Alumni Voices: Taylor Firestine
Can you describe your career trajectory?
In high school, I was fortunate to be exposed to a number of volunteer opportunities, which helped develop my sense of service to the community. When I arrived at CAP, I was heartened by the college's critical focus on equity and intentional community-driven design. These experiences from high school and undergraduate education inspired me to pursue my master's in urban design. My appreciation of and interest in public service landed me my first professional position as a planner with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization (IMPO) where I had the privilege to project manage the baseline assessment of the Red Line Transit Impact Study, assist with the creation of the Transit-Oriented Development Map Series and Data Dashboard, manage the agency's request for qualifications/proposals process, and manage the organization's internship program. After nearly three years of learning the ins and outs of federal and state transportation administration, a new door opened for me to gain experience in the nonprofit sector as a pedestrian and bicyclist program coordinator with Health by Design, also in Indianapolis. I never could have imagined a decade ago that I'd be working as an advocate in transportation and land use planning for a nonprofit focused on improving public health outcomes. But that's sort of the beauty of an urban planning education--the opportunities to apply your unique skillset within the profession are seemingly endless!
What does your current job entail?
As a walk and bike program coordinator with Health by Design, I'm fortunate to work in several different capacities every day. As an organization, our mission is driven by building and sustaining a built environment that promotes healthy, active living for everyone in our communities. Much of my work centers on advocacy, whether that's letter writing to support City of Indianapolis planning staff's recommendations on a policy or zoning case or reviewing plans by our partner organizations to ensure public processes were transparent and equitable. I and colleagues also work directly with Hoosiers across Indiana to provide technical assistance, like drafting Complete Streets policies for local jurisdictions, or conducting walk audits in areas experiencing high rates of crashes between pedestrians and motorists. I've also helped lead our Indianapolis-specific Walkability Champion program. Participants in the program are educated on planning best practices that support walkability and pedestrian safety and lead a public outreach, engagement, and action planning process in their neighborhoods.
Please tell us about a favorite project and why it makes you proud.
Though it was an enormous undertaking in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (with many hiccups along the way), my favorite project has been helping manage Health by Design's Walkability Champion program. Working on the fly to produce and plan an all-virtual program--that had traditionally been done in-person--was the challenge of my career (so far), but through the messiness, there were several successes and lessons learned. One Walkability Champion team rolled with the punches and saw one of their action plan items grow from the seed of an idea to a grant-winning proposal in a matter of months (in the middle of a global pandemic!). I couldn't have been more proud of their devotion to the neighbors, determination, and tenacity to see the planning process through.
What advice do you have for students who want a career similar to yours?
Be generous with your time, skills, and passions. Especially to yourself. You can't be a positive force for change in your community if you've neglected your own health and wellbeing. Further, it's easier to become jaded and burned out in the absence of time spent replenishing your soul. That's how you stay inspired and motivated to do your very best work.
Do you have a favorite Ball State or CAP memory to share?
I cherish the memories I made with my first-year studio cohort, especially those made during my first CAP field trip to Chicago.