Evan Alvarez

MUP 2016

Urbana, IL

What is your current job and how did your planning degree prepare you for it?

I went into the MUP program with a passion for accessibility and making sure that every group in a community was equitably connected to all of the resources and opportunities that their community has to offer. To explore this subject, I dedicated the majority of my coursework to identifying the intersection between land use controls and transportation. In the summer of 2015, I worked as the GIS Intern for my home city of Mobile, Alabama, doing a spatial analysis of how property owners in the downtown area would be affected by a new form-based regulating parking lots. This position took my cursory understanding of GIS and made me feel much more comfortable using different spatial tools and improvising, teasing out the information I was looking for from the available data. When I returrned to Champaign-Urbana for the second year of my program, working as a teaching assistant for the junior-level planning courses, I was able to continue learning through the exchange of ideas and experiences with my students.

This work allowed me to start work as a planner for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District shortly after graduating. I get to work in a highly cooperative environment maintaining our operations, identifying room for growth and improvement, collecting and analyzing ridership data, and responding to our riders' feedback. It is deeply rewarding work that allows me to interact with mass transit usage on a number of different levels and connect the people of Champaign-Urbana to schools, jobs, and the other important destinations in their lives.

Why did you choose to study urban planning?

As an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, I majored in cultural anthropology. I loved the focus on intersections and how things like religion, language, agriculture, and diet could all be so inextricable in looking at a culture. Towards the end of school, I admit, I started thinking about how the job hunt would look for an anthropology major and how competitive graduate programs in anthropology were, so I declared a second major in geography as a kind of contingency. Through geography, I found that same focus on intersectionality, looking at how people, weather, and environment interacted with one another. Through my geography courses, I was introduced to planning and urban geography, and I loved the combination of an anthropological mindset and view of problems combined with the practicality and applications of geography, which was why I chose planning as my professional field.

What advice would you share with someone who is considering a career in urban planning?

Remember that everyone has a unique perspective and insight, both in the world at large and within the field of planning. Hearing out the complaints or fears of different groups and people gives you invaluable insight into how to work with them in the future and how to address concerns before they even come to light. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but learning to see why they feel the way they do is one of the best skill sets that a planner can have.

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