Question for my readers

I am debating about consolidating my Urban Regional Planning Blog with my “Nutshell Cracked Open” blog.  The main reason is due to the fact that my views on Urban Planning and Cities in general are as much a part of my “Nutshell” if you will, as anything else.  Well, maybe not as much as my faith.  But it could be a good conversation starter.  At any rate, I wanted to grab your feedback before I made my final decision.  So what do you guys think? (PS. I will consider “likes as a vote for “yes, consolidate”‘

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Coastal change and the inland folk

 

Beach at Pacific Coast

Beach at Pacific Coast (Photo credit: Frank Kehren)

Reports are in. There is empirical and substantial evidence that our coasts are changing. Sea level rise aggravates the impact of relatively minor storms such as tropical storms and category 1 hurricanes. As exemplified recently in the North East coasts, the devastation for coastal communities can be and is catastrophic.  People lose their homes, lands, friends, family and even their own lives.  This is said not to be morbid but rather to present an ever present reality.  If planners and coastal communities remain with the present development mentality, this kind of senseless catastrophic loss will only continue. But wait, what does this have to do with inland communities? Everything.

One of the best advices for coastal communities is to focus their development farther from the coasts.  In other words, go inland.  And with over 50% of US populations living near the coasts, this shift presents several problems. For starters, how will our current transportation infrastructure handle the added impact of this increase in volume?  It is no secret that our

Transportation

Transportation (Photo credit: steam_rocket)

transportation plexus is being out passed by population growth and the pervasive reliance on the automobile is negating planning efforts to diversify transportation options in order to alleviate this problem. There is a limit to how much our roads can handle, and the automobile, for all its glory, consumes too much space.  This will only be exacerbated when coastal communities finally start moving inland. But our road network is not the only problem; housing also becomes a very real and lacking resource. Presently, there is a dearth of affordable housing in the United States.  As more people are impacted by the effects of sea level rise and coastal change, people are going to need homes inland, and these homes will need to be affordable.  Current credit restrictions have the potential to further complicate obtaining homes for people who are displaced.

The solution is not a simple one.  The complexity of the situation demands a fairly complex solution. But it starts with public education of the current trend of coastal change.  Because the fact that this catastrophic impact is felt most on the coast, does not mean that it won’t affect the rest of us who live inland, and to be blindsided by politics, laziness, and selfishness can be just as catastrophic, not just for the few, but for all of us.

Sexy Bus? Oh yeah

English: Toronto Transit Commission bus on Ric...

It’s not to difficult to see that our public transportation on average is creativity deficient. Almost to the point where a person can start to wonder whether “creativity” and “mass transportation” even belong in the same sentence.  But the Danish have demonstrated that indeed “creativity” and “mass transit” do belong in the same sentence.  Check out this video to see what I mean:

http://youtu.be/acq5CGbUgfs

So you want to go to a conference? Tips (mainly for students)

This is where the APA conference was held

Recently I had a great opportunity to go to the American Planning Association (APA) conference in Los Angeles, California.  The experience was outstanding!

First of all, I was able to attend seminars and workshops with speakers from all over the United States.  I tended to go to the lectures that pertained mostly to transportation since I am a transportation nut; however, there were lectures there for everyone.  Some of these lectures focused on environmental issues, other on planning policies, and yet others on historical preservation.  In short, there was something for everyone.

This is the Disney Concert Hall. The architect is Frank Ghary. I actually got to go inside and explore. More pictures are found at my photo blog 🙂

Second of all, I was in California for a weekend.  I was able to go to places like Pasadena, Union Station (transportation nut remember, of course I’m going to go visit Union Station), Downtown LA, and more.  I also experienced awesome architecture such as the Disney Concert Hall by Frank Ghary.

Third of all, I got to meet great people from all over the US.  The conference was a great place for me to make connections with planners from big cities and small cities.  We conversed about planning issues they face and how they enjoy working in their jurisdictions. I was also able to work with a few of them on special projects during one of our workshops which made me realize some of the dynamics that are present when working in a professional group.

