The View From the Big Data Frontier of Urban Planning – Next City

The View From the Big Data Frontier of Urban Planning

Elle Ramel

Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders.

Name: Elle Ramel

Current Occupation: Urban Planning Consultant, PositivEnergy Practice

Hometown: Chicago

Current City: Chicago

I drink: Tea

I am an: Extrovert

I get to work by: Bike

The area I grew up in is: City

What was your first job? I was a wedding photographer for my father’s wedding photography business from age 15-21. My father taught me everything I know about client relations, improvising on my feet and creative business.

What is your favorite city and why? I love Paris, France, for a variety of reasons. First, I was able to spend a year there after college as an au pair, and the time allowed me to walk the little streets and find hidden shops and cafes. The French have this word flâner, which translates to “strolling aimlessly through streets,” that I really embraced. Also, for an urban planner, its Haussmannian design principles are superb.

What do you do when you are not working? I currently have challenged my family to explore the 77 neighborhoods of Chicago with me.

Did you always want to be a planning consultant? I wanted to be an urban planner ever since my first college internship working on Daniel Burnham’s documentary. I actually went to college thinking I would major in business, and I ended up ironically in the economic development world. I like merging urban planning concepts with the cost-effective land use more seen in the development world.

What do you like most about your current job? I like the idea that my team could be creating new tools that would help to save time on urban planning projects. I like that I am working on technology of the future that does not exist yet but we could provide.

What is the coolest project you worked on? The parametric model is a really cool project. The idea of manipulating different data sets through 3D urban layers really can help users visualize different scenarios and trade-offs between different planning and development decisions.

PositivEnergy Practice’s Chicago Central Area DeCarbonization Plan

What are the hard parts about your job? Using big data and software in urban planning is still a new concept, so I think it is always hard, though exciting, to be on the frontier feeling forward a bit blindly. There are no past case studies to draw on in this respect, the ideas we have are independent and different.

What is the biggest challenge facing cities today? I think that the cities of today are grappling with finding new and creative funding sources for all of their projects and their budgets. In the past, cities could depend on the federal government for grants, economic development and infrastructure delivery. With budget cuts and the various pension crises, I think we will see a rise in private money involved in cities and cities competing for that type of equity.

What makes a successful leader? A successful leader knows how to utilize the unique talents and resources of their team. He or she will showcase other individuals and give credit when it is due. I think a good leader is also willing to pitch in at any level if there is that immediate need or an emergency. I think leadership also requires a genuine interest in others and a retained sense of humility.

What’s your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? I would like to eventually play a significant role in city government, either as a department commissioner or run in city elections. I would like to join the ranks of other urban planners in the United States who deeply influence governmental decisions.

What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? Remember that opportunities to lead in a city environment are not always through the professional channels. Chicago is known for its expansive civic culture. There are many boards, organizations and advocacy groups to be involved in. The civic community cares deeply but is almost a small town in that everyone knows each other. An emerging urban leader should seek to achieve professionally but also be engaged in the larger community.

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