Podcast: People Behind the Plans
Immigrant Experiences, Economic Development, and "Third Places" in the U.S. — and Australia
As a second-generation Australian and a globetrotter who's studied and worked in New York and Chicago, Samantha Choudhury understands how critical social bonds are to building communities that thrive. She and host Courtney Kashima, AICP, start off their conversation by examining how her parents' immigration to Australia from Bangladesh shaped how she plans for communities. The associate director at Brickfields Consulting and Mainstreet Australia boardmember offers up her observations of planning in the U.S. and Australia, especially the differences between each community's drive to get involved in the planning process. The two planners delve into the realms of placemaking and economic development, discussing how business-improvement districts need focused management to succeed — which, Sam notes, seems especially true now that both countries have been thrown into economic recessions brought about by coronavirus lockdowns. The Melbourne-based planner leaves listeners on a hopeful note, sharing the names of planners and community leaders doing work that inspires her.
[00:00:00.090] Samantha Choudhury: He talks about his local coffee shop like his — the third place. And I thought, Oh my gosh, I use my local coffee shop like that. I use my local park like that. These places are critical to the well-being of communities.
[00:00:24.130] Courtney Kashima, AICP: Welcome to the American Planning Association podcast. This episode continues our series that takes a look at the people behind the plans, showcasing the work, life, and stories of planners from all across the profession. I'm your host, Courtney Kashima, founder and principal at Muse Community Design, a planning and public engagement studio in Chicago, Illinois. I'm also a longtime member of the American Planning Association. Our guest today is Sam Choudhury. Sam is a planner based in Melbourne, Australia. She has worked in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors of planning in the U.S. and Australia, at scales ranging from the global to the neighborhood. She is also a boardmember of Mainstreet Australia. Sam, welcome to the podcast.
[00:01:12.330] SC: Thank you, Courtney. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:14.970] CK: First off, how are you holding up during COVID-19? What's happening over there in Australia and personally for you?
[00:01:23.850] SC: I might start with the personally first because [laughs] I need to vent. No, it's, it's, it's been challenging, to say the least. We're entering almost eight weeks of lockdown. Our restrictions just eased last week. We've luckily — being such an isolated island, we haven't had a huge amount of cases. But, you know, our, our government got pretty strict as soon as a community transmission happened here, so it's been very challenging to, to homeschool my, my two kids — a five-year-old in equivalent of kindergarten. So, yeah, I've had to drop work and do that. And also, I live in a multigenerational household, so I've got my mom, my sister, my brother-in-law as well, living with us, so it's a full house and it's been hectic. So I think we're all getting to the point where cabin fever is, is truly set in [laughs]. But yeah, look, everyone's in the same boat, so I'm grateful that we're about to go back to some version of normality very soon.
[00:02:39.860] CK: And you had experienced a job transition or two that kind of got put on hold with the pandemic, is that right?
[00:02:49.580] SC: That's right. So I, I left my old role with CoDesign Studio to start a new role, and pretty much one month into the role, we had to reduce our hours significantly. And luckily, the government's had a stimulus package for employees. So there's been quite a widespread economic stimulus given to small businesses. So my employer was able to access that. So luckily, I'm still getting paid for minimal hours and I'm not completely out of a job. But it's looking, it's not looking great for retail and the development industry right now, so — and there are thousands of people and so many people I know personally have had their jobs impacted. I just heard the news last night. The prime minister announced that we've had, we're entering [a] recession officially. We have 600,000 unemployed people in Australia. Twenty f— twenty-six percent rate of unemployment, which is, like, ridiculously high. So it's going to be very challenging for the indefinite future for a while.
[00:04:03.320] CK: Now, one person you didn't mention in your [multigenerational] household: You're married to an architect, urban designer.
[00:04:09.810] SC: I am.
[00:04:10.880] CK: How is he holding up? How is his work?
[00:04:14.040] SC: So he's — we've been fortunate — he's been quite busy. And he has been working on a couple of big projects. So I feel like, you know, at least one of us is still — I'm trying to see the positive — one of us still have a, a full-time role going. And luckily, his company's been really proactive in helping all their staff work remotely. Yeah, he's grateful, I'm grateful that he's still employed.
[00:04:43.140] CK: Well, and he's also from the U.S. So I wonder, do you talk shop a lot about planning, the built environment, and then what you've noticed is different between the two countries?
