By Chiamaka Ogwuegbu
I spent this summer working with the City of Oakland’s Strategic Planning Division. I came in liking urban planning, and came out loving urban planning. It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. I’m often one for hyperbole, but please, believe me when I say that. I focused mostly on the City’s Downtown Specific Plan process, and really appreciated the opportunity to gain an understanding of the unique challenges of the community planning process. The constant push-and-pull between stakeholders, balancing the needs of the City and region at large, or even just the time that it takes and what that means in the face of urban issues that need solutions as soon as possible.
Within the scope of the Downtown Specific Plan process, I worked on a couple initiatives. The primary one was the Equity Working Group meeting series during the last week of July, leading into August. I mainly focused on the workshop that the City would use during the meeting to gather input from community members in attendance. I went back-and-forth in my own head and amongst the rest of the EQTDTO team to craft an experience that would leave attendees feeling heard and fulfilled, while also providing the most useful information for the City to move forward with the Plan process. The small group workshop that we settled on did a good job of accomplishing those desired objectives.
What made my summer, more than anything else, were the people that I met along the way. The folks in my office were kind, helpful, intelligent, and caring, across the board. I enjoyed contrasting their approaches and ways of thinking with those of the consultants that I had the chance to speak and work with. But on top of the folks that I had formal relationships with, I also met a wonderfully supportive group of transportation professionals at a symposium, who took me under their considerable wings.
Looking forward, I now know, indubitably, that a career in urban planning, focusing on transportation, is for me. I emerged from my summer a much more self-assured, knowledgeable, and poised individual. Those traits are within, but they are also coupled with the resources and network without that I know will continue to empower me as I work to make positive change in the urban realm.