Alumni Voices: Brad Beaubien
Can you describe your career trajectory?
When I graduated I really wanted to work at the largest of planning scales: either with the federal government or the United Nations. I had interned with the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington DC as a BSU undergraduate and really enjoyed policymaking and being able to touch so many diverse people and places. During planning graduate school at the Ball State CAP Indianapolis Center, I had a graduate assistantship working with the city’s planning office focused on an update to the plan for downtown.
Upon graduation, that assistantship morphed into a role with Ball State and a role with the city to finish that work. Before long I was working full time with CAP Indy doing what I loved about my BSU education—getting students out helping real-world community partners. We helped on projects as diverse as walking door to door in neighborhoods to inventory abandoned homes to helping with the city’s cultural development programs. It was probably about as far from being a Fed as I could get, but I found my skills and interest worked at the hyper-local level as well as they did in DC. Soon I grew to Direct the Indianapolis Center, helping to launch the College’s Urban Design program and continuing to align student learning with real-world community needs.
After working with city government partners for a decade, I was asked to officially join them, leading a reimagined long-range planning team at the City of Indianapolis. Local government was never on my radar, and its an incredibly demanding place to be. But I thrived, leading a team of planners and consultants to pioneer a collective impact planning process called Plan 2020 and creation of some pretty consequential projects and policies that sought to undo the legacy of harmful and racist policies and planning systems that have led to incredibly disparate life outcomes for black and brown residents of our city. While there I also served as interim director for the department during a mayoral administration change.
I’ve always been a purpose-driven person, and in this work, I found my passion. I encourage every student I talk with to spend time in local government. It’s where the people need you the most. But I also encourage them to not stay there for life. It’s too easy to lose your edge, to get insulated by bureaucracy, and to get burnt out. To that end, my latest chapter is with Visit Indy, the tourism agency (or “destination marketing organization” in industry lingo) for Indy. I’m in a brand new role for the company serving as Director of Destination Development, which is a fancy way of saying I work to make Indy a great place to live, work, and yes, visit. For me it’s a chance to continue to impact my city from a different perspective, trading the authority I had in city government for influence in starting and supporting a wide variety of quality of life and quality of place initiatives. My purpose has followed, realizing that the power of discovery, shared experiences, and storytelling at the heart of travel and tourism can be a powerful force for good.
What does your current job entail?
I’m the custodian of our Destination Vision plan, which is our work plan for making Indy a great place to live, work, and visit. We do tourism to support our residents—providing jobs for our residents, taxes for our communities, and amenities for our region that we couldn’t support on our own. Our goal is to be at the intersection of what residents want and visitors need.
A big focus of my job right now is working on the White River, the defining natural resource in Central Indiana that has been neglected for centuries. We see its restoration and the incredible number of parks, attractions, and communities along with it as a cornerstone of attracting and retaining talent and improving the quality of life for everyone. I led a regional planning process, am working on branding and development of a website that packages the river as an experience and story, am knee deep in regional politics about project implementation, led development of a pop-up community park intended to be a temporary pilot, and talk with civic and community groups about the work.
We’re also delving into workforce development, one of those topics in planning school I was really not interested in, but after two decades working in disinvested neighborhoods cannot stress enough the importance of it. We believe our industry has a role to play in providing ladders out of poverty and want to seize on that opportunity.
I also spend a good amount of time on data and research. In the tech world, there’s this idea of UI/UX, or user interface and user experience for software and apps and devices. I’m working to build a research program that enables us to understand the UX of place, how people use, consume, and experience our city and its neighborhoods.
Please tell us about a favorite project and why it makes you proud.
Somehow I’ve managed to win three national planning awards. The one I am the proudest of is for a public education program we built while I was at the City of Indianapolis called the People’s Planning Academy. We were going into an update to our land use planning process and had always struggled with representative community engagement.
The dirty secret in planning is that it’s driven by who shows up, and the people showing up weren’t representative of the full spectrum of our community. But we couldn’t expect to throw newcomers into a process that veteran participants had spent decades perfecting. To level the playing field we built a six-part training program that shared the basics of planning as well as how planning impacts communities. We used the comprehensive plan goals to share how planning can make neighborhoods more inclusive, resilient, healthier, and competitive. We offered free on-site daycare to eliminate that barrier and when the free program filled up, we worked with our public access tv station to broadcast the programs and put them online. We developed a workbook, built low-cost games, and engaged community experts (including us planners) to teach the program. At the end the graduates received a diploma signed by the mayor and were invited to sit in on what had historically been a closed-door process of veteran appointees. It was incredibly rewarding, and I believe the citizen planners we produced will be the most consequential thing we did to improve the long-term trajectory of our city.
What advice do you have for students who want a career similar to yours?
I’ve always said I like being a mile wide and not a mile deep. We need people who are a mile deep and our authoritative experts in things. My strength isn’t that … it is in making connections across those experts and those issues. I found my time outside of CAP to be as important as inside CAP because it allowed me to understand how natural resources and sociology and political science and technology and economics all come together, often in some very unintended ways, in the real world. I’ve since gone on to get another master's degree in natural resources to pursue another passion of managing public lands out west. But I wouldn’t trade my BSU experience for anything because it exposed me to so many aspects of the world and gave me a foundation that I can apply in so many different places and industries. So take a wide variety of classes—they will be valuable in the most unexpected circumstances.
Do you have a favorite Ball State or CAP memory to share?
I don’t know if they are favorites, but they certainly left an impression on me that still informs my work today. The first was during the CAP first-year field trip to Chicago. We were tasked with sketching on the Magnificent Mile, a beautiful and upscale stretch of Michigan Avenue. I skipped doing the time we were allotted to do that to accompany a friend shopping for vinyl pants and therefore had to do it in the evening. While standing by the Chicago River bridge, alone, I was approached by a homeless man. The first homeless man I had ever spoken with. I bought him dinner and started talking about his life, his dreams, what led to homelessness, and soon he took me under Michigan Avenue to where he lived. It changed my perspective on what my profession was about. At the end of the day it’s about the people, yet so many of the opportunities to do transformative work aren’t for the people who really need us the most.
The other two were from community work. One was for a project in South Bend through CAP’s Community Based Projects program, where in a community meeting people became so upset with the city planners we were assisting that they began demanding better infrastructure and services or they would protest by withholding property taxes. Obviously, you can’t win that protest, but it left an impression on me about the relationship between local government and disenfranchised residents and prepped me for how to engage with upset constituents. The other was from the town of Markle, Indiana, just south of Fort Wayne. It was a site planning studio, and I had laid out a beautiful designed traditional neighborhood subdivision. We were showcasing our work at an open house and a woman walked up to me, pointed to the map, and asked “where is my house?” Her house was the one house in an otherwise empty tract of land, and it had messed up my layout, so I just removed it. Her house was an inconvenience for me. It was her life to her. That taught me about the consequence of our profession and how personal it really is.