What attracted you to the Phillip D. Peters Regional Planning Fellowship Program?
I first became interested in the Peters Fellowship after learning that CMAP created a comprehensive plan for my hometown. Ever since I became exposed to planning, I made a commitment to return to the Chicago region and use planning as a tool for the change I want to see in my hometown. In 2019, I was assigned a comparative essay for my Urban History and Theory course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This assignment allowed me to analyze the spatial and economic patterns of any city I wanted and compare it to a Global City. I took no time to select my hometown as my city of choice.
As I was searching for materials, documents that CMAP created constantly popped up in my search with the first being my hometown’s comprehensive plan. I was so happy to learn about CMAP and its efforts to support my community and so many communities that surrounded my town. Determined to find ways to contribute to CMAP’s work and my home region, I immediately searched for career opportunities at CMAP. I jumped at the chance to be a part of Mr. Peters legacy after learning more about his background and the Peters Fellowship program.
What kinds of projects did you work on during your fellowship?
CMAP was committed to offering me projects that aligned with my passions and interests. I worked on a community economic development existing conditions analysis for an equitable transit-oriented development collaborative in the City of Chicago. This opportunity provided me with the chance to coordinate and co-lead interviews with community members in the Chicagoland and propose equitable community engagement strategies for the Garfield Green Line South Station Action Plan.
I also received the chance to participate in interviews of activists, advocates, and political leaders across the Chicago region for a podcast that was designed to inspire and organize Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color in the region around the Census. Additionally, I facilitated a discussion session on inequity and justice in the city for the Future Leaders in Planning program and analyzed the nation’s 12 largest regional planning agencies response to COVID-19 and racial injustices. This analysis allowed me to propose strategies that CMAP could embody when elevating social justice in its COVID-19 recovery work.
How did the Fellowship help to shape your career path and ambition?
From the first call I had with my CMAP Peters Fellow mentor to my final fellowship presentation, CMAP staff and the Peters Fellow Committee members were intentional about helping me achieve one of the ultimate goals of my fellowship. This goal was to learn how I could be effective in advancing equity and justice with communities who have been historically harmed and marginalized by broader social and cultural structures in the Chicago region.
CMAP helped me get closer to achieving this goal by placing me on projects that served communities who are structurally disadvantaged. My mentor even connected me to an equity-driven project being led by a Peters Fellow Committee member. I was also given ample opportunities to build meaningful relationships with CMAP staff and connect with various people across the region to learn about the great equity and justice work they are doing. I even received the opportunity to attend various trainings and webinars that expose me to the radical equity and justice-based work planners can and are already doing. I ended my fellowship wanting to continue working in regional planning especially in the South Suburbs and feeling confident in my ability to embody radical practices in every step of my career.
What did you find to be special about CMAP?
I found CMAP to be special in itself because it is made up of incredibly passionate people, who really love the work they do and the work that so many of our region’s communities, organizations, and partners are doing. Due to the staff’s passion and knowledge, I learned so much about regional planning efforts and was connected to wonderful planners in the region. These connections helped me gained incredible mentors that support me and my interests to this day.
I found CMAP’s administration of my fellowship and projects to be very special. I was always reminded that my fellowship was a fast track to my passions in planning and felt supported in the work I was doing or wanted to do. I also loved that the CMAP team especially my CMAP Peters Fellow mentor and project managers were my biggest advocates. Their commitment to me and my growth and development helped me to end my fellowship with tangible steps that will support and pioneer innovations in my career and work practices. I appreciate that I had the opportunity to learn and grow from them and mutually support them in the process.
What makes the northeastern Illinois region a special place to work as a regional planner (or related field)?
The northeastern Illinois region is a special place for regional planners to work because of the mass amount of planning projects that are happening in the region. Being at CMAP showed me, that there is no shortage of planning opportunities in the region. Many municipalities, communities, organizations, and partners are always looking for ways to build on their strengths and address challenges especially challenges that are rooted in injustices.
I learned that CMAP is taking a lead role in supporting parts of the region that are most in need due to historical injustices like disinvestment and displacement. I know that this work alongside the work that so many communities are doing will make the northeastern region an unforgettable place to work in as a regional planner. There are many resources, groups, and organizations that are supporting planners who looking to work in the region. I was lucky to be able to join an incredibly special group due to a planner I connected with during my fellowship.
What are you doing professionally now?
I’m finishing up my final year of studies in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Master of Urban Planning and Policy program. I will be graduating in May 2020 with a specialization in economic development and focus in community economic development. I’m also grateful and excited to be a planning intern at CMAP and research assistant for Dr. Stacey Sutton’s and Dr. Nebiyou Tilahun’s project on Chicago’s automated traffic enforcement system at the UIC Urban Transportation Center. I will be applying for jobs in the region and beginning my own community economic development initiatives in the South Suburban region soon.
Why is regional planning an important function in a metropolitan region?
Regional planning is one of the most vital functions to a metropolitan region because it connects us across space no matter the block or neighborhood we’re from. It connects our transportation systems, economies, housing stocks, water infrastructure systems, and natural environments to one other and regions across the nation. It allows us to make collective decisions that contributes to and supports the stability and growth of our metro’s communities and households. Just as important, it has a fundamental impact on communities lived experiences, outcomes, and land as history continually shows. As we work to address the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and systematic racism, regional planning will be one of the most powerful tools we have to overcome if it is rooted in intention, equity, and justice.