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Friday Feature: Kate

Dec 03, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kate and I am an urban planner…

What made you decide to go into your field?

A few years after college I wound up in a job at an affordable housing non-profit in Brooklyn where we built and managed housing, community gardens, and provided tenant advocacy. I learned about the process of neighborhood development, and the ongoing gentrification of Bedford Sty. I became very curious about why certain spaces and neighborhoods worked better than others as well as the lines on the map you couldn’t see – tracing color, class and use.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

My mom’s a planner too! She helped to write the legislation for the first ISTEA Intermodal Surface Transportation Policy Act (1991) and went on to work to achieve Context Sensitive Highway Design in the State of California among other things.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)

Distractions – of all kinds

What inspires you?

Beauty in all forms – often what is distracting…Whether in thought or design.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

It makes sense to go for a Master’s to help transition into that first key job as the field grows in competitiveness, but really Planning is not about being trained as an expert, it’s just a particular way of viewing and being curious about the world. Lots of training can take place on the job in both analysis and systems thinking. I was an anthropology undergrad with a focus on cultural studies…I think of Urban Planning sometimes as applied anthropology.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

I think planners are better if they can be translators; this requires having a flexible perspective about the way things are done, and to see linkages between the different disciplines. The best planners should have an ability to strategize and work hard to make things happen on the ground.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

I think I’ve probably forgotten it. Sadly.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)

Of course and it’s all about retrofitting now – making auto-oriented places more walkable, and building up neighborhoods to transform our geographies of nowhere. As the benefits and the reasons behind Growth Management become manifest (i.e. our resources are finite) there will hopefully be more political will to make these kinds of tough calls. There are lots of interesting places to work on these issues too, California, Chicago, the East, The Plains States…each place is having to grapple with transition and change. Shrinking Cities and Growing Cities.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

Always keep in the front of your mind the kinds of problems you want to solve as you are moving forward in the field- environmental, community, social, or equity. I use this as a lens to make decisions, and seek out new opportunities.

For example – If you are considering a masters in planning- think about the City where the school is as your laboratory – and what kinds of issues it is addressing. It might end up having a lot of influence over your future.