[00:04:55.770] SC: Yeah, I guess we, we, we chat about things like that all the time, and we're always aware of what's going on back in the U.S. and back in his hometown even, in Ohio. You know, we've, we actually met in New York studying at Columbia — urban design/urban planning program. So we, we met through school and common interests. And, and so, you know, the theme of our lives is that overlap of, of work and our common interests. And I — after spending so much time in the U.S. too, like, my — I have quite an interest in what's going on over there. And so, yeah, we, we, we talk all the time about what's going on in Columbus, what's going on in New York, and what's going on in Chicago and San Fran. It comes up quite a lot.
[00:05:53.510] CK: So you've lived twice in the United States, once while attending Columbia and then a couple-year stint in Chicago. And so you've, you know, been an immigrant yourself and seen what it's like to leave a home, come back to a home, be married to someone who's done it in reverse. Also, your parents immigrated from Bangladesh to Australia. So I'm just curious, how does the lived experience of two generations of immigrants influence how you plan for communities?
[00:06:29.330] SC: Yeah, I guess it's been a huge part of my identity and career orientation. You know, my parents are first-generation Australian, Bangladeshi community. So it made me realize from a very young age how important social connections and bonds were, especially being migrants and being from diverse backgrounds. Being the first arrivals actually from the Bangla— from the subcontinent because Australia, as progressive as we might sound to other people abroad, we had terribly racist policies in the '70s called literally the White Australia policy. So only people from European backgrounds were allowed in the country. So anyone from Asian or subcontinent, or anywhere really, weren't allowed to immigrate here, so —
[00:07:23.560] CK: In the 1970s?
[00:07:25.530] SC: Yes. When that law was overturned by the prime minister at the time, who was Gough Whitlam — very progressive socialist — Dad applied for immigration. He, he was a marine engineer, so he worked on all the big, huge cargo ships around the world, for all the big shipping companies. He was, like, the chief engineer on all the ships, so he traveled extensively. He's been to every major port in the world. When he came here, he was so impressed by quality of life, but he couldn't, he couldn't move. He went to school in London. We had extended family living in New York in the early '80s. And after living in London and traveling, he, he didn't really want to settle in London or New York, where most of my mum and dad's side of the family had immigrated to. So luckily, that policy changed, and then they started, they settled here in the early '80s. And, and so, yeah, I, as — going back to your question, it's, it's what sparked my interest in community development, planning, you know, knowing that you could actually be involved in making a difference in people's lives. You know, participatory planning and development obviously is a, you know, a subject, an actual, you know, a discipline, but I didn't know that was something you could study. I didn't know that's something you could practice and, and do, so. All that idea of planning with the community and collaboratively really appealed to me and influenced, yeah, where I — what I wanted to do. And traveling and living in the U.S. made that even more apparent and clear because I realized there was so many different ways you could do it. There's no right way to do it and everyone does planning differently. But definitely the theme of collaborative planning came through quite strong when I — when I had my time in New York and Chicago.
[00:09:26.430] CK: So on that note, how would you compare planning in the U.S. and Australia? What's good? What do those countries have to learn from each other? Funny things you've noticed. We're curious to hear all of it.
[00:09:38.450] SC: Yeah, I'll, I'll talk first about Australia. I guess Australia — similar sort of political system to the UK. We have state planning policy. We have neighborhood-level planning. We have actually, in our metropolitan city area, we have 31 metropolitan councils. So in the size of a city — the city of Chicago's municipal area, there are 31 councils. And in the whole of the state there are 79. So it — you know, and each council covers anywhere from 10 to 20 neighborhoods, so they have their own mayor. They have their own elected councillors. Then they have their own planning, urban design, landscape, community, social planning departments. So that just gives you an idea of how — I guess it's just very varied. So you — each neighborhood to neighborhood, you notice quite clearly that it's a different, there's different planning because things look different. There's generally obviously zoning, and stuff is pretty universal across states. The state implement the planning controls. But council to council, individual at a local level, things are applied differently. And that means just doing anything is really hard, and especially when you have so many people, so many layers of permits and process. So I think at a local level, people here generally find it very — there's a lot of red tape. People feel very disabled to, to do things proactively, and they actually are quite apathetic. So they just sort of [say], "Our council will do it, you know, council will do it." So when I first started sort of studying planning and reali— and liking this, like, idea of community engagement and stuff, I thought, Oh, great, there's so many so many councils, so many jobs. I could get a great job. And then realized no one really wanted to do it [laughs]. It was very much some of the small regional towns where there's a lot more act— like, they're a lot more enabled and active citizens. But in the city, in the inner urban neighborhoods, it was impossible. So I kind of had a bit of a culture shock realizing that it wasn't as widely implemented or used and that the planners were in control. The director of planning was in control. And, you know, and there'd just be a few of the loud voices that, you know, local neighborhood voices that would come and do — come to town hall meetings and things like that. So when I got to the States, I guess, I noticed that, you know, there's less government, and the onus falls on people in community. And I know that's not great for keeping up the city and your parks and infrastructure. But it's really good for citizen-led action. So that creates a culture of enablement, and I actually wrote a blog about that just after I moved back from Chicago, because it was so apparent after working with the Wicker Park Chamber of Commerce as well, so. I noticed that we didn't have issues that were obviously as, as deep and entrenched as some of the cities in the U.S. We, we have less classism and class issues here. We have — don't have as deeply rooted problems in terms of socioeconomic and race and things like that. But we just — it was so obvious. We just don't have — you don't see the fingerprints of the community on neighborhoods. It's a little bit like — everything's a little bit sterile.
