Profiles of the Next Generation of Planners III

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In the third edition of our series profiling urban planning, development, and design students from across the country, masters students from the University of Washington, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Wayne State University reflect on what led them to the planning field, their academic experiences, and their professional aspirations.

 Kate StinebackCatherine G. Stineback
Degree Objective: Planning/Public Administration
Expected Graduation: May 2006
University of Washington, College of Architecture & Urban Planning

What compelled you to attend planning school?
I had been working in New York City for about three years when I decided to apply to planning school. At the time I was working for a nonprofit organization that assisted brilliant children from minority backgrounds get into private schools in New York City and New England . Most of our kids lived in distressed communities in the outer boroughs. Simultaneously I was doing a lot of volunteer work with youth affected by HIV/AIDS. Both of the kids that I mentored lived in the ghetto and I quickly became very familiar with the every days of their lives--dense social and familial networks, overcrowded apartments, gangs and drug activity. I was living in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn and these two young women were both a ten minute car ride away from me, yet their neighborhoods were so different from mine. I had always been fascinated by the nuances of urban communities, especially in New York City, and I thought planning would be a way to bridge the gap between understanding the built environment and working to better the lives of people in distressed communities.

What do you hope to pursue after graduation?
After graduation I hope to work in the field of nonprofit housing development. I believe that as the federal dollars devoted to housing continue to shrink, it is increasingly the nonprofit community that remains committed to bringing public and private interests together to invest in distressed urban communities. Housing is also an issue that affects all of us and is often a determining factor in the perceived health of a neighborhood. I am particularly interested in the rise of the community development corporation and its role in revitalizing central cities. I am currently in a concurrent degree program to receive masters' degrees in both urban planning and public administration. With these degrees I hope to eventually run my own community-based nonprofit organization that has a comprehensive view of planning--one that focuses on the importance of social networks as well the built environment.

What do you see as the future of planning?
The future of planning is in regional equity. As our first-ring suburbs age and take on characteristics of older urban centers and pockets of our central cities remain mired in inequality and segregation, planning as a profession must begin to address the ways to achieve more equality through our built environment from a regional perspective. Competition for tax revenue is intense and communities continue to compete for "big-box" retail while ignoring the effects of these economic development choices on their neighbors. Planning, when backed by a strong state-wide growth management plan, such as in Washington, has the potential to play a major role in brokering regional relationships and creating mandates that are visionary and actually have some "teeth." In turn, an increased sense of regionalism would force Americans to pay greater attention to the vast inequality between the suburbs and central cities, as well as the continued racial and economic segregation at play in most American communities.

 Jason GainesJason S. Gaines
Degree Objective: City/Regional Planning
Expected Graduation: May 2004
Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Architecture

What compelled you to attend planning school?
My desire to attend planning school stems from a love for cities and the intricacies that make each city unique. I attended Miami University (Ohio), where I received a B.A. in urban and regional planning. It was during my time there that I discovered my fascination with transportation and the movement of people from place to place. Once I completed my B.A., I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to do for a career. That, along with the fact that there were not many good job opportunities at the time (especially for a Bachelor's degree holder with no practical planning experience), prompted me to apply for graduate school. Thus far, I can say that attending planning school at the graduate level has been one of the best decisions I could have ever made in terms of having a career in planning, as well as for giving me more insight and a greater appreciation for the field.

What do you hope to pursue after graduation?
Upon graduation, I hope to enter the field, preferably via the public sector (although I would consider the private sector if I felt it was a good match for both myself and the firm). I want my work to allow me to take on issues that have the potential to "make or break" the future of metropolitan Atlanta. I want to play a role that will have a strong impact on future transportation and land use decision throughout the region. Ultimately, I would like to own a consulting firm that specializes in transportation studies, land use studies, and comprehensive plan writing.

What do you see as the future of planning?
The future of planning is going to depend on our ability to make "reconnections" in areas where we have "disconnections." In many of our nation's larger metropolises, a large disconnect has been created by the trend of urban sprawl and automobile-oriented development. We must plan in a manner that will conserve energy, space and resources so that we can enjoy a more-livable (both physical and natural) environment. Mixed-use development, infill development, improved public transportation and the increase of available bicycle/pedestrian facilities are all examples of ways to accomplish that goal. Infill development is going to be another important trend of the future, as many cities are reaching "built-out" status and are becoming landlocked. This will help bring renewed interest and investment in the city.

