Planner Profiles: Jennifer Maydan
This planner profile article features Jennifer Maydan. Jennifer is involved with community planning in Maui County as a member of the County Planning Department’s Long Range Division. Mahalo, Jennifer, for sharing your time and prespective!
Jennifer is a member of the Maui County Planning Department’s Long-Range Division. She was born and raised on Maui and has been involved with community planning in Maui County for over a decade. Her practice is guided by her passion for community planning that focuses on encouraging sustainability, resilience, and equity in her community. Planning efforts Jennifer has been involved with include the Maui Island Plan, Lānaʻi Community Plan, and Molokaʻi Community Plan. She holds a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning degree from the University of Colorado Denver.
1. What initially drew you to planning
During my undergraduate work I took an introductory course in land use planning. It opened my eyes to the influence and impact that we and the communities that we build have on the land, and that we have a choice of how we design and build our communities. I received my undergraduate degree in Natural Resources with an emphasis in Parks and Protected Area Management and was likely headed toward a career in the National Parks Service. But Maui was calling me home and I knew that there was no guarantee that I could get a position in Hawaii at a National Park. While I was passionate about protecting parks and natural areas, I was feeling that there was more that I wanted to give back to the Maui community that raised and nurtured me. I wanted to be a part of honoring and protecting the things that make Maui so special by planning and designing our communities in a conscious and proactive way. I wanted to be a part of creating enjoyable and healthy urban environments for people as a way to also protect our natural areas. I was reminded of the undergraduate land use planning course I took and was inspired to pursue a master’s degree in planning. Going back to school delayed my plans to return home by a few years, but it was absolutely the right choice.
2. Planning is multidisciplinary and multifaceted. How do you explain what planning is to someone outside our profession?
Planning is managing change. Planning is recognizing that we live in a dynamic world - our reality isn’t static - and anticipating and embracing change empowers us to shape a more desirable future and planners are in a unique position to help communities do this. Planners can help citizens take a conscious and positive role in defining the change in their communities rather than being victims of unwanted change. Planning helps communities understand complex issues, identify tradeoffs and synergies, and hopefully arrive at consensus decisions. Planning helps citizens understand that each action or decision comes with consequences, wanted and unwanted, and helps communities make informed decisions.
3. Encouraging the sustainability, resilience and equity of Maui’s communities has been a focus of your work. In what ways can thoughtful, deliberated planning encourage these important community characteristics? What limitations does planning face in encouraging these characteristics?
Sustainability, resilience and equity are centerpieces and goals of much of our work in community planning. While we are living the challenges of today, planning by nature looks to the future to anticipate the challenges we will face tomorrow and identifies how we can influence a better future, today. In Hawaii we are acutely aware of our finite and fragile resources, our tourism dependent economy, our high cost of living, and our vulnerability to climate change, but making decision to ensure the sustainability of our resources and the resilience of our communities is not always apparent and requires action and coordination among diverse groups. Planners are often at the intersection of these issues and groups and can play a thoughtful and deliberate role to identify connections, bring experts together, and educate citizens and decision makers. As planners we are not the scientists, engineers, economists or cultural practitioners, but we need to understand their language well enough to communicate with them and recognize interconnections and to foster more sustainable and resilient communities. Planners must also always strive to make equitable decisions, processes and plans. When we make providing for the most vulnerable members of our society the norm, everyone benefits. However in practice this is seldom done and we need to recognize that planning is rife with inequities. To remedy this we need to start by understand who our vulnerable populations are and how to communicate with them and bring them into the conversation. We need to be willing to totally rethink our planning processes to include the most underrepresented people in our communities and make them feel welcome. I think two of the biggest limitations or challenges planning faces with ensuring sustainable, resilient and equitable decisions and plans is lack of conclusive data and confidence of decision makers. This isn’t to say that there isn’t data to support sustainable, resilient and equitable decisions, but it’s seldom clear cut and without discretion or tradeoffs. And this is often tied to the other challenge, the lack of confidence of those in power to take decisive action. As planners are seldom that ones doing the research and we are not the ones with power. But we have an important role to identify gaps in knowledge and data, and to provide evidence based recommendations to those in power to make decisions that build more sustainable, resilient and equitable communities.
4. On the Maui County Long Range Planning Division’s website for the West Maui Community Plan update, upholding AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct principals regarding a planner’s responsibility to the public was noted as a goal for that planning process. How did your team put this principle into practice in your efforts to update the plan?
When we started the West Maui Community Plan update we recognized that we faced no shortage of challenges. First and foremost being that we needed to gain the trust of the community. We have worked to do this by bringing the planning process to the community in a way that is comfortable and convenient to them. We did a variety of community engagement events, including one-on-one interviews, informational presentations, evening meetings, weekend design workshops, pop-ups, talk stories with various community groups, and online activities. We’ve worked with county and state agencies, UH Sea Grant, and other subject matter experts to provide factual information to the community. We have also made a conscious effort to make the process as transparent as possible. We created a new website dedicated to the West Maui Community Plan update which has a wealth of background information, information on the planning process, and many opportunities to participate. We also created a Community Planning Process Handbook to help citizens understand the process and how to get involved. Throughout our community engagement we constantly ask community members who we were missing and how we could get them involved. And we worked with a group of community leaders, West Maui Alakai, to test our engagement activities and gain feedback on how to interact with the community. We have done all of this to put the West Maui people at the center or the planning process and help them have a meaningful positive impact on their future through the creation of their community plan.
5. What advice do you have for planners beginning their careers?
Planning has so many opportunities, avenues and facets – explore until you find what inspires you and ignites your passion. Learn from your colleagues, the experts, and especially the community. Check your ego at the door, it’s not about you. Understand the details, but always keep in mind the bigger picture. Be patient, honest and compassionate.
6. What achievement in your career are you proudest of?
This question is difficult to answer, and I think that is because my planning career is not about pride or achievements. Perhaps a differently worded question would be “What moments in my career warm my heart, make me smile and inspire me to continue my work?” To this question, I would answer that it is often the moments that, at the time, appear small and inconsequential, but that spark a fire to instigate positive change and build better communities. It’s when I hear a citizen explaining in her own words to a fellow community member the benefits of walkable design. It’s when the most vocal critic of your planning process eventually becomes your biggest supporter and champion. It’s when a young girl volunteers to share her group’s ideas at a community design charrette and also says that she wants to be a planner when she grows up. These moments remind me of the importance of the planning work that I’m involved in, that meaningful change takes time and the collaborative efforts of many people, and that being uplifted by the small victories keeps you going.