[00:13:30.230] CK: Big topics in the U.S. planning profession. We hear a lot about engagement. A lot of people coming around to understanding issues of equity. What are those conversations like or what does it look like in Australia?
[00:13:46.040] SC: The conversations around equity, inclusion — we use the word "inclusion" a little bit more here. That's definitely becoming a more important and focused topic for planning and development. I think we certainly much more aware of including people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. So most engagement that I have worked on in those really heavily multicultural, diverse neighborhoods, everything is translated in the main languages that those communities speak. Everything from having interpreters present, being highly sensitive of the differences in not only language but their resources and their socioeconomic kind of level. Because I actually worked for a council in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, which is one of the largest populations of people from Turkish and Middle Eastern — so Egyptian, Syrian, lot of refugees from Syria settle there. So you're thinking like, OK, we're going to do an engagement about an open space or a streetscape upgrade. We want the community to come out and share their ideas. And then nobody turns up. Some of these communities have, like, left some the, some of the most horrific places in the world where they have been so ill treated by their own government. So there's a lack of trust, there's a lack of engagement. Many people are, are either working full-time jobs or, or just can't access, can't get to the location. So, you know, our planning team and our community development team, you know, we're very aware of these issues and did a lot to try and start from, like, basics. So the community team was always doing capacity building and strength space community building or asset-based community building, so really looking at who were the, like, key champions in those neighborhoods, in areas — those would be the people we call upon. Like, for example, the local imam at the mosque or the local — someone who is, you know, quite trusted by the community. Engaging with that person rather than trying to get a good turnout from everyone. So one of the projects I did was in a neighborhood called Broadmeadows, and it was to upgrade the little, little shopping mall that was there. And we actually just spoke to all the traders and the business owners and asked them if they could put on some tea and baklava, and we — instead of any of the engagement being with Post-it notes and workshopping kind of in that fashion, everything was visual. So we tried to strip away confusing language, because if you're talking about streetscape and design, it's just, we just wanted to make it, yeah, super accessible. So we used a lot of visual images and references traditional to all of those areas where people are from — Turkey, Syria, Iraq. We had everything in Arabic. We had Arabic translators there. We put on food and we had a, like, a bit of a street party, and it was kid friendly and we had a lot better turnout. And we did it when we knew that the mosque — it was for Friday prayers, so we knew there'd be a good turnout, so we, you know. And someone — you know, being from a cultural background and understanding of the layer of — the movement of the day of people in that community a little bit more than, say, someone else who didn't come from that background or hadn't had experience working with those communities, I felt like we definitely tried a little harder than the usual. And I think I've had to as being one of a — only minority people in my industry for a long time, and female, I've had to call people out a lot on that. I'm like, "Have you thought about this? Have you invited that person?" And I, you know, it's unfortunately the same case here in Australia — it's always an older white male in the room that I'm talking to saying this to, so [laughs]. So it was, I think people found me refreshing and like, Oh, she's got some value to add [laughs].
[00:18:18.180] CK: So the two countries are on that same journey together.
