The Elephant in the Planning Room: Overcoming Barriers to Recruitment and Retention of People of Color in the Planning Profession

Fifteen years ago (2001), the APA New York Metro Chapter’s Ethnic and Cultural Diversity Committee conducted a study called “Lagging Behind” on the state of diversity in the planning profession in the region. The study found severe underrepresentation of minorities in the profession compared to their the general population and provided recommendations based on surveys and interviews conducted.


On April 15, 2016, the APA-NYM Diversity and Student Representative Committees convened a forum to brainstorm strategies to overcome barriers to recruitment and retention of diverse student bodies in our New York Metro urban planning programs.

Over the past year, Giovania Tiarachristie, or “G,” Co-Chair of the New York Metro Chapter’s newly revived and renamed Diversity Committee, conducted her Master’s thesis at Pratt Institute titled, “Elephant in the Planning Room: Overcoming Barriers to Recruitment and Retention of Planners of Color.” Collecting data from over 300 surveys, 11 focus groups, and 11 one-on-one interviews with planners and employers in the region (many of whom are members of the local chapter), the study sought to update the 2001 report with new data, articulate the state of diversity in the profession, share the experiences of planners of color, and catalogue tangible recommendations to fit today’s context.

The study explored:

  • How has the racial / ethnic make-up of planners in the profession in NY Metro Area changed compared to the overall population in the last two decades?
  • How are planners of color represented in the public, private, and non-profit sectors?

    What are the differing experiences between planners of color between of various racial, ethnic, gender, and economic backgrounds?

  • What are their experiences compared to their White peers?
  • What kind of support might they need from planning institutions, schools, employers / managers, White colleagues, and other planners of color?
  • How do employers articulate the importance of diversity, and what kinds of challenges do they face in hiring?
  • What recommendations are necessary in order to better recruit, retain, and advance planners of color in the profession to achieve better representation?

Rich in quotes and statistics, the report outlines a framework of understanding the various barriers to recruitment and retention of planners of color. The last chapter of the thesis includes a set of strategies for employers/managers, schools, planning institutions, White planners seeking to become allies, and planners of color, to help promote diversity in the profession. G is also available to give presentations to various firms and agencies interested in hearing the study findings and discuss recommendations. She can be reached at

You can download the full thesis here and view the accompanying powerpoint presentation here.

Author Biography:
Giovania Tiarachristie, or “G,” co-chairs the Diversity Committee of the APA New York Metro Chapter. She helped to recently revive the committee and is an active proponent of improving diversity, inclusivity, and cultural competency in the planning profession. She conducted her Master’s Thesis at Pratt Institute focused on how to overcome barriers to recruitment and retention of planners of color (and other underrepresented groups). G is a Neighborhood Planner at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), working with communities to ensure new affordable housing is coordinated with essential infrastructure and services to promote diverse, livable, and more equitable neighborhoods. Prior to her neighborhood planning work, G worked in community development and capacity-building in the fields of food justice, social entrepreneurship, and water quality citizen science monitoring.

The mission of the Diversity Committee is to increase diversity and cultural competency within the planning profession and provide a resource for planners of different backgrounds in the NY Metro Area to build meaningful connections and share ideas. Please contact co-chairs Giovania Tiarachristie or Tiffany-Ann Taylor to get involved.