The American Institute of Certified Planners in a nutshell

Outside the Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Texas at Austin - a place where I spent many hours during my Masters studies and later preparing for the AICP exam.

Outside the Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Texas at Austin – a place where I spent many hours during my Masters studies and later preparing for the AICP exam.

In my last post, I mentioned that I had been busy finishing up my professional development credit hours for my American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) credential. In case you’ve never heard of the AICP, here’s a brief summary:

What is it?

Pretty much anyone who is not an urban planner in America probably hasn’t heard of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). In the United States, the AICP for planners is a kind of like the Professional Engineer (PE) licensure for engineers or the PLA designation for licensed landscape architects. In a nutshell, an American Institute of Certified Planner has a combination of education and professional experience related to planning, a commitment to ethical conduct and professional development, has passed the AICP exam, and is a member of the American Planning Association.

How do you become an AICP?

To be eligible to take the exam to become an American Institute of Certified Planner, one has to be a current member of the American Planning Association, be working as a professional planner, and have completed a combination of education requirements and number of years working as a professional planner working in a variety of areas.

In my case, with a Masters of Science degree in Community and Regional Planning, I had to complete at least two years of professional planning experience in order to be eligible to apply to take the AICP exam. Those planners with a bachelor degree in planning, a degree in another discipline, or no university degree have to complete between four – eight years of professional planning experience to be eligible to take the exam.

Within my professional planning work, I had to demonstrate in my application to take the AICP exam that I had worked on projects in the following areas (verification by my employers was also required):

(1)  Apply a planning process appropriate to the situation (e.g. in plan making and implementation, functional areas of practice such as infrastructure and transportation or food systems planning, natural resources, etc. and/or research, analysis, and teaching).

(2)  Employ an appropriately comprehensive view.

(3)  Involve a professional level of responsibility and resourcefulness.

(4)  Influence public decision making in the public interest.

Once my application to the AICP was accepted, I was eligible to take a comprehensive exam regarding:

  • Planning history
  • Planning theory
  • Ethics and the AICP professional code of conduct
  • Planning law
  • Plan making and implementation (quantitative analysis, demographics, fiscal impact analysis, environmental impact analysis, etc.)
  • Functional areas of practice (natural resource and environmental quality, energy, transportation, housing, land use regulations, etc.)
  • Spatial areas of planning (regional planning, corridor planning, neighborhood planning, etc.)
  • Public participation and social justice
  • Emerging issues and trends (e.g. food systems planning).

I studied for and took the exam during the spring of 2010 while I was in Austin, Texas waiting for my visa to Spain to be processed. It worked out well to do this in Austin because I was able to use the resources at the University of Texas at Austin Architecture and Planning Library to prepare for the exam—a place I was very familiar with from doing my Masters studies there. After passing the exam, I was invited to become an American Institute of Certified Planner, with accompanying annual membership dues and professional development responsibilities (completion of 32 hours of approved AICP continuing education credits every two years).

Why bother with it anyway?

In the United States, an AICP planner is recognized as a professional with a solid educational background, a high degree of experience, and a commitment to ethical conduct as well as continuing professional development. Many advertisements for senior level planner positions contain “AICP preferred” in the list of qualifications.

I am currently living in Europe where the AICP is not very well known, if it all. I have been taking a little career break since the birth of my son and I was not sure if it was worth it to keep up my AICP membership due to the expense of annual dues to the American Planning Association (APA) and the AICP as well as the required professional development hours.

In the end, I decided to keep up my membership for the following reasons:

  • Preparing for the AICP exam was a considerable investment of time and money. I do not want my membership to lapse and have to pay for and do the whole thing over again later on.
  • I enjoy doing the continuing education credits because it keeps me up-to-date on current planning issues and trends.
  • If and when my husband and I decide to return to the United States, I want a shot at those “AICP preferred” positions as well!

There’s the AICP explanation I promised…hope it wasn’t too boring! In the next posts I will share some of my favorite things I learned doing my professional development credits. This includes highlights from the Walk21 and Velo-City conferences and more…


Back in Spain…AICP credits done!

snapshot from rural Washington: though these bikes have seen better days, I'd bet on them more than that bus any day...

snapshot from rural Washington: though these bikes have seen better days, I’d bet on them more than that bus any day…

It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to write a blog entry. In March and April, my husband, son, and I went to the United States to visit friends and family. We spent most of our time in the Seattle, Washington area with a week on the Olympic Peninsula with my parents, a weekend in Portland, Oregon, and then a few days down in southern California with my sister and her family.

