Alumni Voices: Chris Urban
Can you describe your career trajectory?
My professional career started down a completely different path from where I am today: in media relations and sports administration, specifically in college athletics communications. I earned my undergraduate degree in Sport Management from Cleveland State University while working as a student assistant in CSU’s athletic department. I got my first full-time media relations job at Butler University, where I spent three years as the communications contact for the women’s basketball, baseball, and volleyball teams.
Despite the positive attributes of the job, I found myself desiring more significance in my work and longing for an opportunity to make an impact in my hometown of Cleveland. So, in 2009, I decided to go back to school full time to pursue my master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at Ball State, where not only was I able to obtain an immersive and invaluable education but was afforded the opportunity to intern with my now current employer, Greater Cleveland Partnership. In the decade since then, I have had significant involvement in numerous civic projects and initiatives involving transportation, transit, maritime commerce, public spaces, catalytic real estate development, neighborhood planning, community relations, and environmental conservation.
What does your current job entail?
My organization, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, is the largest regional membership-driven chamber of commerce in the nation. In addition to the core function of providing business assistance services to our area companies, GCP serves as a critical participant in major planning and development work in Cleveland, which is where my role is primarily focused. As Director of Civic Engagement and Projects, I routinely work with local and regional public sector agencies – including the City of Cleveland and other suburban municipalities, Cuyahoga County, GCRTA, ODOT, community development corporations, and other public organizations – on planning and development projects that involve broad collaboration and generate regional impact. Currently this includes advancing the transformation of downtown Cleveland’s lakefront and riverfront, transportation and economic development projects like the Opportunity Corridor boulevard, and planning and development projects involving neighborhoods, municipalities, and businesses.
Please tell us about a favorite project and why it makes you proud.
My recent work with the suburban city of Warrensville Heights has been and continues to be incredibly rewarding. This predominantly minority community on the southeast side of Cuyahoga County has been working to implement a significant neighborhood and economic development project that will include mixed-income housing, retail, office, and a new community park. I have been able to play a central role in advancing this project through GIS mapping, socioeconomic data gathering, and the completion of a successful grant application for the park’s construction. This project has allowed me to build trust and confidence from city leadership as I remain integrated in their ongoing planning and development efforts.
What advice do you have for students who want a career similar to yours?
Actively work to understand different perspectives and interests that, on the surface, conflict with what you know about planning. Talk to people from other fields to better appreciate their objectives and don’t allow any preconceived notions get in the way of building relationships. Partnerships are key to getting things accomplished with maximum benefit. Some of the best professional relationships I have, and the ones that have been most beneficial to my work, are with organizations and entities that have typically been viewed by the planning field as adversaries, in particular the state DOT, traffic engineers, and economic development organizations. Having strong relationships with these groups has been invaluable to my career.