Urban Fold

Planner Profile: Joe DiStefano

An ongoing Planetizen series profiles professionals in planning, design, development and related fields. Learn what influenced people to enter the field, what work they have been doing, and what advice they have to offer others interested in planning and development.

Joe DiStefano

Current position and affiliation:
Senior Associate, Calthorpe Associates

Current location (City, State):
Berkeley, CA

Last position and organization:
Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP)

Last position location (City, State):
Washington D.C.

Brief description of a recent project:
I am currently managing the effort to develop a long-range regional vision for Southern Louisiana in the wake of the damage from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August 2005.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging, and most interesting part of my job, is in effectively communicating the consequences of varying growth patterns to varied audiences - from politicians and decision makers, to advocacy groups, to the average guy or gal on the street. That's the only way we are really going to effect change...people need to understand the impacts of development and other decisions on the things they care about - be it tax burdens, environmental areas, public health, pollution, energy, infrastructure cost, family values, or the ability of their kids walking safely to school or the park.

What is the last planning (or other) book you read:
Bayou Farwell by Mike Tidwell. A great, and very poignant book, about the rapidly disappearing Louisiana coast and the cultures drowning with it. Its story is one of the things that keeps me motivated in the challenging work we are doing in Louisiana.

How did you get into the field?:
I studied urban history in college, particularly racial segregation in Los Angeles. Through this work, and an interest in the social implications of urban forms, I became fascinated by the urban landscape of LA and the water projects, highways, and transit systems that served as the framework for growth. Then I discovered there was a field called Urban Planning...who knew?

Where did you go to school?:
Public school all my life. Undergrad: UC Berkeley. Grad School: UNC-Chapel Hill (for planning).

Do you have any advice for someone entering the field?:
Stay idealistic. It's those ideals that slowly but surely make this world a better place, despite the cheesiness of that statement. Sure you will come up against market, political, and other hurdles and you will need to compromise. But never make compromises without those ideals firmly in your sights.

Planner Joe DiStefano (second from left) at a workshop in New Orleans, where he is managing the development of a long-range regional plan for Southern Louisiana

Planner Joe DiStefano (second from left) at a workshop in New Orleans, where he is managing the development of a long-range regional plan for Southern Louisiana.


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