[00:18:22.970] SC: Absolutely, absolutely. And my manager loved me for that because he was like, "Thank God we have you on our team," because, you know? And I guess you don't know until you are put in that position. Like, you don't know that people don't understand things, and they don't, they don't — they've never been asked to participate in something to do with councils before. So you got to strip it right back to basics, like — and you forget planning jargon is terrible, like, you can't understand that stuff even as a normal educated white person, so.
[00:18:58.980] CK: Well, that's a great story to share about trying again if you didn't quite get it right the first time and making sure the team has cultural competency.
[00:19:10.110] SC: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:19:12.160] CK: So you did neighborhood-level economic development in the Bucktown–Wicker Park neighborhoods of Chicago. I'm curious what you found rewarding and challenging about that work.
[00:19:27.280] SC: So working with the Wicker Park Chamber of Commerce as the special service area [SSA] managing director was an amazing experience. I found it — the most rewarding part of it was getting to know the neighborhood, all the businesses, the business owners, and the local characters. And I kind of came in at, after it had been — the SSA had been running for 10 years. So there'd been time for these key members in the, in the business community to sort of build that relationship with the chamber, with the, with other business owners. The commissioners were very passionate about the neighborhood. And I guess one of the things that I liked the most was the only way you could be a commissioner or be involved on the committee was to be a local business owner. So the fact that local people were making decisions about their own, you know, areas, their own local neighborhood was, was amazing because people were, people had so much passion and insight. The care and the pride was really strong. I loved getting to know everyone, and I felt like I knew the whole neighborhood very quickly, and I had to because it was part of my role to understand who's who. I also feel like [laughs] I needed to hide from certain people too [laughs]. It got to a point — I only got to be there for eight months before I had to unfortunately move back to Australia. But you definitely get to know all the, all the sides of people and the loudest voices. And so I think that that can be challenging, people who aren't used to — there's challenges around innovating and trying to change things. And there was a resistance to certain types of initiatives and doing things differently. It was also hard to engage new people to join the committees and get them to stay. And people who were long-term commissioners said it was harder and harder as the demographic of the area changed, so. Because people are more transient in the area, coming through, moving to the 'burbs — there was just not the sort of long-involved members anymore. And so I think that wasn't unique to Wicker Park or Bucktown. I think that a lot of inner-city neighborhoods are probably experiencing that challenge as well, with the demographic change. But it's important that you got the right people who are committed long-term to overseeing and managing a neighborhood, rather than having people churning through and, and not really having that attachment to, to the place.
[00:22:34.350] CK: And you know, I live in the Bucktown neighborhood, so I'm quite familiar with the neighborhood. And personally, I welcome a lot of the changes you guys worked on, especially in the name of walkability and bikeability. I think one thing that's really great about the neighborhood is what we, in our planner jargon, talk about as "third places." Places where people come together, not necessarily home or work, but providing those opportunities for community to happen. And I know your work in this realm started before and has continued on past your time with Wicker Park neighborhood, but tell us about your experience involved in that.
[00:23:20.220] SC: Oh, it's something I'm super passionate about and have written and done, yeah, work extensively on, as you mentioned. And I think the concept of the sticky place or third place actually started at sort of [the] beginning of my career as a grad when I started working at a placemaking consultancy here in Melbourne called Village Well. It was the first time I sort of understood the concept of placemaking, third place, and a lot of it was around working with, actually, retail developers who, who wanted to sort of change the idea of mall, like, a shopping center. You know, I had read the book Third Place [The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community]. I can't remember the author now, but he, he talks about his local coffee shop like his — the third place. And I thought, Oh my gosh, I use my local coffee shop like that. I use my local park like that. These places are critical to the wellbeing of communities, like, so the more and more work I did was around, How do we do this with existing places? How can we retrofit places, whether it be public realm, whether it's the main street, whether it is within a mall? The foyer of an office building, for example. So — and providing, you know, almost like a journey for people when they're in there walking, when they're in their journey around their neighborhood to go shopping or to go to work. How, how can someone's journey include those touchpoints? Because the research just shows these type of places are, are critical to people's health and wellbeing, particularly in, like, very dense cities. So where there is — people don't have their own private open space or have access to it. So I guess that, that term, "placemaking," in general has become the theme of my career. I started off as a more traditional town planner, working for a city, doing permits and planning applications and DAs and things like that. But then once I started understanding that there was this different way of doing things and working, a real — also my understanding of space. So, like, how ownership of space completely predicates how it's used. So I then was super interested in working more with council, with government, because the — their public space is owned and designed for the public. And by law, you had to do a lot of engagement around any design of this stuff. So I felt that, you know, empowering people who use that space to come up with the design of it and then talking to the local businesses and community and getting them involved, like, I just became addicted to that type of work because it was so satisfying, fulfilling, seeing how people felt like they could make a difference and make a — influence the design of an area. And then that now flowing into the even private-sector work, which has been interesting because there aren't as many layers of issues around — requirements are different for private owners. Their motivation is slightly different. They're looking for, for getting good tenants, for high foot traffic, for spend. But the outcome is the same. They want people to form an attachment to place. And if people form an attachment to place, they linger there, they dwell there, they spend time. It's — that's the universal thing. People will not spend time in a place that, that isn't aesthetically beautiful, has shelter, has green landscaping, has sunlight. So those qualities have been quite universal in both the public- and private-sector work. Management of it obviously is quite different because you have either the council looking after it or then you have, like, a body corporate — owners' corporation or a private developer looking after it. But, yeah, I've been more and more interested in that public space versus privately owned space debate and, and, you know, the sensitivities around it and how it can be quite contentious. And New York, I believe, has some of the most — the highest number of privately owned public spaces in any city. And half of the time, people don't know that they're privately owned, like Bryant Park and Madison Square Park. They're all privately owned and highly successful public spaces.
