Inside Look: George Benson

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.

With SRC elections around the corner, the Inside Look series aims to answer the questions that potential SRC Executive Committee representatives may have and create greater awareness about student leadership within APA.

In the seventh and final post of this series, SRC Region V representative George Benson has the microphone turned on him, being interviewed by Region VI representative Lance MacNiven about being involved in APA as a Canadian, climate change, and resiliency planning.

Lance MacNiven: Hello George, how are things your way?

George Benson: Hey Lance! I am doing great! Just handed in the first draft of my thesis yesterday, so, I am feeling pretty happy!

Lance: I'm sure that's a weight off your shoulders. Where are you going to/went to school?

George: Is it ever ... I am just finishing my Master's in Planning at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia. I'm a bit of a funny one in the SRC in that I am also a Canadian, going to a Canadian school.

Lance: That is interesting, I'm sure many people were unaware that there are APA-affiliated schools outside of the U.S. With that being said, you are a SRC representative, what region do you represent and why did you get involved in the SRC?

George: Yeah, it all depends on how your school is accredited. UBC is accredited both here in Canada and through the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) in the United States.

I represent Region 5, which includes the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, parts of the Midwest down to New Mexico, and all of Western Canada. Within the SRC, I also sit on the Communications sub-committee (with you, of course!).

With regards to joining the SRC: I used to be the President of the UBC Planning Students Association and we started getting more and more involved with national initiatives here in Canada, and then saw that the United States was an area we were really underrepresented. After the Seattle conference, particularly after meeting Ellen, I decided that the SRC would be a nice way for me to continue being involved after my time as President ended. At the core of it all, I just wanted to be involved in making the profession more approachable for young people and help us chart what our collective future looks like; if that's not grandiose.

Lance: That's awesome! I never knew about you serving as president of your school's organization.

George: Yeah, it was a really incredible experience.

Lance: Speaking of experience, what kind of work are you doing now? Do you plan on staying in Canada?

George: I actually just took a job with the Vancouver Economic Commission. I'll be following up on a few projects that I have worked with them in the past, mostly around sustainable economic growth and kick-starting local industries. I plan to work abroad here and there over the next few years, but long-term I know I'll be staying in Canada. We'll see what happens in the future.

Lance: Congrats! Great to see planners transition into the profession after graduation. While it would be great to have you move to the U.S., I like having a place to crash if I ever go North =).

George: Always welcome! Canada and I would love to have you!

Lance: On that point, planning issues are generally local - but there are some themes that transcend national boundaries. What are some of the challenges you see for the planning profession in the future?

George: Definitely. Canada and the United States have many of the same urban challenges, and of course, as a profession, we all work within a somewhat similar context.

By trade I tend to think of myself as a "climate planner," and so that's the overarching challenge that all North American cities and planners will have to face up to. Climate change is really an overarching category, though, and feeds into numerous aspects of the things that cities will face: financial limitations of our current urban governance systems, our aging infrastructure systems (many of which are designed for an outmoded economic and social paradigm), the decline of natural systems that run through many cities, poverty, equity, and on and on.

Lance: Ahh, great points. I also believe that resiliency planning (in relation to climate change) will have to be a priority, or at least integrated into some of our older models of planning. I think a lot of (planning) schools are taking charge with this by creating curriculum that emphasizes sustainability in our practice.

We're the planners of tomorrow and we'll be taking the place of many aging and retiring planners in the near future. What do you think we (as young planners) are doing and bringing to the table that is different from the previous generation of planners?

George: Our school's past director, Bill Reese, was one of the inventors of the "Ecological Footprint" mode for measuring environmental impacts. We're very much imbued with those values from day one.

Related to that, I think planners today are being given a lot of those kinds of values as the basis of their practice, where in days gone past, they may have been "nice to haves." Put another way: a zoning planner has to think about equity, sustainability, know something about climate change, feminism, and so on. It's not enough to be "just" a technician, since we recognize that everything is value laden.

Lance: True! I definitely see a more holistic approach to planning as well. Switching gears back to the SRC/APA - How do you see yourself being involved in the APA, say in 5–10 years?

George: Absolutely! Being involved with the APA has been a totally life-changing experience. The values of this organization and the incredible people involved have absolutely made me want to stay involved. I'm interested in getting involved in the International division (naturally), and the Sustainable Communities division. In particular, I'd love to be able to help encourage more collaboration between the APA and the Canadian Institute of Planners — we all face so many similar challenges, it'd be amazing to keep the dialogue open.

Lance: I think that you would be a great ambassador for those, and based off of this discussion — it only makes sense to pursue those divisions since they align with your interests.

George: Thanks, Lance. I appreciate that.

Lance: Lastly, what would you tell those students (that are probably drowning in essays and projects) that are interested in being involved with the SRC in the future?

George: Firstly, do it. Run for a position, volunteer with the committee in another capacity, become a state representative. Jump in with both feet! Secondly, continuity is going to be key for the success of the SRC, we need people to continue building on the work you and I and the rest of the SRC have been doing, and to take that forward into what the future needs, as well!

Please, come talk to us, email us, give us a phone call and we'll look at what we can do together.

Thanks again for this interview, Lance!

Lance: No problem George — eh! (had to do it)

Top image: Thickstock Photo

May 1, 2017