PN Magazine At One

By the Editors
Tom Angotti, Eve Baron, Ann Forsyth, Kara Heffernan, Norma Rantisi

This time last year, we produced the first issue of Planners Network Magazine. Instead of uncorking champagne or baking a birthday cake, we’d like you to join us in taking a look at what we’ve done and where we want to go in the future. We think we’re off to a good start, but we see a lot of room for improvement. Please read this and send us your comments and suggestions.

How it Happened

The creation of PN Magazine was a major step in a process that had been evolving for more than five years.

The bi-monthly PN Newsletter had been getting larger and was filled with more and more articles. It was getting harder to sustain six issues a year as essentially a craft operation by a small group of volunteers. In mid-2001, Tom Angotti proposed a shift from a bi-monthly to quarterly schedule, and an expansion form 20 to 48 pages. Ann Forsyth agreed to act as co-editor while Tom was on leave during the first half of 2002, and then Ann agreed to stay on. Eve Baron, Kara Heffernan, and Norma Rantisi continued as editors, working on issue and article development, Resources, Updates and PN News. Francisco Marti helped redesign PN, and our new printer, Photo Comp Press, gave us much better quality.

Going back a bit further, since 1975 the Newsletter was put together by Chester Hartman and, during the years he was in Washington, DC, Prentice Bowsher. The bulk of each issue was short news items, comments by members, and other postings. It was a lot like a bulletin board. Bob Beauregard edited one short article in each issue.

In 1993 Peter Marcuse hosted a meeting in Rhode Island to talk about where PN was going. Chester had announced his intention of passing on the direction of PN and the Newsletter. This led to the 1994 PN Conference in DC and the election of a new steering committee. Ann Forsyth and Ken Reardon, the new PN Co-Chairs, asked Tom Angotti if he would take over the newsletter. Tom had just started teaching at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where PNer Ron Shiffman agreed to provide institutional support.

Jill Hamberg worked with Tom in the first year. Then Winton Pitcoff, a Pratt planning student with experience in community journalism, took responsibility for managing PN’s membership list and producing the newsletter, from 1995 to 1997. Winton was extremely dedicated and developed more analytical articles and debates. John McCrory, another Pratt student, took over but focused more on production, improving the look of the newsletter, while Tom did more of the editing. In 1998, Eve Baron joined the staff. John left Pratt in 1999, Tom took over production, and in 2000 the Editorial Board was formed.

How it Works

The editorial group works surprisingly well, given that we are a dispersed group of practitioners and academics, and we’re all volunteers. We are in New York, Chicago, Minneapolis and Montreal–and three of the five of us moved to new jobs in new cities during the first year of the Magazine. Donovan Finn, a planning student at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, receives a modest sum for doing the layout. Printing and distribution is done in New York.

In the first year, there were glitches in the operation. When the PN Editorial office moved uptown to Hunter College along with Tom, PN’s Membership office stayed at Pratt. This division happened just as the Magazine was taking shape, and some people missed issues (including members of the Steering Committee). Hopefully these problems have now been rectified.


What’s in PN Magazine

The themes for this first year of the magazine: Youth and Planning, New Urbanism, the Planners Network Conference/Planning Education, and Just and Sustainable Transportation.

As we said in the last issue of the PN Newsletter, “We strive to remain a forum that gives voice to ideas and topics that would not otherwise get attention in mainstream circles…[and] encourage dialogue in new areas and new ways of looking at the traditional topics of planning…. We hope to give voice to a range of views, particularly those that are not welcome by mainstream publications because of their focus on issues of economic and social justice.”

PN is the only consistent outlet for the diverse voices of progressive planning today. We have done special issues on racism, women and planning, queers and planning, youth and planning. Our editors and contributors reflect this diversity, though clearly there are many more voices to be heard. Many of our contributors, perhaps too many, are academics. But we publish only those who can write in an accessible style for a broad audience and are tuned in to the world of planning practice. We go out of our way to encourage community activists, young people, and students to write for us, and try to support them as best we can.

While the magazine is based in the U.S., we regularly carry articles from or about other locations. In 2002, we published 56 articles; 63 percent from or about the US., 18 percent from Canada, 11 percent from Latin America, and 10 percent dealt with other countries.

PN Magazine includes regular columns: The Seventh Generation (for editorial opinion), member Updates, PN News, the Spanish-language column from Latin America, and Resources (Events, Publications, and Web Sites). These reflect the role of the publication as a means for networking. With the web site and list serve, the magazine is a major means for keeping the network together.

Where Are We Going?

One of the main questions the magazine faces is survival. The majority of the funds we need to continue publishing come from membership dues. PN benefits from the generous support of the Fannie Mae Foundation but most of those funds have gone to finance the annual conferences. If the magazine is to grow and develop we will need to have paid staff. Each issue takes days and weeks of time from the volunteer editors. We can start selling subscriptions to the magazine and expand circulation. We can seek more funding. And we can welcome more volunteers (but increasingly we need a staff person to coordinate them). “We” can do all these things, if you can do some of them, or if you can help us raise money to hire someone. Our current volunteers are stretched to the limits. Get in touch if you can help.

Another question is, with a successful magazine, what will happen to Planners Network, the organization? Throughout our nearly three-decades-long history, there has been a continuing tension between two models for PN. One is the network model. The function of the network has been to foster connections among progressive planners, through the newsletter and magazine and the PN conferences. The other model is that of anadvocacy organization that engages progressive issues within the planning profession, particularly in the American Planning Association and Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. We’ve had events at conferences by these organizations. Also, some PNers have wanted us to do more as advocates within the broader progressive movements.

The networking and advocacy models are by no means contradictory. Both functions are valuable and should be further developed. But the advocacy function is relatively weak. PN’s voice on the critical issues facing planning is not consistently present in the profession. It isn’t clear what PN as an organization advocates when it comes to issues like smart growth, Bush’s promotion of faith-based organizations, HOPE VI, and so forth. The newsletter and magazine present views of our members and contributors, and sometimes there are debates. But what does PN advocate and what does it contribute politically? Planners always talk about setting goals and objectives. What are ours? Will we challenge the mainstream professional organizations to deal forcefully with the current ultra-conservative drift, or just talk to each other? Will we proactively join the campaigns against war and racism, and strengthen our ties to the movements for economic, environmental, racial, and gender justice?

We would like to see PN’s organization improve, from the Steering Committee to local chapters, so it can be an effective advocate for progressive planning. Perhaps we can learn something from the model of the Editorial Board–a task oriented group that needs to produce materials each quarter.

The Editorial Board is divided on where we think the balance should be between networking and advocacy. After nearly three decades this may be the time to become a center for organizing. But it may also be that PN’s traditional role of networking and support for planners fulfills an important need and that individuals can use that base to do work through other groups.

Whatever is decided, PN needs to have a paid staff person beyond the student interns we have operated with so far. This is a must if we’re to expand our advocacy role. But it’s also critical to sustain our two main current initiatives — PNM and conferences. From time to time someone has a burst of energy to do a project, and we have managed to launch national conferences most years for the last decade, injecting more vigor into PN each time. But the conferences are more and more difficult to sustain. They depend on someone volunteering to organize a conference, almost single-handedly, raising most of the money and providing all of the labor.

We hope that over the next year we can provide a forum for discussing these issues about the direction of Planners Network. We welcome articles and updates that reflect on the relevance and activities of PN. We also welcome comments on the Magazine itself–but remember we are volunteers!

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