[00:28:20.630] CK: So that leads me to something I wanted to ask you about. I think planners forget sometimes or aren't even trained in the role and importance of management. And what I mean there is, so you were an SSA manager, which is what Chicago calls its business improvement districts, or BIDs. And what makes it work is there's a dedicated source of funding and local control. And sometimes when I'm explaining what a BID or an SSA is to people, I say it's a lot like at the shopping mall, every tenant pays what we call CAM, common area maintenance, I think it stands for. So they chip in for a marketing budget, for landscaping, for the music to play, for the security guards. And an SSA or a BID just allows that to happen in an urban environment. And so we can do all the planning we want, but if there isn't the money and there isn't thoughtful management, you know, it's not worth much.
[00:29:19.680] SC: Oh, absolutely, exactly. And that's why that, that way of management and that thinking, I feel like government and municipal councils need to learn a lot from that and understand that BIDs or SSAs are, are actually, right now during COVID[-19], critical because you need someone who can manage, take leadership during a time like this. I've noticed our main streets that have the special levees that, that's collected. So our equivalent of, like, an SSA is just an association. So they're formed and then they collect that, that special rate from the businesses who have to — similarly to how you sign up to be an SSA — they all have to agree, I think 50 percent of the businesses need to agree to it. Those main streets, I have seen the president of the association going around, talking to all the businesses, like, you know, How can we help you? What do you need? Do you need a grant? Are you open or are you in hibernation? I re— I recently just drove down one of the main streets and they had produced these large stickers, like, huge circle stickers that, that say, We're open for business as usual, we're only online, we're hibernating, we'll see you on the other side. Huge in bright orange so that when you're driving down that main street, you can see which ones are open or closed or even if you're walking. And just stuff like that, like, simple stuff like that, or getting businesses that haven't had any online or digital presence or any way of doing that, helping them get on, helping them, just seeing if they're OK. And so I actually sit on the Mainstreet Australia board, so I've been involved in a lot of the conversations and advocacy around how we help a lot of these associations. And at a time like this, I have never seen the importance of it more than, more than now. And I think [there] needs to be a lot more government, like, from the state level support to, to increase the amount of special service area BIDs in, in Australia, in Melbourne, because without that type of person leading or championing or having a business community around it, you see what happens to main streets and areas. They deteriorate, they decay, they have high vacancies. They lose their appeal. People start to move away from them. It's a sad story, and it's happening all over the world in small and medium-sized communities. But it's very, very apparent in the bigger cities. Like, when I went to New York recently, maybe a year and a half, two years ago, I was devastated to see even some of the, what has happened in the Village and what's happened in, you know, some of the most amazing, vibrant neighborhoods, it just — it's just all empty shopfronts, nothing going on there. Coming back to Melbourne after even two years away, half of the main street that's my local area is empty. So, yeah, it's really, really important. The management to me is the number one. We here call it place governance, and it is just the number-one thing around managing of a place.
[00:32:48.500] CK: So you mentioned your time in New York. If I recall correctly, you interned or worked as a young professional with the Project for Public Spaces [PPS], which is well known and loved here in the U.S. Tell us about some of the efforts there and also during your time at CoDesign Studio in Melbourne.
