Can you describe your work and how your planning degree contributes to it?
Following 25 years as executive director of the Lawrence Avenue Development Corporation and North River Commission on Chicago’s northwest side, and eight years as director of programs for LISC Chicago, I now am a consultant to neighborhoods, cities, foundations, and others in community and economic development and strategic planning.
My planning degree gave me an understanding of the importance of listening intently to community stakeholders, respecting and supporting their views, and a way of thinking strategically about how to plan and implement initiatives that help people improve their communities and their lives. The MUPP program also exposed me to on-the-ground professionals in the field who served as mentors and offered opportunities for me to learn about what was and was not working in community development in Chicago and beyond.
What do you like most about your current job or related work in planning?
When I turn on the TV news or read the papers, it often seems like the world is in perpetual crisis and nothing good is happening. When I work with communities in Detroit, Jacksonville, Phoenix, or Duluth — in fact, wherever I go — I meet good, hard working, decent people striving tirelessly to improve their lives, their communities, and the lives of people around them. Often, against great odds, they prepare, they perspire, and they prevail. It inspires me and gives me hope every day.
What advice do you wish you had gotten as a MUPP or, conversely, what advice would you give to young planners today?
Every experience, no matter how mundane, unpleasant, or seemingly irrelevant, has value and shapes our ability to relate, understand, and make change. The important thing is to experience the world from different places and perspectives, to learn from those experiences, and to understand how other people think, feel, and act.
Managing a pizza parlor taught me about small business. Learning statistics from Dr. Ashish Sen in the MUPP program gave me the skills to analyze buying power and commercial markets thirty years later. From a MUPP internship with Maureen Hellwig at NCO and Community 21 I learned community organizing and planning and began relationships that have endured for decades.
Planning can be very frustrating. Change is slow. But, if we listen, if we respect each other and our differences, and if we persist, we can make things better. And, as President Obama said at the UIC Pavilion recently, “Progress does not happen all at once . . . but if you’re willing to fight for it, things do get better. Better is good."