Name: Stephanie Brown
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Undergraduate school/major Georgetown University, History & Government
What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?
I briefly worked for the federal government before transitioning over to national political campaigns, including two presidential races. After the 2008 cycle, I went on to help found a political consulting company which focused on strategic development at the front end of campaigns for both candidates and issues.
Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?
I had a longstanding love of cities and a strong urban identity as a kid. I also grew up in a working class neighborhood and in a church which really had to wrestle with challenges of poverty and hardship. Between the two, I have come to know cities as places of tremendous excitement and potential but also extreme poverty and oppression. My early move into an explicit political career was unexpected, and while I loved politics and campaigns, I became frustrated at how distant and partisan the federal government felt compared with local problems and solutions. Planning gives me the opportunity to delve into the ground realities of urban neighborhoods while still bringing to bear a high-level strategic approach which considers the interests of an entire city or region.
What made you decide to come to the GSD?
I was interested in the design focus of the GSD and wanted the practical, site-specific approach of studio. I was also considering a joint degree and was attracted by the possibility of the Harvard Kennedy School. In the end, the GSD also offered the best financial aid package, which was a tremendous help.
What are your main interests in planning and concentration area?
I’m focused on inner-city America from both a social and economic perspective. I’ve also placed a great deal of emphasis on the political, legal, and financial mechanisms needed to implement solid plans and good design in hopes of preparing myself for a very effective career in the future.
Are you writing a thesis? What is your topic and why did you choose it?
I am not writing a thesis, but I had the opportunity last summer to work with the Joint Center for Housing Studies and NeighborWorks America to conduct significant independent research and then present that research at a conference, policy briefing, and a final paper for publication. I focused on case studies of two different neighborhoods—one in Boston and one in DC—which were undergoing what many considered to be gentrification. I was looking to identify strategies that leaders throughout the community could use to strengthen and unite a neighborhood in transition to produce equitable and productive outcomes for the entire community. This came largely out of my own experience living in a very poor neighborhood as a well-employed college graduate and the questions I wrestled with about the how and why of my living there.
What has been your favorite class or project? Why?
To my everlasting shock, one of my favorite courses has been Advanced Applied Budgeting (taught at HKS). As part of that class, three classmates and I served as consultants to the City of Somerville on a private-public partnership surrounding a park and youth center. It was an incredibly energizing and educational experience, wherein we had to engage with political hurdles, partner concerns, and obstacles both financial and physical to present the City with a feasible plan. I learned a great deal about real estate finance and was able to bring both my design and political skills to the table. Moreover, it was incredibly rewarding to hand a useable project over to an enthusiastic mayor.
What did you do over the summer? How did that add to your education and goals?
I spent the first half of the summer teaching urban planning at the GSD during a program called Career Discovery. It’s an intensive six-week course for students, from college age to established professionals, who are considering pursuing a career in urban planning. It was an incredibly rewarding and enlightening process (not to mention exhausting!) that has significantly affected how I think and speak about planning as a professional. The process forced me to tease out and articulate different philosophies that I had been working through. I spent the latter part of the summer working in the mayor’s office of Kansas City, Missouri on projects ranging from transportation to economic development to education. It was a fantastic way to plug back into my home town but also gave me a new perspective on how local initiatives wind their way through the system and the many hurdles they must overcome.