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Understanding the Trends from the APA Conference

Like many others at the APA conference in Los Angeles I learned a lot. After last year’s APA national conference Kristen Carney @cubitplanning, Brittany Kubinski @b_kubinski and I @evanscowley analyzed the tweets for the conference. Brittany and I decided to do the same this year and compare what trends have continued and what new trends have emerged. The attendees at APA were active tweeting throughout the conference generating 2,962 tweets from 691 people. Most were attending the conference, but several were following along from a distance. Approximately 15 percent of the conference attendees were tweeting! The number of people tweeting at the conference tripled over last year when 203 people sent tweets and the number of tweets more than doubled.

Topics of Conversation

There were several topics that were greatly discussed. Since the conference was in Los Angeles, LA was a common point of conversation. A number of topics that were highly discussed at the 2011 conference continued at the 2012 conference including transportation, public participation, technology and food. A number of topics were new among tweets at the 2012 conference, for example “Big Data” was a hot topic at this year’s conference. While, Delta Urbanism has been a major theme at the APA conference for several years, water and the Netherlands made it into the most tweeted about topics this year. Cycling was in part a hot topic because of the Ciclavia event, which brought out 100,000 cyclists including some of the conference attendees.

Topic # of Tweets at 2012 APA   Conference Rank of Topic at 2011 APA  Conference
Los Angeles 234
Transportation 196 4
Public Participation 103 6
Data 84
Cities 74
Design 70
Food 68 2
Green 67 15
Water 58
Technology 57 3
Climate Change 45 8
Apps 44
Sustainability 42 5
Community 41
Social Media 40 1
Urbanism 39
Demographics 38
Smart Growth 37
Energy 33 13
Ciclavia 27
Zoning 26 11
Biking 25
Economics 24 12
Infrastructure 24 14
Netherlands 23

Thirty percent of the total #APA2012 tweets were retweets (so interesting that someone decided to forward it on)

Below are the most retweeted tweets of the conference (excluding retweets about announcing an event or session).  For Twitter newbies, retweeting is like forwarding an email to people you know. RT @evanscowley means that you are forwarding a Tweet from a user, in this example me.

