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Life-Long Learning (or what I’ve learned recently)

Keeping up with the latest research, trends, and technology can be exhausting in any industry.  From time to time, I am guilty of allowing myself to get so busy with work, that continuing education is put on the back burner.  However, I’ve managed to fit in some really interesting in-person and online training courses over the past year (about 40-hours’ worth!) and I believe I’m a better analyst and planner because of it.

Economic Modeling and Analysis

In the American Planning Association’s online course, Evaluating Policy Outcomes through Modeling, my knowledge of the REMI model and its application for economic and demographic simulations was enhanced.  Our firm regularly uses the REMI model (among others such as IMPLAN) for forecasting economic impacts of projects, and we are excited about the prospect of using these tools more widely.  The activity allocation abilities of PECAS models were also thought-provoking.

I might be dating myself, but coding was not a class I was offered in elementary school.  As I tried to help my 3rd grader with her coding homework recently, I realized that I needed to brush up on my own skills.  I’m currently working through a series of courses on Python and its uses for data analysis and visualization of large data sets.  The potential for Python to shave hours off analytical endeavors is significant, and I am hopeful that we’ll be able to bring these abilities to our clients’ projects.

Much talk in our country has been of the upcoming U.S. Census in 2020.  Over a series of courses, I reviewed the Census questionnaires as well as the Census’ methodologies for data sampling and the American Community Survey.  At Convergence Strategy Group, we use advanced demographic data every day.  Some of our data sources use the U.S. Census data as a starting point, and then enrich the data with volumes of proprietary data and estimates generated through in-depth market reconnaissance.  But, if you don’t fully understand where the base data comes from, you can’t really understand the data you’re looking at.

Planning Law

Regulating Sex Business, a two-part seminar covering the first amendment protections afforded to exotic dancing and similar professions, covered the application of land use laws to regulate this sector.  As a Planner, I know that a “rational basis” is necessary for zoning, and that the courts afford zoning laws the presumption of validity, EXCEPT for when the first amendment is involved.  Recently, I was involved in a case in New Orleans where the City Planning Commission and City Council attempted to lessen the number of allowable adult entertainment venues through zoning.  This was a mis-guided attempt to rein in illegal behavior that was not being adequately policed.  I won’t go into the particulars of this case, except to say that no zoning changes have been made to date.

In Planning & the Law: Procedural Due Process, I was reminded that the over-arching idea of land use law lies in the police powers to regulate for the health, safety and welfare of the public, and that no person is to be deprived of property without due process of law.  While clearly arbitrary zoning actions are made across this country every day, they should not and often do not withstand judicial review.

Next Up?

I’ve made a commitment to life-long learning, and am always reading, researching, and searching.  Next, I think I’ll take some more classes on the U.S. Census, and perhaps some advanced GIS classes so we can develop more data visualization tools and apps for our clients.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Suzanne Perilloux Leckert, AICP

Managing Partner

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