 Michael BoettcherMichael J. Boettcher
Degree Objective: Planning
Graduation: December 2003
Wayne State University, College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs

What compelled you to attend planning school?
The city of Legos in my basement. Some of the better buildings have in fact survived from my childhood. From others, the bricks have gone to use in newer buildings of Legos given to me last Christmas. I've been fascinated by urban form and human interactions in space since I can remember. I received my undergraduate degree in Geography, but wasn't quite satisfied with that. A few years in commercial real estate development research helped land me a job with the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department several years ago.

Now that I was in the field, I wanted to better understand city operations and mechanisms. Along the way, I learned of American planning's roots in the progressive movements in the 19th century, the ways that transportation and urban form can and do influence one another and how demographics and attitudes toward them have changed, e.g. the lingering ideal (and resultant landscape) of a nuclear family in its own single-family home as contrasted to today's demands for housing choice by the "creative class."

Of course, the degree also increases my chance for promotion within the city, as many of my colleagues have graduate planning or similar degrees. Should I decide to look elsewhere, it also increases my marketability. Many job postings that spark my interest today are restricted to those with Masters' degrees. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, after a difficult eight-year struggle for my Bachelor's degree.

What do you hope to pursue after graduation?
I plan to stay in central city redevelopment. There are many good public agencies and developers doing fantastic urban planning and projects in vibrant cities that I find attractive today. The pull of, say, Chicago, Washington and Toronto is undeniably strong. I could also get back into the private side in Detroit and work on development projects. Detroit has an incredible built heritage waiting for adaptive reuse, and frustrated demand for new residential space and commercial uses. Local developers tend to cautiously nibble at (often suburban-style) development in the city, while larger, out-of-state developers still hold off, waiting for clear signals that Detroit has irreversibly turned for the better.

My current position in long range planning actually tends to become isolating. I would like to interact more with and learn more from Detroit's citizens. I would like to bring more children, minority and lower income people into the process. Whether they recognize it or not, each one has a significant stake in planning for his or her locale. I therefore try to make myself as available as possible to community organizations and outside planning efforts in Southwest Detroit, my area for work.

I truly relish being the "face" of the City for many people that call or visit, asking for information on their neighborhoods or assistance with their development projects. With the right career choices, I can remain such a face in either the private or public sectors. I also love the loosely work-related volunteering I do. It's been doubly gratifying to have received thanks and praise for my volunteer efforts leading architectural/historic tours of Detroit , working with kids in "Box City," a large planning and construction game held as part of our annual Children's Fair at the Detroit Festival of the Arts, or coordinating Planners Nite Out social events.

What do you see as the future of planning?
Planning must reconcile itself between the demands placed upon suburban and consultant planners and the goals of smart growth, which seek to redirect development toward existing urban areas. APA's Smart Growth platform often runs counter to the marching orders of much of its own membership. How can its member practitioners advocate such a platform when the suburbs and urban fringe jurisdictions that employ many of them still work to attract typical strip mall and "McMansion" development for its additional revenue generation? Planners pushing for enhanced state, regional or federal development controls will have a hard time finding employment in such municipalities.

I believe the industry has largely lost sight of its original progressive raisons d'être. Modern planners risk (further) relegation to custodianship of the status quo under today's governing systems and planning orthodoxies. Movements under the larger planning umbrella from the New Urbanism to food systems planning are pointing again in the right direction, but have further to go to significantly impact urban planning. I'm still learning how to best make that happen.

Planning has to make itself more generally relevant. It has to be more closely tied to capital needs and budgets and leadership priorities, each circularly influenced and enhanced by improved planning. Everybody understands the purpose of a business plan. Not everyone can, however, equate the need a city would have for such a thing. A city must, of course, plan for its future in things like land use, which has a major bearing on everything from budgeting ability to quality of life. Planners, being jacks of all trades, have to become simultaneously better promoters and better listeners, more engaged in broad outreach. I see "smart growth" cited throughout the media, but I rarely see it connected to a strong planning voice.

Tell us why you got involved in planning...

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