RMLUI 2017 - Creating Inclusive Communities

by Brandon Cammarata, AICP

The RMLUI event always seems up to the task of bringing great sessions, a well-organized professional event and a chance to see colleagues from across the west.  RMLUi is a great partner for Western Planner, and I am fortunate to represent the Western Planner at this event.

The 2017 conference is the is 26th Annual for RMLUI. The event ran Thursday and Friday, March 16 and 17 at the University of Denver Strum School of Law, located about eight miles south of Downtown Denver.  The conference offers a lot of content with six concurrent sessions, and the sessions carry AICP credits including law and ethics credits.  Categories of sessions included Creating Inclusive Communities, Density and Urban Growth, Housing, Hot Topics, Legal Developments, Planning Tools, Transportation, and Water.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet was the keynote speaker to kick-off the conference Thursday morning.  Senator Bennet offered thoughts on the interesting times in Washington DC, the continued tightening of resources and took questions from the audience.  The Senator talked about the challenges the polarized political environment create.   The Senator suggested there are fewer and fewer shared facts making tough discussions even harder.  

The conference also offered two lunchtime plenary sessions.  An excellent lunch is provided to enjoy a discussion on macro trends in the economy, planning, and zoning.  This plenary session featured Don Elliot, FAICP a Director of Clarion Associates, William Anderson VP Director of City and Regional Planning at AECOM and Andrew Nelson, Chief Economist for Colliers International.  The second plenary featured a fun discussion on autonomous vehicles with discussion from Arthur C. Nelson, Ph.D., FAICP Professor of Planning and Real Estate Development at the University of Arizona and Larry Head a Professor of Systems and Industrial Engineering and Director of the Arizona Transportation Research Institute at the University of Arizona.  The plenary provided an overview of the state of the technology and some exciting research projects.

Some things stand out for me at this conference.  First, this is a conference at a law school, so there is more of a legal, real estate and development take on some topics which I appreciate and also creates a more diverse list of attendees.  There are always sessions on relevant and or interesting cases ruled on over the last year across the West.   I also think the conference always does an excellent job trying to address water in the West which does not happen very often at planning conferences.  There are a handful of sessions on water that offers a great resource.

One of my favorite sessions is the panel of planning directors from the Denver Metro area.  I have a lot of respect for the talent, experience, and expertise of the group and it is fun to hear these folks speak openly about what they are working on and the challenges they are facing. In a lot of cases, it is somewhat reassuring to hear they face similar challenges to a lot of other communities across the west though perhaps on a different scale.  Then, of course, they have some different challenges as well.  What struck me this year was the sense of urgency which they expressed the need for regional cooperation along the Front Range to make for logical and effective use of limited resources.

I was also struck this year by the work occurring on affordable housing in the West.  Affordable housing is becoming a wider spread problem and will probably continue to grow.  I was intrigued by the new utilizations of land trusts as a tool for affordable housing (groundedsolutions.org).  Also, the increasing utilization of linkage fees as a revenue tool to help address affordable housing.

Lastly, I took some thoughts about neighborhood revitalization and success stories on revitalizing neighborhoods lacking resources.  I think this will continue to be an evolving topic as communities with neighborhoods built after WWI are starting to show their age.  The success stories have a common thread being effective public engagement and empowerment.

Brandon Cammarata, AICP is a planning professional since 2003 including over 13 years with the City of Cheyenne.  He has extensive experience writing and implementing design standards.  He as worked on innovative economic development projects and dealt with the complexities of managing multiple divisions at a municipality. He serves on the Western Planning Resources Board.

Published in the April 2017 issue of The Western Planner

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