NPC21: The Rapid Evolution of Virtual Conferencing

When I started taking Zoom classes for my mail-order MBA, I remember thinking that it’d be pretty neat to have some sort of virtual networking tool as part of the platform. The “breakout room” session isn’t enough. You can either “join now” or “join later.” What does “join later” even mean? Zoom is impressively spartan and hasn’t added any new GUI features to speak of since I’ve been using it for not one, but two years. Anyway, it seems as though someone else thought this would be a good idea! This was the virtual networking component of the National Planning Conference, which was supposed to take place this week in Boston. I’m impressed at how far virtual conference organization has come in such a short time.

The National Planning Conference 2021: Hitting the bar doesn’t quite hit the same way when it’s virtually rendered over Al Gore’s internet.
Virtual Networking in 8-Bit

The platform they’re using allows the user to create a rudimentary avatar and navigate about this chunky world that includes an indoor conference area, an auditorium (in which you can even step up to the mic), and even a rooftop bar and a beach. Open bar at a virtual lounge doesn’t have quite the same vibe, of course. I told an APA staff member that the 8-bit graphics reminded me of the video games I grew up playing. In particular, this was reminiscent of the new, nostalgic affinity for 8-bit graphics of yesteryear.

I also confessed to having played 100 hours of Stardew Valley in a single month after my most brutal quarter in my program, though I was mortified after actually admitting this to myself, let alone in public, and he told me that his kid had gotten him hooked on it, too. (As an aside, I’ve been meaning to write this up at some point).


The usual suspects were, of course, present, including WSP, Jacobs, etc. Katy Shackelford, transportation planner extraordinaire from St. Louis, presented on the dire need to reform the RFP process to make bid access more equitable and competitive. And Tareq Wafaie (Gridics) presented a really spot-on– and laugh-out-loud- talk about generational differences in the workplace (the Millennials ask “where do I put my fourth monitor?” while the Zoomers are frustrated that they can’t do everything on their phone). There was a great presentation on Philly’s vacant lot transformation program. There was also a fun video I watched about aesthetic and GSI design standards in a project in Boston under a Big Dig-related viaduct. (Speaking of WSP!).

More coming today, although I will be stepping out for my perennial appearance at the MPSC Energy Waste Reduction workgroup. I’ll be writing up more thoughts. Tonight I’m headed to ▇▇▇▇▇▇▇, ▇▇ for ▇▇▇▇▇▇▇ at ▇▇▇▇▇▇ ▇▇▇▇▇▇, where I’ll also be ▇▇▇▇▇ ▇▇ ▇▇▇▇▇▇▇▇ ▇▇▇ my ▇▇ ▇▇. I told you, magical things are coming!

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Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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