This July, ABNY is highlighting YPs working to improve New York’s infrastructure.
Congratulations to our July Spotlights of the Month, Ellis Calvin, Regional Plan Association, and Ashley Greenspan, Crown Castle!
I have always loved cities and the dynamism that comes from so many people in living in one place. I’ve also always loved maps and thinking spatially, so urban planning was kind of a no-brainer for me. The more I learned the more fascinated I became with how different systems within cities interact—how housing effects transportation, how transportation effects the environment, etc. I was able to land an internship at Regional Plan Association my final semester of grad school, and knew almost immediately that it was the place I wanted to work after graduating. Fortunately, they offered me a job, and I’ve been there for over eight years. As the research team has evolved over the years, I’ve gone from mainly working on environmental and climate change planning issues, to working across all of our organization’s program areas, including housing and transportation.
I’ll preface by saying everything at RPA is a team effort, and I’m extremely proud of all the brilliant colleagues I’ve worked with over the years. I’m definitely most proud of being a part of RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan, part of a legacy going back to the influential First Regional Plan in 1929 that all planners are taught about. It was a huge undertaking–we developed 61 recommendations for improving the equity, prosperity, sustainability, and health of the New York City region. It’s been gratifying to see many of the ideas starting to be implemented since the plan was published in 2017. We also improved on our previous plans in a major way, making it more inclusive by building stronger relationships with community-based groups to add their constituents’ voices to the plan. I’m happy to say we’ve continued to partner with many of those groups.
Urban planning is a pretty broad field, but a couple pieces of general advice would be, one, get a good foundation in the technical skills of planning, especially GIS and a little programming, as it seems increasingly important. Second, when engaging with community stakeholders and the public, work on distilling complicated ideas into easily digestible pieces, but absolutely never “dumb down.” Assume people are smart, but very busy.
I came to New York ten years ago, and Superstorm Sandy hit just a few months later. Contributing to the volunteer effort in the wake of the storm was definitely the first time I felt like a New Yorker, feeling like I was part of this community of more than eight million people coming together in a time of crisis to help each other.
A lot of help and being honest about what motivates me.
You never know who is going to help you get your next job. People I previously thought of as mere acquaintances and colleagues who I could have sworn didn’t remember me have turned out to be great mentors. They each taught me the importance of maintaining relationships and being generous with your connections.
Having a job that I love in an impactful industry is also the result of reflecting on each job to understand what I enjoyed most about it and trying to ensure that those aspects are incorporated into my next position. As a result, each opportunity has been a progressively better fit.
I’m proud that throughout my career I have stayed true to the idea of working to improve the built environment and the way we experience places we love—whether in telecom, real estate, or transit.
You can build a career in public affairs based on a variety of experiences—communications, government relations, marketing, public policy, CSR. Embrace opportunities that will give you a chance to hone your skills across disciplines.
New York is part of who I am. I grew up in Harlem and have always appreciated the independence living in NYC gives people to explore new places, try different things, and experience diverse cultures. But it likely didn’t occur to me that my experience was unique until I went away to Ithaca College. I was one of a few students who didn’t have a driver’s license and when I finally did get a license, I had a hard time driving at night because I was accustomed to the ambient light of NYC.