Planning to solve New Jersey’s top policy priorities

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The New Jersey Planning Conference is the largest event of its kind in the state, says executive director of New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association Sheena Collum.

“We bring together professional planners, academics, students, architects, developers,” she said.

Collum says the conference is a chance for planners and politicians to look ahead on projects at the federal, state and local levels. For federal they’re looking at the Gateway Project and how to plan to push that forward. On the state level there’s a lot of talk about the cannabis industry. And on the local level they are speaking about how to incorporate digital processes.

“One of the places we encourage people to think of is to start with the end goal in mind and how they’ll measure it, and usually this goal should have nothing to do with technology. It should be the basic, key performance indicators of your agency or your organization and specifically how you’re delivering value for your citizens and for your residents and then working backward,” said Rachel Haot, executive director of the Transit Innovation Partnership.

Haot was the first chief digital officer under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Data is critical to any government entity that’s looking to expand its reach, that’s looking to develop new tools, and looking to do so effectively and quickly. And to be clear, the type of data we’re talking about it is related to fundamental services. It’s nothing to do with privacy, and protection of privacy is the utmost concern,” Haot said.

Haot says public-private partnerships can save towns money and deliver important services to residents, like real-time train schedules, for instance.

“Government can use that data to build an app, but so can a third party, and that third party also benefits from hundreds of millions of user hours. They may have a really large, robust technology team that’s able to work on it, and so you really have the best of both worlds,” she said.

With legal cannabis on the horizon in New Jersey, there was also a lot of buzz generated by sessions on the issue, although there was also a lot of uncertainty.

“I think a lot of interest in figuring out how to responsibly move it forward, especially with adult use coming online. You know, there is some concern over what it means for people who might be prone to push the medical side forward,” said Charles Latini, president of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association.

But with debates on legalization, expansion of the medical program, and expungement ongoing, a vote on a final plan has not been set. Still, planners have to plan, whatever lawmakers eventually decide.