In short, the APA conference is an event I feel is essential for all student planners to attend.  So the question is, how do you plan for such an event?  Here are a few tips:

LESSON 1 – PLAN TO GO TO THE CONFERENCE

I can give you all the advice in the world concerning these conferences but they are not really going to help you unless you actually plan to go to the conference.  Therefore, make it a plan to go to the conference.  Why is this important?  If you don’t make these conferences a priority, you will soon realize that other things can easily take priority over these conferences.  Before you know it you will be saying something like “I can’t go because I have to do….”  If you are tempted to say something along these lines, let me

Monket Calendar

encourage you not to.  As any successful business, professional, or activist will tell you, success in your field comes through familiarity and expertise.  In order to gain these attributes, you must submerge yourself in the culture of your field.  This includes reading books, talking to people in your field, and going to conferences.  It is at these conferences where you get a dynamic feel for the “vibe” of your field.  Vibe meaning tackling questions like: what are planners focusing on for the future, what are the issues being talked about in the community, what political agendas are affecting policies, who’s hiring,  etc.  Remember, knowledge is power.  To know about your field (and be known by others) is advantageous to you in ways that I cannot begin to describe in this note.  But trust me; you want to go to these conferences as many times as you can.

Therefore, find out the dates for the conference and write them down on your calendar, and plan on going (don’t worry about money quite just yet).  Let me again say, plan on going.  So, if something comes up, you will say “I can’t do this because I will be at the APA conference in…”

LESSON 2 – START THE SCHOLARSHIP PROCEDURES

Cushing scholarship presentation

Now that you have decided to go to the conference, you can start concerning yourself with money.  Yes conferences are not cheap and the farther and larger they are, the more expensive they become.  The APA conference in LA cost me about $800.00 dollars total.  This included conference registration, hotel, airfare, food, and transportation.  Believe it or not, this was cheap.  Some people paid a lot more.  So I’m not going to lie to you; conferences are not cheap.  However, with proper planning, expenses can be mitigated.  The first step in mitigating these expenses is to find an avenue of financial support.  The University of Florida offers a few scholarships that will help with travel expenses.  Talk to your Student Planning Association (SPA) officers for more details concerning these scholarships.  Talk to them as soon as possible as these scholarships do have deadlines.  However, these scholarships can help you pay for 20 – 30 % of your travel expenses, which includes conference registration.  I can’t stress enough, do not wait in getting information concerning these scholarships and submitting your scholarship applications (20 to 30 % is a good chunk of change).

LESSON 3 – REGISTER FOR THE CONFERENCE

After you have decided to go to the conference and have sent your scholarship paper work in, go ahead and register for the conference.  The good news is that, as a student, you will more than likely get a discounted rate for the conference registration.  For

023_Registration

023_Registration (Photo credit: Daniel Dionne)

example, the full rate for the APA conference in California was $575.00.  However, with my discount, I only paid $125.00.  This is a pretty big discount.  Moreover, when you are out of school, you won’t get such discounts, so now is the time to attend these conferences.  When you register, you will have to pay for the conference registration fee up front, so depending on what kind of scholarship you get (some, provide you with money before you trip, others work as reimbursements after your expenses) you will either pay “out of pocket” or with scholarship money.  More than likely, you will pay out of pocket, so plan accordingly.

Knowing that I was going to pay out of pocket for my conference, I laid aside these funds from my financial aid (about $1000.00) in order to cover my expenses until reimbursement was given.  Now, the truth is that this was pretty difficult.  I had to operate with a budget that counted on $1000.00 less than normal. However, a good chunk of this money was given back to me via scholarships.

LESSON 4 – PAY FOR THE CONFERENCE

International Money Pile in Cash and Coins

Here is where the rubber meets the road if you will.  As a college student, I understand the major handicap that most of us possess when it comes to the availability of funds (I.E. we are usually broke).  However, this does not necessarily have to deter you from going to the conference.

