C+S: WGI is a dynamic growth firm. How does the culture of a place like WGI feed into your own entrepreneurial approach? LN: The most important part of taking an entrepreneurial approach is first and foremost listening to customers to see what their main prob- lems are – or what they see looming. Nothing matters if you don’t address the right problem. Second, I like to boil down my approach as getting out in front of the future. When I convene stakeholders, whether internal or in a design charrette, I always like to use a first workshop to explore technology and how it’s likely to evolve. This helps form a common understanding of the types of technology, likely impacts, and how we can manage impacts. For example, autonomous cars get a lot of press for the poten- tial for both positive and negative impacts. Whether AVs cause more congestion or relieve congestion will depend on a range of decisions on pricing, where they can park, and whether they are owned or shared. C+S: In your new role, you will be working with all of WGI’s service lines. What’s the key to communicating with such a large, diverse group of colleagues? LN: That’s really the next step. When I joined in March, the first couple of weeks I went out to talk to clients, and then formed a small inter- nal group. Your question really addressed the next couple of months, which will require a lot of internal lunch-and-learns and office visits. C+S: You are a national thought leader in your field. If you were talk- ing to a group of young engineers, what would you tell them about forging a national profile? LN: Find a way to take one of these emerging topics – whether it’s parking, autonomous shuttle policy, or the future of funding transporta- tion infrastructure, and join professional working groups. C+S: Civic engagement is a big focus for you. In terms of project deliv- ery, what’s the difference between good, and poor, public engagement? LN: I got my start in urban design as a civic activist in Arlington, Virginia, so I’ve been in several stakeholder roles. In my case, our neighborhood taught itself urban planning to make the case for a better project. By better, we had to think about how the project worked on several fronts (not just those of one neighborhood). Ideally, the best engagement is ongoing and explores different facets of community life. Lately, stakeholder engagement is having to also pull in a lot of emerging (and sometimes worrisome) trends like climate change and technology. I’ve found, in this world of social media and relentless news cycles, local and personal is the way to go. Walking tours are my favorite way to study our communities closely for things that work, don’t work, or serve as a conversation springboard for talk- ing about the future.
C+S: You worked for the EPA for 17 years. How did this experience shape your career? LN: I got my start professionally working on pesticide regulation. I then changed over to the Sustainable Communities group after my experience in my own neighborhood working on sustainable, transit- oriented development. So it was less EPA shaping my career than me shaping EPA. C+S: Your background includes a lot of experience working with gov- ernments at the local, state, and federal levels. What’s the secret to delivering successful projects owned by publicly-funded stakeholders? LN: Most of my work that was for public projects relates to street and roadway design. I’ve noticed a growing shift in rethinking the public’s investment in rights-of-way. For cities, streets often represent their largest real estate holding, yet it’s thought of for moving cars and stormwater. All too often, it does neither of these well (congestion with cars and polluted runoff and flooding). The other problem is our deficit in infrastructure repairs locally and for interstates. I’ve noticed cities reviewing street design as a way to unlock local value. So, a street can be converted to a festival area or closed for mar- kets. Right now, there is a move toward curbless streets that can easily be re-programmed for public spaces or the extension of private spaces for new sources of revenue. Though controversial, cities are reallocat- ing parking spaces for pick-up and drop-off zones for ride services like Uber and Lyft, as well as moveable parklets and bike parking. Working with the public, the message is about getting more value from every taxpayer dollar on public rights-of-way. C+S: You have a biology degree, yet you are working for a large multi- discipline consulting firm. What perspective do you bring to the table that perhaps engineers do not? LN: WGI has a talented, multi-disciplinary team – we even have the WGI Creative Services office with design professionals. This gives us access to videographers, graphic designers, and other visual story- tellers. This gives us the chance to break from professional-speak to stories people can understand. As a biologist, I am heartened by the increasing use of the word “eco- system” to describe systems – even parking and streets. This recog- nizes that cities, like habitats, are interlinked systems and not siloed engineering topics.
RICHARD MASSEY is managing editor of Zweig Group publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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