Drew Awsumb, AICP

MUP 2014

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

I am the Community Development Deputy Director for the City of Highland Park, Illinois, which is a historic community on Lake Michigan, along the North Shore of the Chicago region. I work with both internal and external stakeholders that help lead and serve the community, ranging from internal actors like the Building Commissioner and City Forester, to external entities like the Chicago Botanic Garden and Union Pacific Railroad. This work engages elected and appointed officials, local government managers, business leaders and property owners, hospitals, transit and transportation agencies, neighbourhood non-profits, and unique organizations like Ravinia Festival, a major outdoor music venue and summer home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Working for a municipality allows me to work in the critical transition-space of taking long-range plans from visions and ideas, and implement them in incremental decisions made through zoning policy, the Capital Improvement Plan budget, and transportation engineering projects.

The MUP program provides a wide variety of latitude and helps develop a broad skillset, while also reinforcing the interrelationships and connections between all aspects of planning. In my work, virtually every final plan speaks to land use and zoning, growth management, transportation, environmental, park and open space management, sustainability, and utility and infrastructure planning. Furthermore, the MUP program provides a solid foundation for understanding all of the different stakeholders, decision-makers, and actors that design and build our cities, and often times I find myself sitting in places like a hospital boardroom with 40 different entities discussing how to respond to their region's economic challenges. The breadth and comprehensiveness of the program definitely helped prepare me for those opportunites.

Why did you choose to study urban planning?

I began my professional career working on political campaigns, hanging around Capitol Hill, and attending college in Washington, D.C. For about 10 years I worked in ICMA city management for suburban communities in Chicago and St. Louis, ultimately serving as a city administrator in Fairview Heights, Illinois during the Great Recession. I am still driven by public service and contributing to public decision-making processes, but what I discovered was the connections between municipal operations, like the city budget and service delivery, were so closely rooted in community-based strategic planning and land use policy that I wanted to focus the entirety of my hours-in-the-week on urban planning matters. I feel like achieving a MUP degree and AICP certification enhanced my established municipal management skillsets, while bolstering my abilities as a planner and economic development specialist.

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

I think one of the most important considerations is fully digesting how broad the field is and trying to narrow in on an area that fuels your passion for the work. Urban planning covers a wide variety of topics, which can range from more legislative public policy spheres (like affordable housing) to more design-oriented functions (like physical planning and site capacity calculations). Further, the field addresses an incredibly diverse spectrum of geographies, ranging from global impacts and metropolitan scales, down to neighborhood meetings and even designing a 1/2 acre commercial lot. Comprehensive planning provides opportunities to consider and address a lot of these topics at many of these scales, but other career tracks are far more specialized and focused. I think exploring these opportunites and having a good sense of what motivates you about urban planning will lead to a more productive, enjoyable academic experience as well as land an individual in a job best suited to their interests and strengths.

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