By Brad Beaubien, BUPD 2000, MURP 2001
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. These 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.
Tell us about a project that 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 experienced 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.