Phillip McKenna Symposium Logo

In a gesture of extraordinary generosity after a decades-long career in the planning industry, Phillip C. McKenna, AICP is giving to the profession by donating $100,000 to establish the Phillip C. McKenna Symposium.  The gift is the single largest financial donation ever received by the Michigan Chapter, American Planning Association, and the funds will be used to create an educational symposium that will positively influence the knowledge and strategies of professional community planners and elected and appointed leaders for decades to come. 

The Phillip C. McKenna Symposium launches its inaugural event at the MAP Annual Conference in October 2022. 

Mr. Phillip McKenna, AICP, until 2016, was the owner of the largest planning consulting firm in Michigan.  Long-time McKenna planner John Jackson and Kathleen Jackson purchased the company from him and continue his legacy.  His keen instincts, professional acumen and commitment to the public good built a company that would touch hundreds of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana communities, and his impact on community planning is unparalleled.  He was a mentor and guide to scores of emerging and established professional planners whose careers he influenced. Many of them subsequently rose to leadership roles in federal, state and local government and private sector planning and design firms, further advancing Phil’s legacy.  He was a confidante and advisor to a multitude of Midwest mayors and managers, Township supervisors and agency administrators.  And he is a longtime friend of MAP and of the planning profession. 

Phillip C. McKenna began his professional career as a teacher in Birch Run, Michigan, where he taught history and English. After three years teaching and coaching baseball, he was assigned to teach geography – a subject he believed he was not fully prepared to teach, but for which he undertook graduate studies under a federal continuing education program designed to meet the demands of our nation’s growing public education systems. At Southern Illinois University for the summer, with his wife Carol and first and second of three daughters by his side, Phil’s urban geography professors introduced him to urban planning and he quickly developed his strong interest for the discipline and its career possibilities. 

Portrait of Phillip McKenna by Carrie Leitner

“Portrait of Phillip McKenna.” Drawing by Carrie Leitner, 2019

Returning to his home state of Michigan to continue teaching, Phil enrolled in the Master of Urban Geography program at Eastern Michigan University and moved his family to Detroit’s Rosedale Park.  In 1969, Phil began his long career as a planning consultant, starting with eight years at Parkins Rogers in Detroit. His work there focused on a wide variety of codes and plans in the cities of Belleville, Garden City, Muskegon Heights, and Pontiac, Michigan, and Indianapolis.  He there honed his skills in zoning, redevelopment planning and design for underutilized sites and comprehensive planning.

In 1977, Phil joined Christopher Wzacny & Associates as Director of Planning; the urban design firm was best known for its pioneering and award-winning streetscape work in Detroit’s Greektown. The firm deployed its urban design expertise in Bay City, Garden City, Hazel Park, Lansing, Oakland County’s Lyon Charter Township, Monroe County, Romulus, Southfield, Toledo and scores of additional townships and cities in Michigan.  Phil directed several transformational downtown, neighborhood and comprehensive planning programs while managing the firm’s growing group of planners and clients. 

In 1984, Phil became a partner at Wzacny-McKenna, then sole owner of McKenna Associates in 1986.  The 1990s brought rapid growth to the firm, including expanding work in West Michigan municipalities and later in Ohio, with branches in or near Akron, Cleveland, Dayton and Kalamazoo.  In 1995, he expanded McKenna Associates’ design talent and added in-house landscape architecture services; building code administration and inspection services followed in 2009. 

In 2001, after 15 years in Farmington Hills, Phil moved his headquarters to Northville, and also moved each of the firm’s branch offices to adaptive reuse sites, in line with the firm’s commitment to walkable and downtown Midwest places. 

During his 48-year planning career, Phil has employed, mentored and managed close to 300 planners and served an estimated 500 Midwestern communities.  He attributes much of his success to the enduring sacrifice and support of his wife Carol and daughters Dawn, Christina and Melissa and their families and several 30 year-plus colleagues at the firm, including Sara Hodges, AICP, Christopher Doozan, AICP and Gina Sloan. He is known to municipal officials, colleagues and former employees for his integrity and deep commitment to the success of appointed and elected officials and the elevation of the planning practice through rigorous deployment of the best methods and techniques. 

Phil’s impacts on community planning in Michigan and beyond are indisputable.  His influence on the professional careers of hundreds of planners is incalculable.   That Michigan communities have benefitted greatly from his guiding hand in their future is undeniable.  That his legacy will live on for generations to come as a result of this extraordinary donation is humbling to MAP and we are grateful for his commitment to planning, planners and to our organization.