Paying for a conference can seem a bit daunting at first since you are not only paying registration fees but you are also booking hotels and flights (if the conference is out of state) or maybe even preparing a car rental. Here are a few suggestions that may help you in the process of actually paying for the conference.  In the section after this one, we will discuss how to do things to make your conference expenses less.

Registration/Early Registration.

Plan on paying for the conference registration fee first.  It’s not crucial that you do, however, if you pay for the registration fee first you will making a physical decision to go to the conference (enforcing your very wise decision to go) and it will also set you up to take advantage of early registration deals.  Be sure to keep a notice on the conference’s early registration discount and deadline.  Most conferences offer an incentive for early registration.  Take advantage of this early registration incentive by registering early.  Make note of the deadline for early registration as it can be well ahead of the conference itself.  Don’t miss it, this can save you anywhere between 20 to 80 bucks. (It may not sound like much but that much money can almost buy me all the food I need for the conference.)

2.    Prepare Your Lodging Accommodations

When a conference is held in a certain area, it’s good for local business because it brings a high concentration of people who would normally not be there for any other reason.  This means that these visitor are going to increase the demand on local food stores (i.e.

English: Spring Street Financial District, loo...

English: Spring Street Financial District, looking north from Hotel Hayward alone west side of S. Spring St., Los Angeles, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

supermarkets), local entertainment, AND local lodging.  Therefore, if you wait till the last minute to make your lodging preparations, you may not be able to get any nearby lodging; so plan on getting your lodging situation worked out early.  Here are a few suggestions when booking your lodging accommodations:

  1. Take note of the conference location’s address.  This is important because you can use this address to find nearby hotels on Google map.
  2. Google Map is your best friend! If you are not familiar with Google Map or any other map service for that matter, this is the perfect opportunity to start getting acquainted.  Google map has the ability to locate nearby businesses (such as hotels) based on a given address (this is why it’s important to take note of the address where the conference will take place). Google map will also give you the website and phone number to these hotels. Moreover, Google map will tell you what kind of public transportation is available and how to use it in order to move around your location.
  3. Check out the hotel website and their ratings (and comments).  I have found the ratings and comments given to these hotels to be pretty accurate.  For example, if a hotel has a 2 star rating, you will probably deal with a lower quality hotel as opposed to a hotel with a 4 or 5 start rating.  You definitely get what you pay for when it comes to hotels so keep this in mind when you make your reservations.
  4. Take note if the hotel provides shuttle service to and from the airport.  Most major hotels do. However, depending on the hotel chain the shuttle services works differently.  Call the hotel and find out how to take advantage of the shuttle service. (I.e. Where in the airport do you wait for the shuttle, must you call the hotel upon your arrival for them to send the shuttle or do they do periodic rounds, is the service free, etc.).  NOTE:  Its customary (and a nice thing to do) to tip the shuttle driver unless specified not to.  Five dollars per person per trip is a nice tip.

3.    Prepare Your Transportation Accommodations

This is probably the trickiest, most expensive, and most research demanding aspect of your conference preparation.  If the conference is held in your state or relatively nearby than transportation may not be as difficult since you can plan on taking a bus or even carpooling with friends.  However, if the conference is out of state (or maybe even out of the country) this is a different story as

You could take one of these bad boys…oh yeah, they are fun 🙂

you will probably be flying there.  If this is the case here are a few suggestions for you:

  1. Research, research, research, and more research.  Airline companies are always having specials; try to find them.  With that said, researching these specials can be somewhat daunting and somewhat of a luck based situation.

i.        Look at discount sites such as KAYAK, Priceline, Orbitz, etc.  These sites will offer discounted flights.

ii.        Look at the actual airplane carrier website.  Sometimes (rare), the official airline site has some specials that may turn out to be cheaper than discount sites such as the ones stated above.  Always look at the official sites.

iii.        Some airlines don’t use discount sites to advertise their prices such as Southwest Airlines, and Allegiant Airlines.  For these you must go to their official site.  However, don’t fail to do so.  One of the reasons why they don’t use discount sites to advertise their prices is because their prices are already low in comparison to other air lines.  (Sometimes much lower than discount website prices).  Therefore, it is worth the extra effort to check these airlines out.

