Can you describe your work and how your planning degree contributes to it?
I have a position at a planning and urban design consulting firm based in Chicago. Our firm is known for our creative and engaging planning processes. We primarily focus on physical planning and placemaking, which inherently touch upon topics related to transportation and infrastructure, social issues, economic development, and sustainability. I entered the MUPP program with a background in landscape architecture and design, so I had a strong foundation in dealing with the physical realm, and specifically the design of urban spaces. My planning degree taught me to examine the broader context as a way of better understanding the big picture, and to break down complex issues into more manageable pieces. Another critical aspect of planning that I honed in grad school is how to communicate more effectively. This includes graphic, written, and verbal communication, all of which are very important to the formation of compelling plans.
What do you like most about your current job or related work in planning?
The most satisfying part about the work I do is being able to positively affect so many different communities. My approach is to immerse myself in the community in which I am working. When I begin a project—whether it is a downtown or comprehensive plan, district or corridor plan, or working in a particular neighborhood within a bigger city—I immediately dive into that place. I engage people in conversation, as I am eager to discover what unique traits -- from their perspective -- abound in their town. Then I do a lot of walking and observing, where I notice the good and bad; I look at the architecture and the streets; I sit in the parks and cafes; I eat (a lot of food) in local restaurants. This process allows me to form a better picture about each respective place. Inevitably, I get caught up in the community to the point that I feel I am part of it. And more often than not, I continue to maintain connections to each of these communities or neighborhoods long after the project concludes.
What advice do you wish you had gotten as a MUPP or, conversely, what advice would you give to young planners today?
Stick to your ideals, but know that sometimes, you will be disappointed. The political machinations of even the smallest of towns can often push a planning process in directions you did not envision. In addition, when the discourse is negative, stick to your beliefs and don't get dragged down; learn to deal with criticism. Finally, remember that good planners don't just talk; they engage people and they listen. You may be able to create great looking graphics and plans, but if you haven't listened to the people whose towns you are changing, the plan will not have a heart.