It was a whirlwind trip and a bit exhausting traveling with a sixteen month-old who had to adjust to jetlag, but all in all, we had a great time and hope to get back to visit again soon! I took some photos of some interesting urban plan-nerd type things that I hope to post about in the near future.

Since we’ve been back, I’ve been busy logging and finishing up my 32 hours of professional development/continuing education credits for my American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) credential before the April 30th deadline. More about the AICP and some interesting tidbits I learned doing my professional development credits in the next post.

For Ronan and Emily

Two Fridays ago I attempted to revise part II of the series about bike parking that I wrote two years ago. In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to care about something as trivial as bike parking once I learned that Ronan, my childhood classmate Emily Rapp’s son, died in the early hours of the morning on Friday, February 15th.

Ronan was just shy of his third birthday, but his health had been steadily deteriorating since he was diagnosed with Tay Sachs—a rare and fatal disease—two years ago. Although I never knew Ronan personally and haven’t seen Emily since our playground days in Laramie, Wyoming, Emily’s photos of, writings about, and love for her son have touched me and countless others around the globe. I am filled with sadness that her gorgeous baby boy shared such a short time with us here on earth.

I couldn’t stop my tears that Friday night thinking about Ronan and Emily, and I felt compelled to try to write something in hope of clarifying all of the emotions that were swelling up in me. I don’t exactly call myself a writer (this is just my third blog entry in two years, after all) and I fear my intentions will eclipse my abilities to express my feelings coherently—kind of like when I’ve tried to sketch something beautiful that I’ve seen and it turns out fairly mediocre. For this, I apologize.

Through Emily’s writings and facebook posts, it is easy to see her love and care for her son. Beyond things like looking for better medicine to treat his seizures, I was impressed by how she did everything she could to bring him comfort and joy during his last days—things like seeking out harpists to play him music and creating a cozy nest for him surrounded by stuffed animals and handmade quilts. In the end, though, I imagine one of the most comforting things for Ronan was to be held by his mommy, and if he was still able to, to smell her and hear her voice—a voice that he knew from the time when he was in the womb.

I also understand this love on an instinctual level as a mother. When I was pregnant with my son, I knew that I would love him, but I wasn’t ready for how overpowering a feeling it would be once he was born. I wasn’t prepared for the hours of not sleeping—not because I was trying to get him to sleep, but because I was watching him breathe, admiring his long eyelashes and feeling the warmth of his little body snuggled next to mine. I never thought I would love a little person so much—as I envision Emily loves her Ronan.

With all that love also comes an incredible sense of vulnerability and possibility of loss. It’s the other thing that keeps me up at night—it is why I cried nearly every time I read a post by Emily, why I cried when I heard about the shootings at Newtown, and why I can’t watch movies like Life is Beautiful anymore. It is why I feel especially heartbroken about Ronan’s suffering with Tay Sachs disease and the pain and loss his parents have endured. And it is why I think Emily is one of the bravest persons I’ve ever encountered.

I don’t know what happens to people when they die, but I like to think that Ronan, wherever his soul or spirit is, still feels the warmth and comfort of his mother’s loving arms rocking him gently down to sleep.

Rest in peace, sweet Ronan, thank you for touching my heart. And for Emily and Ronan’s father, Rick Louis, and all those who loved and knew Ronan—sending you all the love, courage, and hope in the world.


Below is a relato or short story written by Eduardo Galeano that was read at my wedding. I came across it again yesterday afternoon and the last phrase made me think of Emily and Ronan: “others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.” I see vibrant light and beauty in both Emily and Ronan, which became ever more brilliant when reflected between the two of them.

Many beautiful photos of Emily and Ronan are posted on their facebook pages. Here are some of my favorites that capture their beautiful light and energy: Emily kissing Ronan (July 2012), Ronan grabbing his mommy’s nose (March 2011), Beautiful Ronan (July 2012)


A man from the town of Neguá, on the coast of Colombia, could climb into the sky.

