Hugh Morris, AICP — Smart Growth Advocate

Hugh Morris, AICP

Looking back on my teen years, I realize that growing up in the heart of Washington D.C., I was able to explore the city and get around on my own by walking, biking, and using public transportation. Being able to get around on my own by various means was the start of my fascination with transportation planning.

I went for a bachelor's degree in urban studies and a year after graduation went on for my master's in planning.

I find that a degree in planning is a supercharged liberal arts degree, perfect for me because of my interest in math, economics, history, and the appeal of job possibilities in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors.

I think it makes a great discipline for returning students, there's a lot of flexibility in the field of study and in application. For me, the common thread was transportation planning.

The first stage of my career journey was with a transportation consulting firm where I became familiar with how to use the tools needed for transportation planning: GIS, computer models, mapping software and technology in general as a core skill to develop.

That first experience provided me with a solid grounding for my next job at a think tank focused on analyzing transportation energy efficiency and its impact on the economy. There we analyzed transportation systems and the infrastructure that supports travel. The work was very much research oriented. It was funded by large foundations and a very DC wonky atmosphere. We looked at the total cost of transportation and helped move agendas along.

My background in research and my interest in urban trails and trip making led me to the Rails to Trails Conservancy. There I overlaid census track data with rail-trails and used journey to work data to tell the story of how proximity to rail trails increases usage. The paper was presented at the Transportation Research Board's annual meeting. Developing the ability to tell a story through data is another core skill for planners to develop.

Now I am with the National Association of Realtors, where it's a broader basket of planning issues.

We support biking and walkability, as well as transit and land use planning efforts. At first, I felt a bit like a fish out of water with the Realtors, but as an advocacy organization it makes sense and I have now been there over 10 years. Our Smart Growth Team, including another planner, provides resources to local Realtor associations to help them get involved in local land use and transportation public policy issues. We teach them the value in planning and how to advocate for smart growth.

We give grants to the local Realtor associations so that they can help their community develop higher density, mixed-use buildings and support alternative modes of transportation. For example, we have supported the development of complete streets policies in Memphis, Tennessee. We give out around $500,000 yearly. It's natural to think that planners and elected officials would be involved, the Realtors are invested in the community functioning well and that housing maintains, and increases in value. This can't be done in isolation; it's in the public space.

Education and Career Influences

College & Major: Occidental College (Los Angeles), Major: Urban Studies, Minor: Economics

Graduate School: UCLA

Influences: My college advisor, Derek Shearer, who taught in the Occidental Urban Studies department and has had a wonderfully varied career. Don Shoup, who taught economics at UCLA planning school and is the guru of parking.

Planning Jobs

First planning job: Internship with a transportation Engineering firm.

Tools & Lessons learned: Data collection, software for calculating level of service.

Second job: Transportation planning firm where I used GIS and travel demand forecasting software and working on home-interview travel diary surveys.


Organizations: American Planning Association and the Congress for the New Urbanism

Information on Smart Growth Grants from the National Association of Realtors


  • "Multi-Use Trails" in Planning and Urban Design Standards. Chicago: American Planning Association, John Wiley & Sons, 2006. (Contributor)
  • "Commute Rates on Urban Trails: Indicators from the 2000 Census." Transportation Research Record No. 1878. – TRB 2004.
  • "Trails for the Twenty-First Century: A planning, design, and management manual." Island Press, Washington, DC. 2001. (Coauthor)
  • "Rail-Trails: An Element of Sustainable Development," Transportation, Land Use, & Air Quality: Making the Connection – ASCE, 1998.
  • "Extent to Which User Fees Cover Road Expenditures in the United States." Transportation Research Record No. 1576 – TRB, 1997. (Coauthor)