American Planning Association

North Carolina Chapter

Message from our President

Kenneth Bowers, AICP

Chapter President

President’s Message for January 2017

This is my first “President’s Message” since taking over the reins from John Morck with the New Year. I am honored to be serving in this role, and want to thank John for his leadership and for working with me to ensure a smooth transition. Our chapter begins this year in excellent shape, with an engaged and growing membership, talented and dedicated committee members, and a strong track record of delivering great programs and a string of successful chapter conferences. Our chapter’s Sections are as active as they have ever been, helping to distribute CM opportunities and networking events across the state’s diverse geography.

The robust health of the North Carolina Chapter is good news, because we are entering times which are likely to throw a number of unforeseen challenges our way. I would guess that many of us were surprised by the results of the November elections, although some of our rural colleagues are probably less surprised than those of us who work in the larger cities. From what’s been revealed so far, the new administration in Washington promises pretty big changes in how the federal government approaches issues that are a focus of our profession, including climate change, housing, transportation, and how we finance and build infrastructure and manage public assets.

At the state level, we have a new governor, but one that has assumed office with significantly weaker powers than his predecessor. The majority party in the general assembly has retained a veto-proof majority and has reasserted “advise and consent” authority over the new governor’s cabinet appointments, throwing the leadership of important state agencies into doubt. Already the executive and legislative branches are embroiled in litigation.

The past year was also a significant year for natural disasters, from wildfires in the west to the record flood waters of Hurricane Matthew in the east. We are no longer waiting a hundred years for a hundred year storm, or even a five-hundred year storm. Community resilience, hazard mitigation, and disaster recovery have never been more important.

So, we are in a time of considerable uncertainty. I would argue that these new realities make local government all the more important, as making progress on issues such as housing and climate change will be increasingly up to counties and cities. Our profession has to step up in this new environment to preserve past progress and fight for further progress in what may be a difficult environment.

A consistent theme of the 2016 port-mortem is the growing urban-rural divide, which is very evident in the economic and demographic trends in our state. APA-NC has focused heavily on urban issues, where the majority of the state’s population now lives, and where most of the growth is occurring. However, the contentiousness of the 2016 elections can be explained in part by the fact that traditional politics had little to offer places struggling with job loss, unemployment, stagnant wages, and disinvestment.

I’m glad to see that our conference this year is going to Greenville, and while the location is a change from recent conferences, I think this is a unique opportunity for us to focus as planners on the issues and opportunities facing eastern North Carolina, which is ground zero for the type of economic dislocation that is shaping politics in the state and nation. We are fortunate that we have members in every type of community in this state, from rural counties, to small towns, to major cities. Our membership is a great asset that will help us focus on what our profession can do to bring greater prosperity to these places.

A lot of our programs are already a good fit for this evolving mission, including Great Places in North Carolina and Planning for Prosperity. As you know, one of my focuses will be revitalizing the PART program, and I think there is a lot of good our chapter can do as local communities look for a way forward in the new environment. We have made tremendous strides in urban issues in this state: our cities are creating 21st century jobs, downtowns are thriving, and we are making new investments in transit and active transportation. While we need to continue to build on this progress, we also need to focus on how to better link urban and rural prosperity.

We have very challenging times ahead as a chapter, but I am confident we can rise to these challenges and make a difference for North Carolina. I look forward to serving as your Chapter President.