On his return, he described his trip. He told how he had contemplated human life from on high. He said we are a sea of tiny flames.

“The world,” he revealed, “is a heap of people, a sea of tiny flames.”

Each person shines with his or her own light. No two flames are alike. There are big flames and little flames, flames of every color. Some people’s flames are so still they don’t even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks. Some foolish flames neither burn nor shed light, but others blaze with life so fiercely that you can’t look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire.

—Eduardo Galeano, from The Book of Embraces translated from the Spanish by Cedric Belfrage


In search of a third place

When I started this blog two years ago, I had a list of possible topics that I intended to write about on a weekly basis. But…let’s just say that life happened and I left off after publishing just one entry. In the mean time, I got married, had a baby, and have been busy with my little one since then. Now, I’m finally getting back to this blog and I would really like to make it a weekly activity if possible. I think when I started this blog I was a little intimidated to publish something online and thought it had to be perfect. But, really, when I think about it I can’t imagine anyone actually reading this anyway. It’s really just a place for me to record and explore topics that interest me in the context of my life and experiences as an urban planner, mother, and expat in Madrid.

At the moment my husband is feeding our baby his ‘cerienda’—a combination of an afternoon snack (merienda) and dinner (cena). I’ve escaped to the local library branch, which for right now is my chosen third place—not home, not work, but a public place where I can have some quiet time to work. I would love it if it had a more of a café vibe, but the local bakery café near our home doesn’t have wifi or really much seating aside from the outside seating on the terraza that can be a little cold and filled with cigarette smoke.

Looking back at the last entry, I mentioned that we were lucky that we have a trastero where we can store our bicycles. Though I still feel fortunate to have that space available, on my way walking here I was wishing that our apartment complex actually had some secure outdoor bike parking. Just the matter of going down to the trastero and carrying my bicycle up the stairs is enough extra effort for me that I opt to walk places instead of bothering with the bicycle. For that matter, I wish the streets on the way to the library—that pass by the local school—had bike lanes. I really LOVE the feeling of riding a bicycle so much more than the slow pace of walking. If we end up staying here in Madrid, I wonder if its Plan Director de Movilidad Ciclista will ever get implemented so that my son can experience the joys of riding around his city on two wheels and we can have the peace of mind to let him explore the world on his own. I hope so…

Well, it’s time to head back home to put the ‘lil one to bed. I’ll try to post something next week when I return to the library—next time I have to remember to bring my wallet with my library card—I’m bummed I can’t check out the video “Chico y Rita” that I’ve been wanting to see for some time. ¡vaya!

bike parking for apartment dwellers


la latina, madrid

Living in small apartments over the years, I’ve learned to be creative with finding places to store my two-wheeled friend. In my last place in Seattle, I put down a deposit as soon as the landlord showed me the shared bike room in the basement. While it wasn’t more than a closet with bikes stacked upon each other, it did mean that I wasn’t lugging my bike upstairs to lock it up on a shared balcony or tripping over it when I got out of bed. Here in Madrid, we’re fortunate to have a small trastero (storage room) in our basement where we can keep our bikes when we’re not touring around.

Other folks aren’t so lucky. In Spain, the 2009 Barómetro Annual de la Bicicleta survey suggests that adequate bike parking is a common concern: over 20 percent of bicyclists surveyed reported a bicycle theft on at least one occasion and over 90 percent agreed that public and private facilities lack bicycle parking. Pablo Leon, who blogs at I love bicis, describes in the post ‘me molestas’ his conflicts with neighbors about bike parking both inside and outside of his apartment building in Madrid.

Bicyclists in other large cities complain about an absence of secure bike parking as well. My brother talked about getting a bike for years, but was deterred by the six flights of stairs (no elevator) and shortage of space in his small, shared apartment in New York City. He finally invested in a folding bike—he still has to haul it up all those stairs, but at least it doesn’t take up so much space once he’s home. Since he got it, he’s been bike commuting regularly and has even been talking about getting studded tires for the winter snow.

In 2009, New York City adopted code amendments requiring new apartment buildings (with 10 units or more) and some renovations of existing apartment buildings to provide secure indoor bicycle parking. While this is a welcome change, what about people like my brother who live in older buildings or other folks who live in other cities that don’t have these requirements? Learn more in the next post…