January 2021 Member Spotlight: Laurie Marston, FAICP
Laurie has 45 years of experience in providing planning services to municipalities, businesses, developers, and nonprofit organizations. She was also present at the very first WP+D meeting over 25 years ago. Laurie recently retired from her career as a planning consultant, working with other consulting firms or doing some work solo. She also served as the technical adviser to DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute, which partnered with APA Illinois, providing plan commission training around the state. We recently sat down with her - virtually! - to learn more about her career, community engagement, and where she sees the industry going forward.
Q: How did you first discover planning as a profession?
A: When I was an undergrad at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, they offered something called a Jan Plan. During the month of January students could take a short course, do fieldwork with a professor, work at a job, travel, or something else of your choosing. During one Jan Plan, I took a class with two civil engineering professors that was all about planning, which was so cool. That was my first real exposure to it. Just after I graduated, I spent the summer working at the local Union County planning department. It was a rural area, so it was just a few students and the planning director! After that initial exposure to the field, I never looked back.
Q: How did WP+D and your involvement with it come about?
A: Laurel Lipkin and Cassandra Francis originally came up with the idea. They sent out a mailing to a number of different lists of women that were involved in planning, development and related fields. I was on one of those lists. Our first meeting was at the 3 Arts Club on a snowy night. When I arrived, the place was completely packed which was so exciting! There was clearly a need for what the two founders had tapped into, bringing women in this industry together for networking, mentoring, professional development programs, volunteer programs and the opportunity to socialize too.
Later at the first meeting of the Board of WPD, we didn’t have a gavel, but somebody had a hairbrush, so that became the gavel. For a number of years when the new board was sworn in, the outgoing board president gave the hairbrush to the incoming president to use for the next year. I love that tradition and the spirit of the membership that it represents: being able to improvise to solve a problem with a sense of humor. All these years later, I still continue to engage as a member and attend WPD programs when I can.
Q: Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years?
A: There are so many good organizations working in planning and development, but I have been seeing an evolution over the past several years, which has only been accelerated by the pandemic. Previously, organizations in various fields stuck to their subject matter - housing, the environment, transportation, etc. - but now people are seeing just how interrelated issues are. For example, peace groups are seeing how climate change is affecting refugee migration patterns, which can lead to conflicts, perhaps resulting in violence. Environmental groups are now more involved in issues of racial justice. Labor unions are getting engaged around issues like voting rights.
This change relates to planners because we’re trained to look at the big picture. Geography, for example, is not something that most other professionals typically look at, but planners do. We also have the big picture in terms of time: we want to know what happened historically, while also looking toward the future. I’m optimistic that the next few years will be good ones for the industry as planners help society to solve these pressing issues in a much more holistic way.
A: What was the most challenging project in your career? The most fun?
Q: One of the most challenging projects was with a client looking to utilize a property as a small group home for seniors needing memory care. They found the perfect home for their needs – a one story home on a large lot, tucked away between trees, and adequately distanced from the neighbors. The consultant team completed a market analysis which showed a definite need for such a facility in the community. We talked with staff in several other communities about similar facilities. They all indicated that, once operational, the neighbors had not expressed concerns. The proposed group home would have little impact owing to its small size. However, at a public hearing, we learned how many residents were opposed and vocalized their thoughts on what supposedly horrible things would happen to their community as a result of this group home and the people who would live and work there. Even a medical doctor spoke out against it! I expected some opposition, but was disappointed and surprised at the viciousness of the comments. Ultimately, the client withdrew the request before the village board vote. This was such a loss, as this facility was exactly what this community needed, and there would be negligible impacts.
On a much more positive note, about fifteen years ago, I was part of the consultant team for the Glenview Park District for a working farm on Lake Ave. A family who had immigrated to the area from Germany had owned the property since the mid-1800s. When the last family member had passed away, her will directed that the property be sold to the highest bidder. The likely result would have been the loss of the farm to development. A citizens group asked the Park District to purchase the property to preserve it as a working farm. The Park Board appreciated the group’s goal, but was not sure that the community wanted to devote substantial funds to saving the farm. However the Park Board agreed to put a referendum on the ballot for funds to purchase the farm. With the active support of the citizens group, the referendum passed! The Park District asked us to develop a Master Plan for the farm, which included at that time a single family home, a barn and cows. We had a wonderful experience doing an all-day charrette with the citizens’ advisory committee to envision what the property could become. Small groups each created a vision, then shared it with the entire group which provided feedback. Based on the ideas from the charrette, we worked with the citizens’ advisory committee to refine the plan, which the Park District then adopted. To our delight, the plan was implemented over time and the farm continues to operate today. I loved this project because it was a community project, where people were excited, passionate and worked together for the greater good.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
A: I’m so thrilled that WP+D is gearing up to celebrate 30 years. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long! True story: during WP+D’s 25th anniversary celebration at the Union League Club, we realized that at the time that WP+D was founded, our members would not have been able to enter the Club without being accompanied by a male member! Just one of many reminders of how far we’ve come.
March 2020 Member Spotlight: Katanya Raby
Katanya Raby exemplifies commitment to the planning profession and to the communities and residents we serve. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois Chicago, with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master's in Urban Planning and Policy. At UIC, Katanya served as the Graduate School Representative to the APA-IL Chapter Board. Currently, in her role as Associate Outreach Planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Katanya is an important contributor to the ON TO 2050 regional planning effort and to CMAP's Local Technical Assistance Program, which helps communities put plans into action for their residents.
In particular, she helps coordinate and execute the agency’s public outreach, ensuring that those residents' voices are heard loud and clear in the development and implementation of plans. Katanya brings a deep understanding of challenges communities face, including institutional inequities, historical segregation, and economic isolation. Urban planning is a vehicle for Katanya’s great passion: getting people interested in the world around them and in how we might – together – improve quality of life for all.
Katanya also works to promote diversity and inclusion in the field and in the workplace. At UIC, she co-founded the Society of Black Urban Planners to develop programs promoting diversity in the graduate school and to facilitate discussions on urban planning concerns. She now serves on the APA-IL Diversity Committee.
Katanya’s passion includes the next generation of citizens and planners, focusing much of her public engagement work on students and youth as she co-manages CMAP’s Future Leaders in Planning program for high school students. Katanya also developed Exposure, an after-school program for planning in Chicago’s Bronzeville area that is sponsored by UIC’s Society of Black Urban Planners. And she is involved in building support for the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s No Small Plans graphics novel to foster youth civic engagement.
Katanya’s impulse to create discussion about improving public spaces even finds expression in her artwork. In her spare time, Katanya enlists underserved neighborhoods in placemaking and creates interactive public art installations, murals, and beautification projects. Katanya is the recipient of the American Planning Association’s, Illinois Chapter 2017 Emerging Planner Service Award.