Inside Look: A Conversation with APA Student Leaders is a series of conversations with current SRC Executive Committee representatives. The purpose of the series is to spotlight each of the representatives by providing their background, their role(s) in APA, and advice to future committee members.
In the fourth post of this series, SRC Region V representative George Benson discusses the current funding environment for planning projects, the importance of student leadership, and the value of involvement in APA with SRC Region VI representative Lance MacNiven.
George: Hey Lance, how are you doing today?
Lance: I'm doing well — it's raining here in LA, so that's always good
George: What's with the West Coast today? We have snow up here right now.
Lance: I guess Mother Nature decided to finally give us some loving too!
George: Fair enough. Haha. So, giving people the basics on you: you're the Region VI representative for the Student Representative Council Executive Committee. And you went to UCLA, right?
Lance: Yes, I recently graduated — June 2016 — from UCLA with my master's in Urban and Regional Planning with a focus in transportation planning and policy.
George: When you were at UCLA, were you involved in the Planning Student Organization there?
Lance: I was. I didn't have a role in the leadership, but I attended meetings here and there, and I helped with the logistics for UCLA's APA Student Symposium.
George: That's cool. Just in speaking with some of the other SRC members, there are clearly a few different routes to getting involved in something like the SRC, even if you had no formal position in the PSO at the start.
What was it that made you want to join the SRC?
Lance: I thought about joining the SRC after attending NPC in Seattle. I met a lot of students from planning schools across the country, and it was great to hear about their schools, what they were doing, and what was going on in the cities that they came from.
Being involved on a local level with the APA is great, but I really wanted to network and meet students from other places.
George: Awesome! And from that: what kind of connections do you feel like you've made with students since you've joined?
Lance: Working with PSO representatives in my region has given me a snapshot of what is going on in other parts of the state. We communicate via email and can usually touch base at the APA California [Chapter] or National Planning Conference. For students in other areas of the country, I reach out and connect via other SRC reps or directly at NPC.
I think that's really representative of the work of our particular cohort on the SRC Executive Committee: trying to link together different student associations across the country in new and lasting ways.
George: Where do you feel like most of the value in being active in the SRC comes from? Is it these new connections, a service to the profession in a different way, or something else?
Lance: I think the most value is ensuring that students have a voice at the table.
Students are the APA leaders of tomorrow — in 20 years, we'll be the board members of the APA, the planning managers, and project managers that facilitate projects. It is important that the ideas that we have and the things that we are doing are being brought up to APA leadership to ensure that we inherit something that is useful and valuable.
George: I think that's crucially important, yes. And speaking to the meetings that we have a lot of the time, that kind of long-term perspective is often what we in the SRC ExCom are trying to speak to.
How do we ensure the viability of our profession? How do we ensure that we are reducing barriers to people realizing the good that planning can bring? I think we all like those questions a lot. And I'm sure that means something unique to you now as a practicing planner, right? What is your job right now?
Lance: Correct. I'm a transportation planner for WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff — soon to be "WSP" — in Los Angeles, California.
George: Did you walk into that pretty quickly after graduation?
Lance: I did. I was actually interning here for about a year before graduation!
George: There's an interesting trend of SRC folks landing jobs before they graduate. Either especially cool, motivated people are naturally drawn to this place, or APA leadership lends itself to a broader recognition in the field.
So, from what I remember, you studied transportation planning at UCLA, right? When you look at that field today, either in LA, or across the United States, what do you see as some of the big challenges facing it? Financing, climate change, changing demographics?
Lance: I'd say all of the above, but I think a lot of it is geographically related. Here in LA, we have great funding mechanisms for transportation projects (we tax ourselves), but I can't say the same in other places.
I'm also unsure of what's going to happen with our new president. He hates regulations and loves infrastructure, but is against increased taxes and has shown a disdain for public entities. That said, I'm unsure of how that's going to impact federal funding for transit projects and how that may impact our jobs on the private side. Many planners work on the environmental side, what's going to happen when regulations get cut? Will we still have a purpose?
I have lots of questions, and I guess only time will tell what happens to transportation (and planning as a whole).
George: Do you think that these are reflective of challenges to the planning profession as a whole? Is this current turn against regulation part of a larger trend against experts, as some people might suggest? Or do you think new problems or opportunities could emerge in the near term?
Lance: I have no idea. *Kanye shrug* I'm trying to stay optimistic though.
George: That's fair. That's a big question.
Lance: This became political fast.
George: Nah, this is good! We want people to know the real us and the things that keep us up at night! So, you've been involved with the SRC for over a year now. You've made a network and seen a lot more of the profession that most other people would have. How do you see yourself carrying on with that in the future? Will you ever run for another position again, maybe in a chapter or a division?
Lance: I've really enjoyed my term with the SRC. At the SRC, I've assisted with a wide range of goals and tasks. Moving forward, I'd like to run for positions that are more specific to fields that I'm interested in, such as transportation.
George: Maybe a division council then?
George: Very cool. I hope to see your name on a ballot soon, then!
To close off, do you want to offer any advice to anyone thinking of joining the SRC in the future?
Lance: Have a good time and just be sure to keep in touch with all of the reps in your region!
Top image: Lance MacNiven presenting his capstone project to Dr. Brian Taylor at UCLA's Careers, Capstones, and Conversations: A Networking Event. Photo courtesy UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.