Dijia’s interest in urban planning began with her fascination with how streets and transportation systems impact cities and urban life. Growing up in Tokyo, northern Indiana, and various Chinese metropolises, she experienced how transportation shaped the public realm and rhythms of life, through the design of streetscapes and the form of cities. This interest led her to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies at Bryn Mawr College, during which she concentrated on disaster planning in Japanese cities, solidifying her interest in resilient transportation systems and supportive land-use planning. Dijia returned to the Midwest to pursue a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and will graduate in May 2018.
What attracted you to the Phillip D. Peters Regional Planning Fellowship Program?
I have always been interested in how transportation interacts with other fields in planning and how it could be integral for everything from job access to place-making. I was impressed with the depth and breadth of CMAP’s research and planning, and found myself drawn to the comprehensive frameworks that CMAP applied in their work to address those interconnected challenges and opportunities in planning. The Peters Fellowship seemed like a great program to get hands-on experience while also providing good networking opportunities.
What kinds of projects did you work on during your fellowship?
I worked on several different Local Technical Assistance projects, as well as policy initiatives related to the development of the ON TO 2050 comprehensive regional plan. My main roles were assisting with research and writing for the Health Equity Strategy Paper, developing Transit Oriented Development recommendations for the North River Communities Plan (focused on the Albany Park neighborhood in Chicago), and creating a policy update analyzing the relationship between walkability and regional development trends as well as housing affordability. I was also involved with several smaller projects, providing literature review and best practice case studies for freight and retail development policy research, and assisting in various outreach events throughout the region.
How did the Fellowship help to shape your career path and ambition?
The Fellowship helped me confirm my interests in transportation and land-use planning, and also opened up new possibilities. By working on a variety of projects, I was able to engage with diverse communities in the region, and the experience broadened my understanding of the possibilities of urban planning. The Fellowship has also strengthened my desire to work in regional planning for metropolitan areas, as well as to pursue professional opportunities that allow me to engage with a variety of topics and communities.
What did you find to be special about CMAP?
CMAP has much more capacity than traditional MPOs to tackle a wide range of planning-related issues (not just transportation). I also appreciated the “consultant” aspect of the LTA program, in which regional goals are not just on paper, but actively implemented in communities at the local level. I also valued the tight teamwork and the diverse expertise that team members brought to each project, and found the work environment to be sincerely enjoyable, due to CMAP’s friendly yet professional staff.
What makes the northeastern Illinois region a special place to work as a regional planner (or related field)?
Chicago and the northeastern Illinois region have served as crucial economic and transportation hubs throughout history. This makes thinking about regional connections and goals even more important, and presents many challenges and opportunities for planning, all of which have direct impact on the vitality of individual communities. There is a great network of planning and related organizations, along with strong regional collaboration, making it a dynamic and rewarding place to work as a regional planner.
What are you doing professionally now?
In May 2018, I will be graduating from my Master’s program in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I hope to pursue professional opportunities in regional planning or planning consulting, working at the intersection of transportation and land-use planning.
Why is regional planning an important function in a metropolitan region?
Just as information, capital, and people flow across cities, regions, and even countries in the contemporary globalized society, planning issues are increasingly unbounded by the borders of administrative jurisdictions. As regional social and economic ties generate even more complex challenges to the economic prosperity, transportation accessibility, and sustainability of our built environment, planning in isolation can fail to take advantage of opportunities for growth and address common needs shared by multiple communities. Regional planning can effectively respond to these issues, by tying together the strengths of different communities and establishing broadly-shared goals that can help communities prosper in the long-term.