2021 Planning Excellence Award Winners

APA New Jersey is pleased to announce its 2021 Planning Excellence Award Winners honoring planning initiatives, built projects, individuals and organizations that are at the forefront of planning and design in New Jersey.

Leadership Awards

Paul A. Phillips, AICP, PP

Budd Chavooshian Award for Outstanding Professional Planner

Paul A. Phillips joined the planning consulting firm now known as Phillips Preiss Grygiel Leheny Hughes in 1977 and became its managing principal in 1983. For over 40 years, he has served as the planning consultant to various municipal boards and governing bodies and has also obtained approvals for hundreds of private development projects.

Mr. Phillips has been involved in many of the significant issues and cases in planning, redevelopment, and affordable housing in New Jersey in recent decades. Throughout his career, he has developed a reputation as a knowledgeable expert recognized by courts, government entities and the public for his written work and presentations on a variety of topics. Travel most anywhere in New Jersey and you will likely encounter a project Paul had a hand in. From the Prudential Center in Newark to shopping centers in Holmdel and mixed-use developments in Morris County, from major redevelopment projects in Fort Lee, Morristown and Rahway to transit-oriented development in Netcong and Woodbridge, he has helped municipalities create high-quality projects.

Michelle Doran-McBean

Distinguished Civic Leadership Award

In 1997, Michelle founded Future City Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in Elizabeth, N.J. that provides a facilitating presence in the areas of sustainable environmental and community development. FCI’s mission is to foster sustainable development by educating and assisting emerging racial and ethnic communities in policy formation, which will result in meaningful and measurable participation in environmental and community development.

Under Michelle’s visionary leadership, a key goal of the organization has been bringing the African American and rapidly growing immigrant communities into the planning and implementation process. She has directed several innovative and impactful initiatives, including the Spaces & Places Project, Elizabeth River/Arthur Kill Watershed Association, and Healthy Neighborhood/Healthy Home Project, implementing complimentary initiatives specific to the watershed, land use, local water resources, and healthy neighborhoods. FCI is a highly valued organization within the community and Michelle has been a well-sought-after advisor to government, academic and nonprofit leaders.

Christopher A. Watson

Stuart Meck Distinguished Service Award

Christopher A. Watson, M.Sc., Ph.D.[c] is the City Planning Officer for the City of Newark where he oversees prudent planning practices that follow Newark’s five Newark Forward pillars: an empowered city, a safer city, an educated city, an equitable city, and a collaborative city.  

An active participant in Chapter activities, Chris has been instrumental in advancing the Community Planning Assistance Program and City Planning Institute through his efforts to support community-driven planning in Newark. His efforts include introducing high school students from Newark to city planning principles and encouraging them to consider city planning as a career option. During the summer of 2021, Chris was crucial to the creation of a cultural asset database that was developed by Newark public high school students working through the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program in partnership with the City Planning Institute. The data and map will become part of Newark’s master plan, which is currently being updated.

Aimee Jefferson, AICP

Emerging Planner Award

Aimee Jefferson is currently a Principal Planner with the Local Programs and Project Development team at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) where she has used her safety expertise to help the New Jersey Department of Transportation develop the format for the Road Safety Audit (RSA) program. Aimee is also a strong proponent of disseminating public project information and is the project manager for NJTPA’s Online Interagency Project Management System. Reviewing nearly two decades worth of project awards, descriptions, maps and updates, Aimee has developed a detailed central database consisting of over 350 projects. Aimee is also active in inter-agency efforts leading action items relating to statewide transit inventory enhancements as part of the 2020 State Highway Safety Plan (SHSP).

Outside of work, Aimee is an active Women’s Transportation Seminar member, having served on the Greater New York City board for four years and co-led the WTS Young Professional’s committee for two years. Aimee has been an integral part of coordinating the annual Newark Bike Tour since 2015. She has also served as the President of Newark’s Brick City Bike Collective for five years.

Project Awards

Camden Health Element

Outstanding Plan Award

The Camden Health Element was prepared by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) to serve as a component of the City of Camden’s Master Plan. Adopted by the City of Camden Planning Board in April 2021, it provides a high-level vision and concrete strategies to promote health as a priority for the city’s future growth and development. The plan can be found at: www.dvrpc.org/Reports/21021.pdf.

