A Day in the Life of an Urban Planner

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By Stephane Pierre, NYC Department of City Planning Transportation Division

I grew up in suburban Long Island, where I had very limited interactions with New York City. As I took more trips into the city to visit and spend time with my family, my urge to live in an urban environment grew. This led me to choose a college within a city, and in 2012, I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh to pursue my bachelor’s degree. 

In 2015, as an undergraduate, I participated in grassroots work with Environment America on air quality issues pertaining to the City of Pittsburgh, which included mobilizing constituents through canvassing. While talking with residents, I realized many communities were facing immediate and tangible challenges that were not being addressed. From numerous conversations, I discovered that many residents did not know how to effectively elevate their concerns to the right people. Although I knew I wanted to help the world with its present and future environmental challenges, I also wanted to help address everyday community needs. Following these experiences, I still was unaware of the most effective career that would allow me to gain community perspective and influence policy change. Eventually, through various job searches, I learned about the urban planning field.

I was fascinated by the prospect of this career and how it could help not only communities within the United States, but also developing communities abroad. I became more interested when I realized that I could combine my nonprofit advocacy and environmental work experience with planning and public service. As I was gaining more experience in nonprofit work, I was also learning more about my family’s nonprofit in Haiti. Their non-profit, Organisation Pour Le Développement Integral Du Dondon, seeks to stimulate sustainable economic development in the town of Dondon, Haiti, through its cultural resources and heritage. My interest in planning was reinforced by my belief that my educational background would help me support my family’s hometown, by creating a more sustainable and viable economy.      

My first experience working for the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) was in the Summer of 2019 as an intern in the Environmental Assessment and Review Division. Through this internship, I learned about the City’s process for reviewing the environmental impact of proposed land use changes, known as the City Environmental Quality Review, or “CEQR.” More specifically, I learned about how to review transportation studies in accordance with CEQR. Currently, I am a planner in the Transportation Division, working on federally required short-term and long-term planning studies, and data analysis that supports DCP’s neighborhood studies and transportation studies. The work I do helps to inform communities and elected officials about the prospective benefits and impacts of land use actions and proposals on the transportation network.

One of the most important lessons I have learned through pursuing my career interests is the importance of networking for the purpose of information exchange. Understanding how people advance in their careers, and learning about the personal experiences, challenges, and successes of others has significantly helped guide my educational and occupational decision-making. In addition, informing people about my own personal interests helped naturally grow my contact list and allowed me to develop substantive relationships based on shared interests. It may be hard to obtain your dream internship and/or attend high-profile job fairs, but it is easy to have conversations to learn and to promote yourself. 

Working at DCP continues to be a great experience for me, as it fosters my learning and career growth. DCP provides its staff with the opportunity to understand the different disciplines within the planning profession, and how they work together. This ranges from internal trainings in land use regulation and zoning, to how data analytics can help us see and understand the city  around us. Being a planner at DCP has reinvigorated my passions for civic engagement and has given me a holistic understanding of New York City’s planning process, including getting to know the many different stakeholders that are involved in making land use decisions. I am most thankful to my colleagues and supervisors for making my experiences here meaningful and beneficial. I know that these experiences will allow me to become an effective and influential planner. 

Stephane Pierre is a planner in the Transportation Division at the New York City Department of City Planning. Stephane holds a degree in Environmental Studies and Economics from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban Planning at Hunter College.

To learn more about the New York City Department of City Planning, visit www.nyc.gov/planning