News / On Being a City Doctor: Allison Evans Leads Community Engagement Efforts

October 15th / 2020

On Being a City Doctor: Allison Evans Leads Community Engagement Efforts

Since arriving at Stewart, Allison Evans has learned that the planning profession is more than drafting ordinances and regulations. Planning is about advising the health of a community.

Allison brings her municipal experience from Boston and Raleigh, combined with international study in urban design, to the Municipal Planning practice. She has worked on area plans with the City of Raleigh, applying that knowledge to the planning team’s numerous projects.

City Doctors

Allison and the planning team embrace the role of “city doctors” to assist communities in understanding what they need. Allison draws an analogy between the city and the human body. The respiratory system represents housing, schools, and parks that breathe life into the community; the circulatory system consists of roads and streets that provide connections and movement pathways. Each piece affects the other and underscores the interconnectivity vital to a thriving town.

“Working in planning means knowing how everything works together,” Allison describes. “Planning is a long-term process. We seek to understand people’s values and stories, connections to place, and amplify the voices of those who feel overlooked.”

Your zip code determines your health more than your genetic code.

Throughout her work, Allison recognizes that each town and community varies from one to the next. “Sometimes I think, ‘This is such a beautiful place. Why do you need us?’ But every place has something to plan for, particularly in North Carolina, because the state is growing. Towns need to be proactive.”

Capturing the Story

Every town has a story.

The planning team captures these narratives through public engagement, tours with the town’s staff, and surveys. Newer cities are in the beginning stages of crafting their identities. However, more established towns, like Princeville, North Carolina, enjoy a rich history from which planners can draw and use as a springboard.

Through honest conversation and public engagement, Allison observes that people just want their voices heard. “For example, the Town of Kinston, who for years wasn’t even on the map, has been able to promote their history and create an identity that advances the story of their community. We want to lift the little guys.”

Allison facilitates the planning team’s public engagement activities, often assuming a journalist’s role throughout the planning process while simultaneously helping communities discover their unique qualities.

“A city that is well-planned and accessible is an economic development tool. It’s the tide that lifts all boats.”

We seek to understand people’s values and stories, connections to place, and amplify the voices of those who feel overlooked.

A Place for Everyone

How do you reconfigure a mountainous tourist town into a place where residents, workers, and investors can live, work, play, and feel a sense of ownership? The Municipal Planning practice has begun tackling these challenges in the Town of Highland, North Carolina.

Highlands’ tourist population has increased due to the current health crisis. Municipal Planning’s work focuses on continuing the town’s previous success while adjusting for new housing demand. The Town of Highlands is the planning team’s first project that genuinely considers how the COVID pandemic affects North Carolina towns.

Currently, Allison coordinates public engagement outreach and demographic research for the project. She evaluates how Highlands’ current zoning relates to the demands on its downtown.

“This town has a large service economy,” she explains. “So we as planners have to ask, ‘How do we make this a place for everyone?’ I want to make sure that the year-round service economy is well-represented and engaged.” Preparing the town for appropriate residential and commercial development ensures future success.

A city that is well-planned and accessible is an economic development tool.

Good Places Don’t Make Themselves

A key aspect of municipal planning is learning to balance competing interests. Planners guide the way towns and cities develop. They consider economic growth while preserving a town’s character and encourage tourism while anchoring long-time residents.

“Someone does think about how big the sidewalk is. Someone does think about if you can access a park surrounded by residential development,” Allison explains. “We’re creating your everyday experience and trying to make life a little bit better. We’re planning for decades.”

North Carolina is experiencing significant changes in population, climate, and issues surrounding social equity. Allison notes that social equity and environmental awareness is given special attention throughout the planning process. “I would like for us to do more,” she expresses, siting a future opportunity with the Princeville project.

Recounting her past work with the City of Raleigh: “We gave special attention to Southeast Raleigh to engage the underrepresented communities there that have been historically ignored.” Decisions from 60 years ago are currently causing many socioeconomic disparities.

Allison hopes that her work with Stewart’s planning team can alleviate these disparities and create spaces and places that every citizen can love. “In this day and age, good places don’t make themselves.”

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