You will probably use this mode of transportation (though trains are much cooler).

iv.        Some airlines and even discount sites have a “price alert” option that sends you a message when tickets are available for a specific destination at certain rates.  Sign up for these.  You can’t always be on the computer and flight prices fluctuate on a consistent, daily basis.  Therefore, any kind of “watch dog” application to help you look at these prices while you are away is very beneficial.

v.        Don’t be afraid to look at alternatives.  Is a bus a viable option, or maybe even a train?  These options could possibly be cheaper if you are willing to endure a longer ride to your destination.

  1. Plan on booking early but don’t be afraid to book late.  As a general rule, the earlier you can book your flight, the cheaper the flight is.  However, sometimes airline companies have last minute deals which can be just as, if not more cost effective than early booking.  Some sites offer a price reduction guarantee such that if the price on the ticket you buy goes down after you purchased the ticket, they reimburse you the difference.  Not all sites do this though.
  2. Be aware of the luggage/carry on policies of your airline.  Some airlines will allow you to bring onboard one carry on and a personal item.  Others will charge you for your carry on.  Almost all airlines (for the exception of Southwest) will charge you to check in bags.  Some airlines will charge more than others. Be aware of their policies since this can add 25-50 bucks to you traveling expenses.

Once you have paid for you conference registration, purchased your hotel reservation, and purchased your flight/transportation accommodation, the only thing left to do is get excited! You will soon be on your way to the conference, to experience one of the best times you will have as you learn, mingle, and experience all that these conferences have to offer!  Now there are things that you can do to make your conference experience “wallet friendly”

LESSON 5 – MAKING YOUR CONFERENCE EXPERIENCE “WALLET FRIENDLY”

There are several things that you can do to make your conference experience more affordable.

As mentioned before, take advantage of ANY scholarship available to you via the University of Florida and/or SPA.  Feel free to contact any of the officers for availability of funds.

Take advantage of volunteer opportunities.  Some conferences offer added discounts and incentives for students who volunteer in the conferences.  Speak with your SPA representative for more details on volunteering.

If you have friends who live in the city the conference is being held in, see if they will let you stay with them.  Free is always cheaper than any discount.

If you don’t have friends in the city the conference is being held in, consider a lower rated hotel. Caution, you do get what you pay for, however; you probably won’t stay much in your hotel (except to sleep) anyways.  So you don’t really need all the amenities such as pool, Jacuzzi, pretty environment, etc. Prices between stars can vary greatly.  I’ve seen price differences between 2 star and 3 start hotels that range between 20 – 100 bucks…..those are pretty significant differences.

Most conferences will make deals with local hotels in order to provide discounted rates for people attending the conference.  Be sure to take notes on which hotels are offering these discounts.

Bangkok Cheap Hotels Cheap Charley

Bangkok Cheap Hotels Cheap Charley (Photo credit: chuck.miser)

Don’t be afraid to seek hotels that are not necessarily close to where the conference is being held.  A hotel 20 minutes away can be considerably cheaper than one right across the street from the conference.  Remember, hotels will hike up their prices due to the event.

Get a roommate (or a few)!  If you know someone else is going to the conference, try to get a room with this person. In this way you can share the room expenses.  50% off an already cheap hotel rate (because you have done your research and have found a really nice prized hotel) is a really, really cheap hotel.  If you can get more than one person in one room (within reason) than the  discount is even greater since now instead of splitting the cost between two (and paying 50%) you split the cost between 3 or 4 making the hotel that much cheaper….and cheaper is good.

