RT @stephenzank Future of Planning to include mashups of community created info from many different sources #APA2011#cplan via @autodeskAEC
  • RT @thebigrogowski: How do planners become more entrepreneurial as budgets tighten? #apa2011
  • RT @urbandata: Plan of the Month #DC Streetcar would add $10-15 billion in new real estate value http://ow.ly/4x4nR #CRE #cplan#apa2011

Charts of Urban Planning Trends Tweets

So that’s enough text. Let’s take a look at some charts. Here’s a representation of the most often used words in tweets at the conference. The more often a word was tweeted, the bigger it is in the word art. You, too, can turn your planning documents into word art using the awesome and free tool, Wordle.

Top Words in Urban Planning Trends Tweets

Click on the Image to Enlarge It

I removed a few terms like “#apa2011” and “&” to get the word weighting to come out right. Terms like Planning & Planners as well as conference terms like Session and Hynes (the name of the conference center) were repeated often. Social media terms like Twitter and Facebook appear as well. Food and ag terms also make the list. Planning terms like sustainability and suburbs make the list as well.

Another interesting chart is Top Users by Tweet Count. This is a chart showing the distribution of people tweeting at the conference. Of course, some folks tweet more often than others, but I was very happy to see the distribution of tweets coming from a large number of planners (203). Since there were over 5,000 planners that attended the APA 2011 conference and our dataset includes tweets from 203 different Twitter accounts, a back of the napkin percentage would be about 4% of the planners at the APA conference sent a tweet. This calculation and all of the data about should be considered just that–back of the napkin calculations. But I think they highlight some interesting urban planning trends and language used at the APA 2011 conference.


4% of Planners at the APA Conference sent a Tweet.
4% of Planners at the APA Conference sent a Tweet. Click to Enlarge.

All Tweets from the APA 2011 Conference

If you want to do your own urban planning trend analysis of tweets from the conference, or if you missed the conference and would like to review the Twitter transcript, I’ve uploaded all of 1312 tweets to Slideshare for your reading pleasure or analytical use. If you do take a closer look at these tweets, be sure and let me know what you think in the comments!

So are there any urban planning trends that surprised–either by being here or by not being here? What were the trends at the APA 2011 conference not captured by Twitter? Let me know in the comments.

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11 Responses to Urban Planning Trends at the APA’s 2011 Conference

  1. EvansCowley April 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    Love this blog post. A great way to sum up the conference. So happy to see such a significant increase in Twitter use during the conference. My favorite part was to be able to engage with discussion with others in the audience during sessions. And loved being able to catch up on the nuggets from sessions I was not able to attend.

  2. John Reinhardt April 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    This is an awesome analysis. Can’t wait to see what becomes of APA 2012. I was one of the few tweeters in New Orleans, and it was great to see everyone embracing and getting excited about the technology for Boston.

    Also, it was great meeting you! You really have a knack for explaining this technology to others.

  3. Georgia Bullen April 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    Thanks for this! Nice to meet you at the conference!

    It was really great to see the uptick from 2010 to 2011, I too am excited about 2012!

  4. arouault April 18, 2011 at 9:26 am #

    Thanks for publishing this — what a great look at twitter usage in the field. Check out my article recapping the conference and plannerly technology: made mention of you, this blog and the planning-twitter craze. http://urbanomnibus.net/2011/04/field-report-apa-conference-2011/

  5. Cliff Hague April 24, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    Thanks for this interesing piece. I have drawn on it to provide a commentary on the concerns of the tweeters at APA but from the vantage point of a planner from Europe. I write a weekly “World View” blog on http://www.planningresource.co.uk, and you can see my piece there: “Planning in the USA – tweet for nicer, greener suburbs”. I would be interested to get Comments on it from US planners, both those who were at APA in Boston and those who were not but can shed light on whether my arguments – basically that US planning is about suburbs rather than inner cities – stand up in their experience.

  6. Crystal Wilson April 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Cool! This is really a great idea. I’m laughing because those that are on the “top tweet” list are also the one’s reading this and commenting, too funny!

  7. Kristen Carney May 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    Interesting point! I wonder if there is a lesson to be learned here. I might hypothesize that if planners want more comments on their planning project blogs, they could write blog posts recognizing others for their good ideas? I definitely leave blog post comments when someone has linked back to Cubit in their post.


  8. Carolyn Torma July 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    This is fascinating. Twitter has taken off in such interesting ways and people are making such interesting observations. Thanks for bringing this to the conference and doing so much to make this work.


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