[00:33:09.180] SC: Sure. I was lucky to be, to get an internship with PPS while I was studying at Columbia. My boss and founder of Village Well, Gilbert Rochecouste, was quite good friends with Ethan Kent from PPS and sort of set up a time for me to do some work with them, which was fantastic. I got to work with their public markets program, organize one of their events and also participate in one of the programs that they do, like how to create successful markets, which was really, really awesome. I, I love the markets that happen in Union Square and, and was able to help guide a tour around some of the best public markets in New York. And it was, yeah, it was great exposure to me sort of early on in my career about how important public space was, and New York having so much of it and, and, and it being critical to the well-being and lives of New Yorkers generally. I realized the value of public space was — or the way it's used there — is, is just so important. Whereas, you know, from, coming from Melbourne where everyone sort of has access to some sort of quality open space, park, people have backyards. It's a, it's a much, it's a very different typology in terms of neighborhoods and built form. So I started to think when Melbourne gets denser and more populated, it's going to be really important that these, this way of thinking starts to apply, and that is involving people in the design and shaping of place. And so seeing it happen there in New York really opened my eyes up and then helped me sort of apply that approach back at Village Well when, when I returned, and then sort of set me off on that career path, as I'd mentioned before about placemaking. And so I actually wanted to do a bit more time at, in local government to really understand how it works from the public-sector sense. And I found it really challenging to try and get placemaking to, to facilitate that process there because of the layers of bureaucracy and the realizing that one little block of land is managed and needed so many decisions, so many people. [A] simple project like urban gardening or, you know, using underutilized nature strips for urban agriculture — that project took so long to get, get going because people in the property team were like, "Oh, you can't do that" [laughs]. You know, this, what — X, Y, Z, and stuff about public liability insurance, and what if someone trips on one of the planter boxes? And I was just — oh, it was, it was a learning process. I had never, I didn't know, I was very ignorant. So here I was trying to do Parking Day and come up with, like, all these fun ideas to do with the community. And it was, it was near impossible, being inside council, to do it. The checks and balances I needed to do was very paralyzing. And I started to get a little bit resentful, and I wanted to go back into the private sector [laughs]. So that's what I did. So following from that part of my career, I did move to the States and had my time over there. And, but then coming back to Melbourne, I decided I still wanted to be involved in that type of work. So I, I joined CoDesign Studio, a placemaking practice here, and managed the studio. And it was a great experience. We, we worked with an incredibly diverse amount of communities and locations. We did everything from pedestrian — helping pedestrianize a neighborhood that had a lot of pedestrian accidents and cycling accidents, so engagement around how to make it safer. And, to, you know, working with big foreign investors who are in big shopping centers and malls on how to create a more people-oriented [place]. So our engagement approach and methodology was always people have to be involved in the place. So, so we utilized a lot of what PPS do and use their free resources. We also create, have created a lot of our own free resources so people can do this stuff themselves. So on CoDesign's website, they have a lot of guides and toolkits for how you can create change and improve your own neighborhood. So, yeah, it was, it's been a great journey.
[00:38:20.070] CK: So you've traveled quite a bit. I'm wondering if you have a favorite city or want to share some of the differences between Melbourne, Chicago, New York. Anything in that realm? Since many of our listeners are city lovers as well.