RT @planetizen: @NelsonNygaard : “we don’t have an obesity epidemic, we have a sedentary lifestyle epidemic” #apa2012
RT @jominglau: NYC taking phones out of phone booths, and putting in wifi enabled tvs for engagement with community issues. Awesome #APA2012
RT @APA_Planning: Smart growth: On the cusp of the ‘next big thing.’ #APA2012 http://t.co/dWZqRaWr
RT @Cbartshire: Climate change is an issue of intergenerational equity. #apa2012
RT @ryangravel: In 1950, average size of housing in US was 950 sf; today 2,300 sf #APA2012
RT @urbandata: “To make #opendata useful for citizen engagement & planning, need more data literacy” @fkh & @synchronouscity #apa2012 #CPlan MT @npstorey
RT @terraplanner: “America needs to fall back in love w/ planning again!” APA Pres   Mitchell Silver AICP @ opening keynote. #APA2012 http://t.co/czVZmAi0
RT @transportdata: New study: Vibrant downtowns lead to much less #sprawl – @MinetaTrans   http://t.co/08qf9YsG #smartgrowth #apa2012
RT @urbandata: What makes a successful #bikeshare station? Analysis @NextAmCity http://t.co/sqycZMmn #CPlan #apa2012 cc @cicLAvia @nycitybikeshare @hubway
RT @APA_Planning: Planners, there’s an app for that. Learn more at #APA2012 http://t.co/zMU54Fm1
RT @BTArchitects: Don’t make plans, learn also to make history #APA2012 #tacticalurbanism
RT @landpolicy: Scenario planning is all the rage #APA2012 Make tools open-source, standardize data, reduce complexity http://t.co/IkOdjKct
RT @RethinkTheAuto: Planning cities for cars debunked with wit and clarity in under 4 min.   http://t.co/bSIiwW4Z @ITDP_HQ #urbanism #apa2012
RT @transportdata: “The future of cities is in open data” -DC Director of Planning Harriet   Tregoning @OPinDC at #APA2012 conference. #CPlan MT @civichack
RT @APA_Planning: #APA2012 Opening Keynote: Communicating Climate Change. http://t.co/vCNNuaaO
RT @civichack: “The future of cities is in open data” -DC Director of Planning Harriet   Tregoning @OPinDC at #APA2012 conference. #opendata #CPlan
RT @DutchEmbassyDC: Ambassador @RJones_Bos gives closing keynote on Dutch approach to Living w/ Water at  #APA2012 conf. http://t.co/t4uilkiR
RT @EvansCowley: Thoughts on Community Engagement in Intelligent Cities http://t.co/CZCobsuT #APA2012
RT @fkh: Open source planning tools? Yes! Check out @landpolicy’s latest report at #APA2012 or online at   http://t.co/t3LSkihP
RT @nicadler: Excited 2 share @TheSunsetStrip’s story of hard work/collab over last 5 yrs w/ #apa2012. TY   @SoCal78 4 letting me & @AlfLamont tag along 🙂
RT @nlamontagne: Huge overflow for the tactical urbanism session at #APA2012 Quicker, lighter, cheaper (and more playful) is the #futureofplanning
RT @perlmaji: #APA2012 Boston’s bike share also reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased economic activity.
RT @urbandata: Making a game out of town hall meetings: http://t.co/C9NObAR4 #gov20 #CPlan #APA2012 cc @Mind_Mixer MT @Richard_Florida
RT @USGBC: #APA2012 fact of the day: 56% of respondents prefer smart growth neighborhoods. http://t.co/Z5L2iSa2
RT @APA_Planning: Brand new! Get APA’s new mobile app for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch. #APA2012 http://t.co/ksrv5DVA
RT @elyanaja: Piano in a plaza for anyone to play. What a great public involvement/interaction method! #APA2012 #CityTalk http://t.co/v8wxGbHz
RT @fineplanner: #APA2012 tips for 2013: bring in food trucks, provide free wifi, don’t charge for a young planners mixer, try some #unconference sessions
RT @urbandata: Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools: @landpolicy http://t.co/cUuiTks6 #APA2012 #CPlan #gov20
RT @FvanHovell: MT   @DutchEmbassyDC: Amb @RJones_Bos keynote address “Planning is Key Against Rising Seas” to #APA2012 http://t.co/pfHwYXQM
RT @kolisach: #apa2012 San Fran has had a “transit first” policy regarding streets since the   1970s. Prioritizes transit/ped/bike uses over autos.
RT @NikolaMiller:   “planners need to fall in love with planning again”APA Pres Mitch   Silver’s inspirational msg@this morn’s plenary #APA2012
RT @planetizen: #Planetizen’s  Managing Editor, Jonathan Nettler, blogs about the “winds of change” apparent at #APA2012 @ http://t.co/QiZ1Jdtl
RT @transportdata: “The freeway era is absolutely over in the United States” – Jeff Tumlin at #APA2012 cc @Richard_Florida @urbandata MT @adamhyslop #CPlan

For example “lifestyle epidemic”, “code diet” and “tactical urbanism”.  My favorite “Game Changer” became the buzz word heard both on and offline. Other key words that captured attention in tweets such as “verbal vomit team” and “gray tsunami.”

The Meaning of Our Tweets

At my session I described the use of sentiment analysis to help understand the meaning conveyed in a large group of tweets. To learn more about sentiment analysis I have a publicly available article on the topic. And conference attendee Harsh Prakash shared Twitter’s new sentiment analysis tool that lets you see the sentiment in the most recent posts from a hashtag. And I tweeted about USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab’s use of sentiment analysis in politics.

What are the sentiments that planners are expressing when tweeting about the conference? Are we angry, happy, or something totally different? Twitter’s analysis of the last 40 tweets of the conference showed that we are an overwhelmingly positive bunch, 95% positive tweets. Our analysis of all tweets from the conference expressed ten key sentiments. Our tweets are social, focused on the present, and expressing positive emotions. We are inclusive, talking about space and time, our work, and a sense of achievement. All of these sentiments embrace the essence of planning. This is exactly what one would hope to see at a conference where the use of Twitter is meant to support social interaction between unknown people with shared interests. I was so excited to see the badge additions that had the @ sign so people could add their Twitter handle. This made it so much easier to recognize the people we had been following online. It created the opportunity to network in a new way where there as a topic of common interest.

