Interview: Ric Stephens, Immediate Past Editor, Technology Division of the American Planning Association [APA]
Harsh: So what got you into planning and publishing/editing?
Ric: I worked as a cartographer/German language translator for USAID during college and was hired by a civil engineering firm to prepare maps during summer break.
After school, the firm offered me a job in their planning department and …voila! There are still some plat maps on file from the late 70s with elaborate compass roses for north arrows. I began helping with a local APA section newsletter out of curiosity. A quarter of a century and thousands of newsletters later, I am still interested in desktop publishing.
InfoTEXT began as a paste-up effort ten years ago and is now ‘completely digital’. I’m still helping with two APA newsletters, ‘Private Practice Perspectives’ and ‘Mountains and Shores’. I’ve also published two books: ‘Plannerese Dictionary’ and ‘International Planning Organizations’ and am working on a third, ‘Dark and Stormy Planning Prose’.
Harsh: Any favorite planning story that you edited?
Ric: There are three unique stories-
Ric Stephens at the Street of Dreams
For several years, I organized the ‘Dark and Stormy Planning Prose Contest’ to collect and share humorous planning stories. One of my favorites is the 2002 Winner, ‘Zone Noir’ by Michael Young who merged the feel of a 50s detective novel with current planning issues. It’s hard to imagine, but Dr. Seuss wrote a humorous poem on regulating signage for the city of La Jolla, California!
Lastly, while living in California, I received ‘The Story of Sexton Mountain Meadows‘. It revolves around the continuous removal of the ‘t’ from ‘Sexton’. I now live a few miles from this very street in Beaverton, Oregon and am a Planning Commissioner for the City. I found the listed author, but he denies writing the story and referred me to a blog author who remembers the incident, but also denies writing the story. The mystery continues to this day.
I am still collecting stories and if you have a ‘hearing from hell’, ‘purple planning prose’ or other contributions, please email a copy to email@example.com.
Harsh: Any thoughts on the New Media?
Ric: We are far from reaching a paperless office environment, but we are clearly moving towards digital information and communication technologies.
For planning in particular, it is an exciting time to expand GIS with numerous databases including satellite imagery. The REAL CORP 007 event will showcase some of these outstanding IT innovations. Our firm, Alpha Community Development, is developing software to link our projects with these databases. We are also developing project-specific websites and looking for new ways to provide online project management.
Harsh: Any thoughts on increasing readership for the Technology Division?
Ric: InfoTEXT contributors have provided outstanding content that is very relevant to practicing planners, agency officials, educators and students. I believe the missing element is visibility.
It would also be helpful for APA to actively promote the Divisions, and for the Divisions to have programs to promote the newsletters to planning departments, governmental agencies, universities and other institutions.
Harsh: And finally, any advice to the new editor[s] of the Technology Division?
Ric: It’s very difficult to find contributors for articles- I’m several weeks late in responding to this interview.
Having a large group of people to help gather material would be ideal. As the newsletter migrates to the web, the publication should probably adapt a monitor-friendly format and be rich in hyperlinks. I enjoyed editing InfoTEXT and am indebted to all who helped make this a memorable experience.
Harsh: Thank you and good luck!