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Zoned for Success

Recently, State and Local Spotlight has been all about awesome state and local jobs and the innovative govies who fill those positions. For example, did you know that Wildlife Managers are pretty much the future of conservation? Or that there are a surprising number of mayors who were elected when they were 22?

In order to continue our headfirst dive into the state and local workforce, I sat down with Lacey Rains, Senior City Planner in the City of Champaign, Illinois to discuss her unique role as lead planner and developer in the city. Here is what I learned:

City planning is a team effort:

In the City of Champaign Planning and Development Office is comprised of about 15 people. The roles range from senior planners, to long range planning, to zoning enforcement. “The city planning aspect itself involves current planning, long range planning, and economic development,” Rains explained. While she deals mostly with long range planning and redevelopment, her projects cannot be successful without the help of her colleagues in other areas of development and zoning.

Planners are ambitious:

Rains explained that her biggest challenge is the amount of projects that her team wants to accomplish. “We’re really passionate about our community and what we want to do for the community is sometimes less than realistic for the timeframe that we have set for ourselves,” she said. Rains and her team want to acknowledge the immediate needs of the community but they must balance planning for those needs and the more mundane day-to-day upkeep of city planning and development. She emphasized, “we’re fortunate to have a great team but keeping our ambition on track with what we can realistically do is probably our biggest challenge.”

Making citizens happy makes planners happy:

Recently, there was a group of people in Champaign who were very passionate about having backyard chickens. “Our ordinance prohibited chickens in backyards but the community really wanted local foods and they wanted the option of having the most local poultry,” Rains explained. As a result, the city had a meeting and the backyard hen ordinance was passed. Rains underscored, “we did our research, we talked to the community, and we gave the citizens what they wanted.” The best part? Rains was able to attend the ribbon cutting for the coop.

Technology is as important to planners as you’d think:

Technology is particularly relevant to city planners when it comes to maps. Rains explained that the old school way to create zoning maps was extremely time consuming and involved actually drawing the map out and manually zoning it. “Now fortunately, we have GIS,” she explained. “We can go right to the system and pull various layers that we want to investigate for the zone.” Additionally, Rains noted that she uses Google Street View almost every day so she can quickly look at a site or property and asses it before she goes out to it.

Seeing outcomes is the best:

“My favorite part of the job is being involved in decisions that impact the future,” Rains explained. Logistically, city planners have to be able to look at a parcel of land or a neighborhood and see the potential for what it could become. Envisioning a change, whether simple or huge, can have long term impact on redevelopment opportunities and ultimately the well-being of the community. “Being able to sit down with the community and hear what they are concerned about and making goals with them and then seeing those goals and changes come to life and shape the community is the most rewarding thing,” Rains concluded.

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