What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?
I am a Neighborhood Planner for the City of Cambridge, the densest city in the Boston Metro Region and one of the more progressive and innovative cities in the country. I assist the Community Development Department in conducting planning processes and studies on physical improvement initiatives, such as neighborhood and school parks, open spaces, long range urban design plans, and private development proposals. My work has also grown to include Envision Cambridge, the comprehensive citywide plan that is currently underway, and public processes focused on sustainability and resiliency, place-making, community benefits. As a Neighborhood Planner, I’m very much on the “front lines” of urban planning. This involves developing and maintaining ongoing relationships with residents, businesses, and civic organizations; providing support for staff liaisons to various neighborhood committees and organizations; and working collaboratively with planners, consultants, and City staff. Planning is inherently an interdisciplinary profession and all good planning processes should include, from beginning to end, a collective effort of individuals who represent a wide range of interests. The MUP program created an environment where I worked with and learned from a diverse group of people with a variety of experiences and world views and, more importantly, where I fit in the complex historical narrative of urban planning in America, both professionally and practically.
Why did you choose to study urban planning?
I am one of many who have transitioned from architecture to urban planning. Although I enjoyed architecture, and still do, I found that I was more interested in the "big picture." Rather than focusing on a building on a site, I was more drawn to the idea of developing entire blocks, neighborhoods, and cities. I chose to study urban planning because I wanted to build a career around developing communities and shaping cities in a sustainable manner, broadly defined. Furthermore, I wanted to be able to bridge the gap between members of different social strata through urban planning and to educate residents on planning processes and initiatives to get local engagement in the shaping of communities.
What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?
Urban planning is a broad field. What helped me navigate this expanse, though, was meeting with and talking to planners beforehand and learning more about what they do day-to-day and how they got to where they are. I would also suggest attending public meetings as often as possible. Whether you end up in the public sector, private sector, or non-profit sector, attending public meetings is a great way of learning what people care about, both the trivial and the essential, what the issues are, and what the processes are like—what works, what doesn’t work, and why.