Community Planning Month: Meet Jay McLeod, AICP
WithersRavenel is celebrating Community Planning Month! We are profiling our planning team members, learning more about them, and what drives their work. Today, we meet Director of Community Planning Jay McLeod, AICP. He has more than a decade of experience in local governments and the private sector. He earned a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Florida. Additional degrees include a Master of Science in Urban Ecology from the University of Louisville and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Florida State University.
WITHERSRAVENEL: What got you interested in Planning?
Jay McLeod: I was two semesters into a Landscape Architecture program, when I started thinking about how it was the ordinances and regulations that primarily determined what was possible in the built environment. Having come from a biology/ecology background, I was keenly interested in finding ways to blend green and grey infrastructure for a better lived, urban experience. So I made the jump to urban and regional planning as a way to help shape the built environment to create better and more sustainable outcomes.
WR: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
JM: Working with the people in the community, understanding their challenges, and helping them navigate change is very rewarding work. Ultimately, people make plans because they want something different, something better for the future. That involves a community-wide discussion, and the conversations are not always easy – you always have to give up something that you have if you want to get something that you don’t have. So providing that basis of shared knowledge and facilitating those discussions has been very rewarding. At the end of it all, people are people, and those who participate in their local government are ones that want to do good for their fellow citizens.
WR: What has been your favorite project?
JM: I’ve found that I really enjoy working in communities along the coast. I grew up in Florida, studied biology/ecology, and have always been fascinated with the looming threat of climate change. It’s such a huge and intricate problem and will involve massive cooperation and coordination to overcome. No one understands that more than folks along the coast. I enjoy working with them to help position their community for success in this uncertain future that we all face. And I’m able to tap into the vast knowledge resource of the WithersRavenel team (stormwater, infrastructure, environmental, civil engineering, GIS, community planning, modeling, landscape architecture, asset management, funding and finance, natural hazard and emergency services, etc.) to find solutions that are workable, locally tailored, and can be funded and constructed. There’s no other company out there than can bring to bear the local understanding, technical expertise, and quality deliverables that WithersRavenel can.
WR: What is your advice to someone looking to get into planning as a career?
JM: Two things: 1) Work in local government. The real world of local government is very different than what you learn in school. Understanding the challenges, linkages, and opportunities that public servants and officials deal with will help you build solutions that are workable and supportable. 2) Build your expertise in something you care about. Dig deep and become an expert in that thing. You’ll pick up the other stuff as you go along, but when people need to know the definitive answer to “X”, they need to know that they can turn to you.
WR: What is that one “non-planner” skill that you have or bring to the table that helps you do your job better?
JM: Systems thinking and understanding relationships. Knowing what levers you can pull in order to create the impacts you desire. Also, understanding how decisions can create cascading conditions that create unintended and undesirable outcomes. Planners need to be able to make the complex simple and relatable. Elected officials and the public are counting on us to help them realize their goals in a world of complex and often competing interests.
Do you want to put WithersRavenel’s Planning Team to work for you? Contact Director of Community Planning Jay McLeod, AICP, at (919) 238-0422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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