GCA Communications Intern Bri (B) recently talked with 2014 Master’s of Urban Design graduate, Rebecca Blaine, AICP, CFM (R), who now holds a position as a planning director for the City of Shawnee, Oklahoma. Thanks so much to Rebecca for sharing her experience at Gibbs College of Architecture (GCA) and more!

B: What inspired you to study Urban Design at OU? 

R: My love for place and design started growing up in the small town of Okmulgee in the ’90s. I developed an appreciation for our wide variety of architectural styles that ranged from Spanish Baroque Revival (Cook/Orpheum Theater) to Art Deco (Okmulgee Post Office and Federal Courthouse). After working a corporate job for a Fortune 100 company after my undergraduate program, I realized I was missing that creative element in my career. I found the Urban Design program at OU and knew it was the avenue to me.

B: What did you learn during your time at OU that has proven to be invaluable or something you still keep in mind to this day? 

R: OU taught me to be a visionary: to create, see a public space, building or district for what it could be, and to be able to effectively communicate that vision to a community and stakeholders.

B: What do you currently do now? What is your typical day like?

R: I am the Planning Director for the City of Shawnee, OK. A typical day involves development meetings, plan reviews, and coordinating land use items for Planning and City Commission. I lead a team of ten, who work in planning, building inspections, code enforcement, and urban renewal. We work to have a sense of cohesiveness as we keep in mind both short and long-term goals. We wrapped up our new Comprehensive Plan this month, which will serve as a roadmap to guide our community development and design over the next twenty years. This plan will tee us up for policymaking and code updates that will align with our future community vision. I am also active with several local committees, so I have a well-rounded view of the perspectives and work of other organizations in the community. I do a lot of speaking and presentations at public meetings as well as civic and community organizations to discuss opportunities for involvement and keep people updated about what is going on in our community. Our community is fortunate to have strong collaboration among local organizations and entities.

B: How did you get to where you are now?

R: Work hard. “There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.” – Zig Ziglar

B: What does urban design mean to you?

R: To me, urban design increases the quality of life for all citizens in a community through the built environment. It’s a catalyst for social capital and economic development.

B: What role does urban design play in our lives as a society?

R: It partners form and function for the desired outcome. It creates ‘third places’ for all, places we want to stay awhile. It cultivates better connectivity to move people of all ages naturally. These are communities we want to invest in and raise our families. In Oklahoma specifically, if we want to compete on a national level to attract and retain people, we must incorporate urban design best principles into our communities.

B: What advice do you have for future or current Urban Design students?

R: Say ‘yes’ to any opportunity during your graduate program that will give you real-world experience. Whether it’s an internship, or opportunities to partner with a municipality doing public participation, neighborhood revitalization organizations, or a main street program, real-world experience proves to be invaluable.

B: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

R: Urban/city planning has been a very gratifying career. You are coordinating with all the stakeholders to set all the pieces in place to make a community the very best it can be.

Photo provided by Rebecca Blaine