The plan promotes a healthy environment by addressing public health issues that have major intersections with planning. Many Camden neighborhoods face high rates of poverty and environmental justice burdens, without access to quality schooling, family-sustaining jobs, healthy food, or decent housing. At just over $27,000, the city’s median household income is about a third of both Camden County’s and the State’s median household incomes. The city also lags behind the county and the state in educational attainment, homeownership rates, home values, and vehicle access—all of which are related to poor health outcomes and significant health disparities. With the Health Element, the City of Camden is taking a novel planning approach that embraces the opportunity to incorporate health into its Master Plan, and ultimately into its policies, programs, and physical spaces.

Dundee Island Park Phase I Implementation, County of Passaic

Outstanding Implementation Award

The concept for the rehabilitation of Dundee Island Park began in 2014 through a Local Demonstration Project as part of the Together North Jersey effort. The report identified a population that was economically and environmentally vulnerable to the disruptions that repetitive flooding brought to the transportation system, businesses, and their day-to-day lives. Among the recommendations was an investigation of how to “Green the Eastside” through street trees, new open space, bike and pedestrian access, a Riverwalk, and riverfront parks. The concept development sparked a partnership between the County of Passaic and the City of Passaic to rehabilitate the city-owned Dundee Island Park as a catalyst for the Riverwalk and the overall redevelopment of the Eastside neighborhood.

Upon completion in 2020, Dundee Island Park was unveiled as the first new park to the Passaic County Park System in 50 years. The Park includes all the design features that were advanced in the conceptual plans including an elevated field house, a refurbished soccer field, fitness equipment and spray park. The final execution highlighted placemaking including a tree sculpture, led by local artist Charlie Spademan, that features leaves with art created by members of the community. The purposeful design has created an engaging park that has become a hub for community activities, inviting for families, and new accessibility to the river.

NJTPA On Air: Plan 2050 Outreach to Kids and Teens

Outstanding Community Engagement Award

To engage residents in the development of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s (NJTPA) new Long Range Transportation Plan, Plan 2050: Transportation, People, Opportunity, NJTPA and the Rutgers University Public Outreach and Engagement Team implemented innovative public engagement strategies designed to reach people of all ages. This effort featured the popular NJTPA On Air “Future of Transportation” contest, in which children and teens were asked to envision what they think transportation will be like when they grow up. Entries included original drawings, essays, poems, videos, and other creative works.

Participants were directed to a specially designed NJTPA On Air webpage that included a video introduction, activity instructions, and official contest rules. The one-minute video introduced the topic of transportation and prompted participants with the following question: What do you think transportation will be like in the future, say when you are your parents’ age? The goal was to encourage children to think creatively about this question and have fun coming up with their unique responses.

A total of 158 submissions were received from children ages 5 to 15 in a variety of creative and entertaining formats, including animated videos, diagrams and drawings of futuristic transportation vehicles, stories about life in the future, rhyming poems, and even a puppet show! View samples of contest video submissions at the following links:

Scarlet S., Age 11  |  Milo S., Age 8  |  Noah A., Age 7

Cultivating Food Equity in Glassboro, NJ

Outstanding Student Project

Rowan University students under the guidance of faculty advisory Dr. Mahbubur Meenar drafted a vision plan to promote the cultivation of food equity where roughly 22% of Glassboro residents live below the poverty level and 70% of residents have limited access to healthy and fresh food. Children, older adults, single female-headed households, and racial and ethnic minority populations living in specific pockets of the borough face food insecurity disproportionately. This project took a novel approach by addressing community food insecurity issues using a food equity lens, linking the issue with health equity and racial justice. The studio partnered with Rowan University’s Community Planning + Visualization Lab to contribute to an ongoing community-based research study, sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and New Jersey Health Initiatives.

Key findings were presented in May 2021 and the plan is already on its way to implementation. The Glassboro Health Equity Coalition has decided to implement four recommended projects: (i) an advanced study to change policies related urban agricultural practices in Glassboro; (ii) expansion of the Rowan University community garden; (iii) advancement of the Food Recovery Network program to increase food donations activities retrieved from local restaurants; and (iv) creation of a food data hub for Glassboro residents.