[00:38:35.690] SC: Yeah. Oh, gosh, that's so tough. Oh my goodness. Asking a — [an] urbanist what the favorite, your favorite [laughs] city is. Particularly someone like me who's lived in both, both sides of the world. I'd say, like, it's hard for me to choose between Melbourne, Chicago, and New York. I really, I can't pick one. Obviously, I live in Melbourne. I'm from Melbourne. So this is home home. But it's funny, like, Chicago was very comfortable, familiar. I met one of the planners there who worked with the alderman, and he said that — he was one of the only people I met in Chicago who had been to Melbourne. And he said, he described Melbourne as if if Chicago and Paris had a baby, it would be Melbourne. So Melbourne has a very European vibe to it. We have one of the most extensive streetcar networks in the world. So our trams are pretty much the number-one way people get around here. The network is hundreds of miles long. So, and, and because of that, the main streets and the, you know, the way the neighborhoods are built around [the] streetcar, it means that the scale of it is very human scale. So you've — the feel of it — you could be in any part of Melbourne, and there's this fantastic, beautiful, historic main street that was built around that streetcar, even though there's, like, high-rise development and lots of not very palatable mixed-use development happening everywhere. It has that, has that fine-grain, human-scale element to it. Chicago, the neighborhoods were my favorite, to be honest. The hou— the, the, all the little beautiful brick — I miss walking around Bucktown and Wicker Park and seeing all that beautiful architecture. And I think it's almost like people in Chicago took it, take it for granted because it was probably one of the most beautiful neighborhoods — one of many, but beautiful neighborhoods in Chicago. And then New York is just this crazy place. It's kind of like [laughs] crack [laughs]. It's like you want to, you want it, but then it — you can't, you can't have it for too long. And I guess being there while I was a student and falling in love, it was like a dream. But, like, to contemplate living there right now with young kids, I could not think of anything worse. I'm sorry if I'm offending New Yorkers with, people with children, but I just — after feeling like I've been able to get space and — just a little bit [of] space, I'm not talking single family, you know, like a single-family home in the burbs, like [laughs]. I still live in a very urban part of Melbourne. But having that room to wriggle around has been, it's been great. And I'd have to add, actually, Columbus, Ohio. My husband will be very happy. But I've spent so much time in Columbus, it's — I've really grown to, like, love it. It has these beautiful, historic neighborhoods — the Short North — and it's doing a whole bunch of work downtown to bring people back to downtown because it totally had that doughnut-city thing happen, where everyone just left to the burbs. But I've, I've seen, as I mentioned before, we, we follow what's going on back there a lot, and I've really been quite impressed by the work that both the municipal council and then the other suburban councils have been doing. But I, you know, I've spent so much time in these cities, so they do feel like a second home. I recently went back to my motherland, to Bangladesh, and to Dhaka City, which is the most densely populated city in the world. So going back there, I was just extremely, again, impressed by the infrastructure that has now happened, because after China, Bangladesh is now the second biggest clothing exporter in the world. So there's money in Bangladesh now. So they've now started to spend money on public transport and improving the sidewalks and parks and, and so this city that, you know, for many years, it, it is a developing city and developing country, but seeing placemaking happening there, I was just floored. I was so happy, excited to see this happening, interest from the planning and architecture profession, just spending that brief time there. So, yeah, I'd have to add Dhaka. It's like one of those amazing, crazy — it's like you're on a different planet. Just — it's so buzzing with street vendors and people and rickshaws and, you know, so the scale of it is — even though it's so dense, it's a — it's amazing how many people can move around and live their lives [laughs].
[00:44:01.280] CK: Definitely. Well, I love the diversity in the [Sam laughs] things you shared with us.
[00:44:05.480] SC: I can't, I can't pick a favorite. Each of them have their pros and cons, but, yeah.
[00:44:13.930] CK: So as we wrap up our conversation, which has been great, by the way, [I'm] curious what you think the field of planning is getting right these days. What inspires you?
[00:44:25.910] SC: So I think engagement and the way that it is innovating and changing to not just be better in terms of making it purposeful, fun, culturally and linguistically, like, serving those communities, serving low-income communities, but that, that, that merge, that shift to digital has been incredible. To be able to allow people — now it doesn't matter about geography. You can be involved in any type of neighborhood- to city-shaping project. I think, in the examples I've seen in all the cities I've lived in, people are doing that better and better. And I find that really inspiring.
[00:45:14.610] CK: And what would you like to see happening more in the field of planning?
[00:45:20.470] SC: I would like to see, I guess, some of the more complex stuff around planning become easier to understand for just, just for a general, any person to really understand that language. I think it's still quite overwhelming for people to, to turn up at a — the planning counter at the council to do things. So making it even more accessible, whether it be through language, whether it be through just good communications — and making it fun. I think it also can be so bogged down in planner speak. And, and also projects are — long-term projects are hard for communities to wrap around. Right? So master planning and, you know, a comprehensive plan — these things is so hard for communities to wrap around. They often have 5-, 10-, 20-year lives. We need to stop doing that, those types of plans. It has to be small, bite-size — look, the planners and the people in the city can kind of — they need to have a vision. They need to have a long-term goal, and they need to constantly be doing those demographic projections. But now we can capture data in a way that has never been done before. Right? So we can have real-time data on what people are doing, how they're moving about, what places they like, what places they don't like. That data is all accessible to peop— to companies, to count cities now. So we don't need to wait for the Census anymore. Right? Like, we've got stuff real time and we need to be using that instead of waiting and — to make these, like, policy decisions, infrastructure decisions that cost billions of dollars. And then you get — you finish that project and then all of a sudden that infrastructure is already at capacity. Those trains, those train lines you planned [are] already at capacity. Because some cities, especially Australian cities, are — their populations are growing exponentially. I mean, we are, Melbourne is going to be at 8 million in 2050. And I'm like, Oh my God [laughs], how is our city currently going to cope with that type of population projection when our roads are already congested and at capacity? Public transport, you cannot get on the trains here. Trams are packed at peak hour. So I don't know. I think there needs to be a different approach in terms of how, what data they're collecting and just, just, just planning smarter. Obviously, these projects get wrapped up in political agendas, so that needs to be addressed. So, yeah.
