By Steven Stransky, MURP 2018
While growing up, my neighborhood flooded due to a levee breach after a massive rainstorm. Floodwaters inundated nearly every home in the neighborhood, including several supposedly raised out of the floodplain, while sparing the floorboards of our home by mere inches. I remember hearing about FEMA, hazard mitigation, buyouts, relocation, etc., and wondered how this natural disaster would shape the future of not only my built community but also my life and neighbors. As disasters continued to strike and I went through college and then my Master of Urban & Regional Planning at Ball State, I always remembered back to what I had experienced in my neighborhood and wondered how I could be part of helping communities rebuild from natural disasters.
Flash forward 12 years to 2019. After graduating from undergrad and then receiving my Master of Urban Regional Planning from Ball State in 2018, I had returned to Iowa and was working in community and active transportation planning for a regional council of governments. In the spring, the state was inundated by massive floodwaters along the Missouri River in the west that breached every levee for over 50 miles. Floodwaters filled the entire river valley, sweeping communities under 8 feet or more of water. Meanwhile, in the city I was living in on the Mississippi River in the east, foreboding floodwaters breached the temporary flood barriers one Saturday afternoon, sending residents fleeing parks and restaurants as floodwaters inundated much of downtown, sparing my apartment building by a half a block. I thought back to what I had experienced years ago and felt compelled to use my planning education and experience to benefit communities.
After the disaster recovery funds were issued in 2020, I began working in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) efforts for the Iowa Economic Development Authority in Des Moines. There, where I have since been promoted to Team Lead, I have managed buyout and new housing construction programs, helping communities move disaster-vulnerable populations out of the floodplain and working to replace the housing stock with safe, quality, affordable housing. It has been rewarding to use my personal experience, planning education at Ball State, and professional experiences to help rebuild communities and ensure the state is more resilient to future natural disasters.
WHAT DOES YOUR CURRENT JOB ENTAIL?
As Disaster Recovery Team Lead, I lead the State’s CDBG-DR efforts. I oversee 4 allocations, 3 for disasters and 1 for a resilience grant. These grants are being used on projects and initiatives which help communities recover long-term from disasters, particularly in terms of housing, while also primarily benefiting low to moderate income persons. Most of our work currently is in managing the buyouts and new housing construction from the 2019 floods while also launching the action plan and developing programs to roll out later this year from the August 2020 derecho.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT A FAVORITE PROJECT AND WHY IT MAKES YOU PROUD.
My favorite planning project thus far actually comes from my experience as regional planner prior to working in disaster recovery. I led the development of a bicycle & pedestrian plan for two communities and a county conservation board. We had a lot of public engagement and a steering committee balanced with people of different backgrounds and interests to help shape the future of active transportation and recreation in the area. The plan was short and targeted, with creative, cost-inclusive solutions to expand multi-use paths, bike lanes, etc. I was proud of it since it was informative, easy to understand, and had clear and implementable priorities. And, of course, it was designed well as Ball State taught me through its design courses.
I would recommend being flexible in terms of which jobs you initially take. You may make a bit less by working initially in a rural area, but you’ll likely gain a lot more experience and have more responsibility than working for a larger agency/firm in an urban center. Search out for jobs that may not traditionally fit within planning but would definitely be considered so, and bring your planning ethics and experiences to these roles.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BALL STATE OR CAP MEMORY TO SHARE?
I have so many favorite memories from my time at CAP and Ball State! It was one of the happiest periods of my life! I was learning planning academically; I was also learning it in practice simultaneously. I would say that working on neighborhood plans in Muncie was my favorite experience. My final semester, I was part of a class that worked on the Muncie Action Plan 3. We met with stakeholders, held community meetings across the city, and, in combining stakeholder feedback and community input, developed initiatives, projects, and a plan that would enhance the amazing community that Muncie is. It was only one of the many rewarding experiences I had at Ball State of working with communities and neighborhoods across Indiana.