By Elizabeth Labiner
Erin David earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the U of A, completing her B.A. in Sociology and Religious Studies in 2010 and then continuing on to a Master of Science degree in Planning in 2013. The Planning program, part of the College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture, led David to GRA positions with the Drachman Institute and Sustainable City Project, as well as internships that David says pushed her to engage in real-world projects and expand her skillset beyond that which was addressed through classwork. She notes, “The benefits from these experiences have included not only specific skills but also exposure to a wide range of planning practice areas, the interdisciplinary nature of the field, and other key resume builders.”
David is accredited by the American Institute of Certified Planners and is a Senior Planner at Alta Planning + Design in Seattle. After moving to Seattle in 2014, she was hired by Alta to conduct community outreach for Transportation Demand Management. Though this role was a part time, temporary position, it was a great opportunity for her to learn about the company and build a network in the industry while developing a better understanding of her new home city. After this position ended, David began work at another local planning firm but maintained close contact with Alta staff. This continued contact, David explains, was crucial to learning about and being hired for her current position: “Through my temporary position, I quickly learned that Alta not only worked primarily on issues for which I had a strong passion, but also that the company culture was where I wanted to be. About a year later, they decided to hire a new planner, and staying in contact paid off!”
David is passionate about her career in planning, and her role at Alta in particular. The job brings about tangible improvements to communities and their citizens, which she loves:
My job is focused on creating active, vibrant communities. While we most often focus on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, our work also includes educational outreach, health and equity analyses, connections to transit, and larger programmatic work aimed at increasing the visibility and use of active transportation modes. My role specifically varies from day-to-day and project-to-project. As a Senior Planner, I most often support master plans for communities ranging from small, rural towns to state-wide efforts; conduct network analyses focused on topics such as safety, comfort, and transit accessibility; and facilitate public and interagency engagement activities.
Working in the private sector came as something of a surprise to David, as she never intended to follow this employment option. Now that she has, however, she says,
I most enjoy the ways in which this career path enables me to impact communities across the nation. The foundations of the work I do remain the same, but each community is unique, with its own set of challenges and opportunities. This challenges me to remain responsive to community needs, informed of industry trends, and open to finding creative solutions that push communities to better serve their residents. Further, at Alta I am lucky enough to work with a team of individuals who exhibit such strong passion for our work. Even at the end of a particularly tough week, it's easy to feel inspired by the lessons shared by my colleagues.
She also reflects on the benefits of the UA Planning program’s requirements to take a diverse course load, noting, “My career now is directly born out of courses that exposed me to GIS, transportation, and graphics production. Without any of these components, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to discover where my interests in the field and my skills best overlap.” This exposure to other disciplines, she continues, has encouraged her to take chances or look for opportunities in a less expected route.
David’s long-term goal for her career is to continue growing within the field of active transportation. The field is evolving rapidly, with many new opportunities emerging all the time. More immediately, she says, she’s working on developing project management skills. She continues to hone her analytics capacity, and enjoys remaining flexible to the needs of new projects.