Get familiar with the public transportation of the area and use it.  Again, Google map is your best friend for this.  Google has the ability to route trips based on the local public transportation availability.  It also gives you schedules, price fairs of public transport. This will save you a considerable amount of money as compared to the alternative, renting a car.

Depending on the length of the conference, it may behoove you to purchase a week pass or its equivalent for public transportation.

Public transportation is definitely your friend…well what do you know…a train 🙂

You will be traveling through the city back and forth from the conference to your hotel (or wherever you are residing).  Trust me, it will be more expensive (and much more of a hassle) to pay fare every time you board a transportation unit, than it will be to just purchase a week pass.

Food is expensive; especially if you eat out every single time you eat when you are at the conference.  Venues near conference centers and major people attractors tend to have higher price food prices than if you were to eat out somewhere separated from the conference.  Therefore, don’t be afraid to use the hotel refrigerator (most hotels have one, no matter the star rating).  In other words, go to the grocery store and spend about 40 to 80 bucks (for those of us who eat a lot) to purchase “groceries”. This can include things like: Bread, cheese, ham, bologna, soda, juices, etc.  Anything that you can microwave is fare game.  This includes, hot pockets, some TV dinners (some TV dinners can be even more expensive than eating out, so check out prices carefully).

Look for a subway or its equivalent.  It’s hard to beat a 5 dollar 12inch sub.  Especially when you can buy a 5 dollar sub and eat one half then, and save the other half for a later time (in the hotel’s refrigerator).  2.50 meal (5 dollars divided by two meals) can be cheaper than even grocery shopping.  Subways are everywhere so you have a high chance of one being near you.

Avoid unnecessary expenses like souvenirs.  They’re not bad things themselves, but when you are on a budget, these are at the bottom of the priority list as far as your finances are concerned.  If you absolutely must have a souvenir, wait towards the end of your trip to see how much money you have left.  If money permits, then buy one.

When booking flights, look at nearby airports (especially if you are trying to leave out of Gainesville).  Price differences can be drastic.  For example, a $400.00 airplane ticket from Gainesville can be found for $150.00 flying out of Jacksonville or Orlando. So be sure to check out nearby cities for plane ticket prices.

If you can, try to fly out on a Tuesday or Wednesday since it’s usually cheaper to fly on these days.

Consider Busses or trains as alternatives to flying.  90% of the time, buses are cheaper than flying.  It is a longer ride, however; some

English: A NABI 60-BRT articulated bus owned a...

English: A NABI 60-BRT articulated bus owned and operated by Foothill Transit, seen in Downtown Los Angeles, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

buses have bigger seats, free Wi-Fi, and free luggage check in.  If the travel time is bearable, I would recommend taking a bus over flying.  You can also look at trains.  Trains will probably be more expensive than a bus (and sometimes even more expensive than flying).  There are times however, where a train will be cheaper than flying.  The benefit is mainly speed and just the coolness of riding a train.  If you decide to go the bus route, plan for a day of travel; a good habit to get into no matter what mode you choose since planes are prone to delays.

The main point in any money saving plan is be creative.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.  Look at all of your options and test all of them.

Now that you are prepared with money saving tips and conference registration, be prepared to have a good time.  Bring your camera and take tons of pictures, bring an open mind and takes tons of notes, bring an open heart and make tons of connections, but above all bring yourself and have tons of fun.

I could not say this any better than MWF has.

MWF Seeking BFF

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Commuters often go to great lengths to close themselves off to strangers while traveling and now a Yale researcher has documented some of these antisocial tactics. … The most sacred rule, she found, was that sitting down next to someone when there are rows of open seats makes you look like a ‘weirdo.’ But these rules change when passengers know the bus will be full and they will have to sit next to someone, [study author Esther] Kim found. ‘The objective changes, from sitting alone to sitting next to a ‘normal’ person,’ she explained in a statement.” (“Study Reveals How Commuters Avoid Each Other” LiveScience.com. August 1, 2012)

When people ask me if I’ve changed since I started my year of friending, I often use my behavior on an airplane as an example. “Before…

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