Who Participated?

A total of 691 different planners tweeted during the conference which is a wonderful number of participants, but what was the level of equality in participations. How many people were heavy Tweeters like me and how many were light users? Similar to other research about the use of social media a small number of people dominate the conversations with 3 percent of the users sending out 24 percent of the tweets. BUT, we can also see that we had a wide array of users with many participating one or a few times. For example, 32 percent of the tweets came from the 80 percent of participants who tweeted five or fewer times.

There were clearly key influencers at the conference whose tweets were frequently retweeted. The top 15 influencers at the conference included: @BTArchitects, @theplacematters, @TobiasSKC, @EvansCowley, @nlamontagne, @UrbanPolicyPlnr, @APA_Virginia, @arouault, @cookry, @counti8, @gabrielajuarez, @KSbiral, @LilleyPlanning, @Remon25P, and @rogersna07.

Blogging at the Conference

There was as noticeable uptick in attendees who blogged from the conference. Below are links to a number of the blogs created about sessions at the conference (I may have missed a few). This allowed attendees and followers to get the inside story on what was happening in the many sessions at the conference.

Granicus posted a series of blogs about Citizen Sourcing, participatory planning, community engagement in intelligent cities and other topics. Sasaki also wrote a series of blog posts for the conference, including Innovative Planning: Game-Changing Engagement. I shared a series of blog posts on mobile apps, intelligent cities, and LOLCATS. Josh Stephens shared a blog on SoCal Planning Directors Tell It Like It Is. Sophie O’Neill wrote up the session Rethinking Business as Usual in Planning.   Ann Dillemuth wrote Smart Growth: On the Cusp of the ‘Next Big Thing’. Andrew McGee in Go Beyond the Sessions shared what happened outside the convention center. Energov wrote a conference wrapup blog. Jonathan Nettler of Planetizen wrote a conference wrapup titled Winds of Change Blow through APA 2012.

So are there any urban planning trends that surprised–either by being here or by not being here? What were the trends at the APA 2012 conference not captured by Twitter? Let me know in the comments. 

My takeaway from the use of Twitter at the conference is that a significant number of people were able to use this medium to share and engage in conversations around planning topics that resonate with them. It provided a platform to engage in social conversations that helped people meet each other both on and off line.  What more could we ask for from social media in a conference? I look forward to even more participation at the 2013 conference in Chicago.



10 thoughts on “Understanding the Trends from the APA Conference

  1. Thanks for assembling this analysis! I’m pleased that so many people were using Twitter, a useful backchannel I don’t see anything particularly surprising in these trends, but I think it’s important to know that many tweets with the #APA2012 hashtag were “event metadata” rather than about the substance of the conference. That includes remarks on where to find coffee, what time various events began, and so on. I found these valuable, but I’m not sure how to measure the percentage of these as a total of all sent tweets.

    Posted by Jonathan Tarr | April 20, 2012, 1:08 pm
  2. This is really interesting. There’s a group of us who attend the annual meetings of the Transportation Research Board who are in a facebook group that shares info about transportation and social media. I just posted this blog there. In my line of work, traffic safety, I’m exploring how to use social media to get the word out about resources as well as if or how it can help influence norm change around risktaking and active transportation. I’d like to hear more about your work. A new site we’ve developed is the California Active Transportation Safety Information Pages (CATSIP) at http://www.catsip.berkeley.edu. I’m looking into how to better incorporate social media, or if it’s worth it. Thoughts always welcome.

    Posted by safetrec | April 20, 2012, 1:10 pm
  3. Very cool, thank you for sharing this! Could you also share your methodology for compiling tweets & analyzing? ie – is your list of topics equivalent to keywords, are tweets filed in more than one topic category, etc.?

    Posted by jennifereaston | April 20, 2012, 2:28 pm
  4. Very cool, thanks for sharing. Could you also share your methodology for tracking & sorting the tweets? I imagine you used Hashtracking/equivalent site plus some by-hand analysis?

    Posted by jennifereaston | April 20, 2012, 2:29 pm


  1. Pingback: 2012 Conference Twitter Trends « APA Conference Blog - May 4, 2012

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