Urban Planning People and Events

Interview with Andy Moore

Andy Moore graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2004 as a Geography and Planning major with the Planning concentration. He has worked at Williams and Works consulting firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan since the fall of 2004 and is currently a project planner there. Andy was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the Geography and Planning Program at GVSU in 2012.

Q:  Where did you grow up, and how might that have affected your outlook or insights as a planner?

A:    I grew up in the small town of Oscoda, located in northeast Michigan along Lake Huron. (Hold up your left hand. Oscoda is just above the knuckle of your index finger).  Having grown up there probably allows me to identify with some of our more rural clients.  I can probably understand their point of view better than someone who has always lived in a bigger city.

Q:    What other reason(s) were you were attracted to the field of planning (as a profession and/or major)?

A:    Believe it or not, Geography and Planning was not my first choice. As it turned out, I did not enjoy the first major I chose and my grades reflected that.  I ended up choosing geography and planning because I found that liked cities and I loved looking and maps . . .  geography and planning was the only one that really felt like the right decision.

Q:  When you were a student, was there a book or author in Urban Planning that was particularly influential to you in your thinking about the field or the world?

A:    There are two actually.  The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler is probably the most eye-opening book I’ve ever read.  It completely changed the way I looked at our built environment.  His follow up to that, Home From Nowhere, is good too.

The other book I really like is one of the classics: The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.  Even though it was written in the 1960’s, its lessons and observations are timeless. It’s one of the best books about cities and city planning ever written. It should be required reading for all planners. 

Q:  What geography requirements—BEYOND your planning courses—became most useful to you as a planner and why?

A:        PA 439, Community Analysis.  This was by far my favorite non-geography class.  Professor Jelier did a great job of challenging students to experience the city beyond our comfort zone, to think about what you see.  His assignments were fun and educational. I discovered some of my favorite places in Grand Rapids due to his assignments.  That course was extremely influential to be both personally and professionally.

Q:  Which of the areas in planning would you say you specialize in at work today (housing, zoning, site design, environmental planning, “place making,” economic development etc.)?

A:     To some degree, my job is to be a “jack of all trades.”  If I had to choose specialties, I would say I specialize in zoning, long-range planning and GIS. I work (or have worked) in all kinds of different facets of planning at one time or another.

Q:  What kinds of work tasks that are part of your average week do you find particularly meaningful or enjoyable? Why?

A:     The most enjoyable assignments are the often most difficult.  As a consultant, we help a number of communities with a variety of assignments.  Every once in a while our clients will get a particularly complicated application, or find themselves in a particular difficult situation, and they ask for our advice on how to handle it.  It’s very satisfying to help them through a process like that, particularly if we can develop an outcome that pleases everyone.

It’s also satisfying to work on a project that you feel will really make a positive change in a community. The towns in which we live are such a large part of our lives, so it can be a great feeling to think that you helped make someone’s community better.

And I still love making maps. That will always be fun for me.

Q:  What topics in planning would you like to learn more about in the year ahead and why?  How do you keep learning?

A:      Planners are always learning. We have to keep current on case law and legislative changes that affect planning, and we have to keep honing our skills across the board to stay competitive and grow our business. Lastly, to maintain our AICP certification we need to take 32 hours of continuing education classes every two years.  Most of those are taught by fellow planners, so that’s always a great opportunity to learn what others are doing and how they are improving their communities.

Page last modified October 5, 2013