Submitted by Megan Nelms, AICP
Describe your current job. Please include your title and years of service.
I am currently a Planner at the City of Gillette, Wyoming in the Development Services Department. I’ve been here a year in December.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Supreme Court Justice (so I could wear a swimsuit under my robe…I was a kid from South Florida), astronaut, veterinarian. I was all over the place.
How did you get into the planning profession? Describe your planning background and education.
Growing up in South Florida, every year we dealt with hurricanes, and I always saw the devastation but never thought about the recovery; it was just a way of life. Then I went away to college, and during my sophomore year the town was hit by an EF-5 tornado. One of my professors mentioned that she was on a committee to advise on what the city should do in the aftermath and what to do in the areas that were completely destroyed. I thought it was really interesting but didn’t do anything because I was in the middle of my degree. Fast forward three years later and a bachelors and master’s degree, and I decided to go to planning school and get another master’s, this one in planning.
Describe your favorite planning project. Why was it your favorite? What was your role?
A planning project that I thoroughly enjoyed was a historic preservation project. The neighborhood that my team and I were assigned had been neglected and felt disenfranchised from the rest of the city. Going in, there were negative perceptions associated with “outsiders,” and on more than one occasion there were safety concerns during our survey of the area. The goal of the project was to create a neighborhood plan, but to do so we needed a holistic picture of the past and present. For the past, we created a catalog of old newspaper clippings, city council meetings, and pieced together oral histories of long-time residents whose families had lived in the neighborhood for generations. Then we took an inventory of community resources (schools, parks, food sources, etc.) and housing stock and evaluated each house by architectural features, condition, the year it was built, etc.
From there we held interactive public visioning meetings to share with the residents everything we had learned and to hear what they wanted in their neighborhood and what concerns they had in the present and for the future. The public meetings were key because as planners, while we need to plan for the future and vision of the city, we also should be planning for the residents and give value to their experience and interaction with their neighborhood. From there the project stalled as some legal concern came into play with different organizations; however a few of the local non-profits did utilize some of the teams’ ideas.
Describe a mentor or someone you admire that has had an impact on your career.
Two of my professors in grad school, Dr. Laura Saija, and Dr. Antonio Raciti, really got me excited and passionate about planning. As professors, they wanted to ensure that their students were actually learning and not just memorizing steps or information for projects and tests. Both professors encouraged to get out and know the community you are planning for, and have conversations with the community.
What is your favorite piece of advice given to you? Who gave it?
Plan for the residents; plan for the people - Dr. Laura Saija
What piece of advice would you give someone just out of college and starting into the planning profession?
Whatever community your job is in, get involved outside of work; join a board/committee, go to community events, take advantage of the resources available to residents like parks and trails. It’ll help you be a better planner if you interact with your community outside of the workplace and see how people interact with the city that you are planning for.
What are you known for in the office?
I’m known for my exuberance and always eating.
Why do you belong to the Western Planner? Why is the Western Planner valuable to you as a planner?
I think it’s important to be a member of a local/regional/national organization; it’s an asset having resources and people you can draw on for advice, knowledge, and camaraderie. Also, I enjoy the articles.
Published in November 2018