[00:48:04.510] CK: It's been so interesting to hear the similarities and the differences between the U.S. and Australia. I've loved following your work and seeing what you're doing. If listeners want to learn more about your work, where can they go, and who might you point them to, those individuals or organizations that inspire you?
[00:48:25.810] SC: Sure. I'll start with the people that have inspired me and who I've been following lately, of late. I don't know if you've heard of Jeff Siegler from Pittsburgh, but his company — he's a founder of Revitalize or Die. And his language is very strong and powerful, and he's all about just saying it like it is. And I think that after being in the industry for 15 years and people kind of walking around [on] eggshells about what you need and don't need, he's all about [the idea that] apathy kills towns, apathy kills Main Street. So he's all about addressing apathy. And to me, that is one of the biggest problems about all of this is, like, How do you kill a main street? You don't care about it. How do you, how do you kill a whole town? And so he's been doing a lot of work — I think he's from, originally from Lima, in Ohio, but he's in Pittsburgh now and he's been doing work all over the country. And I just like that he's just like, no bull[bleeped]. Like, it's just [laughs], this is what it is. I loved Jamal from My Hood, My Block, My City [My Block, My Hood, My City]. What he was doing, like, while I was in Chicago, I found him very inspiring to see what he was doing with young people there, and just getting them to sort of understand the city, the neighborhoods, and how important that is, about, like, you know, for a generation of, of youth, you know, [to] understand your surroundings and your built environment and how you can make a difference. I think that's been, his work is quite inspirational. Jason Roberts from Better Block in Dallas. The work that he's been doing for the last decade and — is, is amazing, with looking at crime prevention through environmental design, but a bit differently, a bit more inspiring. And then I guess the work that CoDesign Studio's open source sort of stuff. The neighborhood program, citizen-led placemaking, the open sources that are on their website are great. They're about to do Porch Placemaking Week in a couple of weeks. So I'd, I'd suggest people go on the Facebook page and, and show during this time, whereas, when we're in isolation and are still practicing social distancing, how we can all get together and use our porches, balconies, driveways, laneways to, to engage with our neighborhood. So [I] plan to do a bit of a chalk activity with my kids in our, in our driveway.
[00:51:01.520] CK: Yeah, my staff — I didn't even prompt them, but my staff is very excited about porch placemaking, and they've developed a robust plan for us to be involved, so see how it spreads?
[00:51:12.940] SC: Ah, that's amazing! I'll have to tell Lucinda. That's great. That is great. And then I guess, yeah, finally for me, like, I, I'm now working in the private sector only — from keen interest but also a bit of work-life balance, with Brickfields Consulting. And we do lots of — our processes and methodologies are very similar to what most people in the sort of placemaking world do, but we use a lot of quantitative and qualitative data to inform visions and, and [understand] place. And so we work a lot with the commercial sector. So we have, we have some really great little videos and things on our website. So you should check out Brickfields dot com [brickfields.com]. And then I guess go on my LinkedIn. It's got all the different types of projects and things I've worked on. And if anyone wants to reach out or ask me any questions, feel free to e-mail me.
[00:52:11.810] CK: Well, thanks for the shoutouts, the conversation. Really appreciate having you on the podcast today. Thanks so much.
[00:52:19.570] SC: Thank you so much. It's been great.
[00:52:24.410] CK: Thanks for tuning into another episode of the American Planning Association podcast. For more information and to hear past episodes, visit planning dot org slash podcasts [planning.org/podcast]. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Have an idea for a podcast? Send them to podcast at planning dot org [firstname.lastname@example.org].