I’m an urban planner with specializations in economic revitalization and community engagement. I have worked with local governments and organizations across the country to help them understand their economic opportunities and plan intelligently for a resilient and vibrant future. I also help communities have more constructive and more beneficial conversations around their priorities, their desired future and how they’re going to get there.
I have done economic revitalization planning, community engagement, and cultural resources planning for most of the past 20 years. I’ve worked in big cities and tiny villages, on huge projects and shoestrings, you name it. I’ve done projects that I am deeply proud of, and some that I would like to forget. I try to do a lot less of that second kind anymore.
My economic revitalization planning approach is heavily influenced by two things: growing up in the Rust Belt during the dark years of the 1970s, and working in Main Street – style downtown revitalization in the 1990s and 2000s. As the eldest daughter of a small factory owner, I had a front-row seat for both the unglamorous hard work required to run a small business, and the implosion of the manufacturing economy in the early 1980s. As a result of that, I learned how to do pretty creative things with Spam and couple-days-old bread.
Years later, I had the privilege of working with Main Street© programs across Wisconsin – including helping to start the Main Street program in Green Bay, Wisconsin. From Main Streeters, I learned the value and the potential huge impact of capitalizing on what makes a place unique, placing small bets, fostering a healthy small business ecosystem and maintaining a steady focus on building quality of life. And the critical value of having a good plan.
When I evolved into an urban planner after a stint as a teacher and eight years running a historic preservation firm, I carried those lessons with me. Even when doing a routine comprehensive plan, I found myself digging into tough conversations with residents and steering committees about their community’s economy and how the plan might set the stage for a better future than they feared was coming. I had these conversations in places where the current economy looked pretty good, and places where it was pretty clear that the wolf was at the door. Over and over again, it became clear to me that conventional approaches to land use planning, and conventional approaches to economic development, were largely not building the kinds of places where people wanted to be. That’s a tough lesson for an economic development planner.
After years of beating my head on this, I began to conclude that, from data-crunching to setting the action plan, we needed to take a different tack – to address the deeper issues preventing communities from becoming economically healthy places. So I sketched out something called the Wise Economy Manifesto. It’s still evolving, but here’s the crux of it:
- Communities are human ecosystems. What we do will have wide and deep, and often unintended, repercussions, and we need to change how we work and think to anticipate those as best we can.
- That which makes you unique makes you valuable. The great challenge of planning and economic development is to uncover, brush off, and illuminate those characteristics that make a place deeply, meaningfully unique.
- We must focus on cultivating our native economic species. In this era, the chase after the flashy, the big, the long shot, is too costly and too risky to deserve the lion’s share of our attention.
- Beware the magic pill. We all want easy answers; we all want there to be a simple solution. There isn’t one. Get used to it, and commit yourself to incremental, complex, messy change.
- Crowdsourced wisdom is the best way to find a real solution. We have tough challenges in front of us, and we need all the bright ideas that we can get. But just like water needs to be guided into a channel before it can drive a turbine, we have to take the lead in guiding our community’s wisdom into fruitful efforts.
- We whose have the job of helping communities work better have to be brave. We have to critically re-assess our professions and organizations and communities, and find the fortitude to break through the walls that are keeping our communities from being successful.
So this influences how I approach everything from market analysis to strategy development. I spend a lot of time looking for emerging or “sleeper” economic opportunities, figuring out how to pull in new partners for economic and community revitalization initiatives, and helping people shift their thinking about what kinds of activities will generate the best return on investment for the long-term future of the community.
That’s what I’m about.
Other stuff: I’m from Cleveland originally, did my undergrad at Northwestern University in Chicago, did my Masters at the University of Cincinnati, lived in Green Bay, Wisconsin for most of the 90s and live in Cincinnati today with my husband, two sons, two sailboats, assorted cold-blooded creatures (courtesy of Son #2), and a psychological-baggage-laden rescue Labrador retriever.