Welcome to ISL’s Young Professionals! We feature ISLers who are taking the engineering and planning world by storm. Get to know what led them to a career in engineering or urban planning, what their day-to-day looks like and what they think sets ISL apart.
Meet Courtney Laurence, a Community Planner and Engagement Strategist in our Calgary office. Courtney has been with ISL for over 6 years.
MPlan, M.A., RPP, MCIP
What is your role at ISL?
Community Planner/Engagement Strategist – I work on a large variety of social and land use planning projects, and plan and implement engagement programs for planning, landscape architecture and transportation projects, in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario
What big project are you working on right now (or have you recently completed)?
One of the projects I’m most excited to be currently involved in is providing planning and engagement support to another consulting firm in the development of an Urban, Rural and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy for Indigenous People in British Columbia.
We are working with the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) to complete a technical and financial review of housing needs of Indigenous Peoples living off-reserve.
Through research, data analysis, and engagement with an Advisory Committee, housing providers, tenants and other stakeholders, we are working with AHMA to develop strategies and an implementation plan to address those needs, which can then be presented to the Federal Government for funding to support implementation.
When and why did you decide you wanted to be a planner?
I think many planners may respond with, “It all started with my love for SimCity.” This is true in my case. I really enjoy designing cities, but planning or urban planning wasn’t a common term or well known career path, so when I was in high school, I wanted to go into architecture.
After spending several years doing research on how the built environment influences human behaviour, I wanted to apply what I was learning and decided to pursue my Masters in Planning (funnily enough, when I got accepted to the University of Calgary Masters Program, a computer glitch resulted in my acceptance letter being for the Architecture Program, which was quickly sorted out).
What was the path you took to get to where you are today? (school, volunteering, work experience/co-ops, networking, ect.)
It was not a straight path, more of a winding road.
My background is in social psychology and criminology. I’m very interested in human behaviour and how the built environment can influence that, and how it relates to social well-being, health and safety.
I pursued a Masters in Criminology where I focused on how the built environment can influence criminal behaviour. My Masters Thesis analyzed the SkyTrain system in Vancouver and how station design can influence criminal activity at the stations.
Many of the academic articles I reviewed for my Thesis were collaborations between criminologists and urban planners.
From there, my research skills and interest in the built environment brought me to a research group at the University of Prince Edward Island where we explored how the environment impacts the physical and mental health of youth.
After several years of designing and implementing quantitative and qualitative data collection processes, analyzing data and writing academic papers, I was ready to put that knowledge into practice and sought out opportunities to get involved in policy development.
All the jobs I was interested in required a planning degree or similar experience/education, so I decided to move to Calgary to complete my Masters of Planning degree.
As part of that degree, I had the opportunity to work for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo as a summer planning student and spent a semester in Melbourne working with landscape architects from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
During my last semester at U of C, I along with my classmates, spent time networking and sharing CVs with friends and acquaintances. This landed my CV on the desk of the Edmonton Planning Manager who knew of a large engagement project that was just kicking off in Calgary, where my engagement experience led to my initial role at ISL as an Engagement Coordinator.
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
I am always learning. Every day there is a new challenge that I need to find a solution for.
What does a typical day at ISL look like for you? (coffee, inspections, site visits, phone calls, team meetings, design, emails, ect.)
Every day is different. I manage and support a variety of projects for multiple clients and it really depends on what my priorities are for that day.
In one day, I could be presenting to a municipal Council, facilitating a stakeholder workshop, researching best practices for affordable housing, writing a provincial report for grant funding, developing a budget for a proposal, reviewing the Municipal Government Act for regulatory requirements, attending team or client meetings, drafting area structure plan or land use bylaw amendments, collecting data, and developing implementation plans.
What are some of your favourite ISL experiences? (Cool projects, social events/charitable initiatives, daily office life, ect.)
The first big project I worked on at ISL was leading engagement implementation for the City of Calgary’s Crowchild Trail Study.
I spent most of the first two years of my time at ISL (2,513 hours to be exact) only working on that project. The complexity of it required a lot of team members’ time and effort. I learned a lot from all of the people I worked with and it wasn’t always easy, but it was especially rewarding to see the Corridor Study not only receive unanimous Council support, but win several awards, including the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Canadian Project of the Year.
Some of my favourite times at ISL are when we can all get together outside of work. ISL has an annual staff development seminar which brings the whole company together to listen to some great keynote speakers, share and learn what our colleagues are doing in other offices, catch up with and meet colleagues who we typically wouldn’t cross paths with and find opportunities where we can work together in the future. And of course, we always find lots of time for socializing.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
Leading more social planning and housing policy projects and continuing my work on a diversity of unique and challenging projects; sharing my vision and experience through mentorship programs for junior team members and planners entering the industry.