Interview by John Valdez, AICP, APA-NM President
Lucy Foma grew up in Santa Fe, NM. She attended university at Smith College in Massachusetts, where she majored in economics. During college, she had the opportunity to travel to Africa to work for a microloan program in Cameroon (where she met her husband) and later in Brazil, where she studied Portuguese. She also received a Fulbright Fellowship in Senegal to study dance. These experiences later inspired her to write ‘Funded!’ which outlines how students (and others!) can apply for and receive fellowships and travel grants.
In 2016, Lucy joined the Santa Fe County Planning Division as a Community Planner. Since then, Lucy has taken the lead in developing critical community planning policies, programs and plans including facilitating the Galisteo Community Economic Development Plan, developing and expanding the Community Organization and Registered Organization Program, developing the San Marcos Community Plan with residents of the San Marcos area, and coordinating the Village of Tesuque Community Plan in Santa Fe County.
1. When did you realize you wanted to become a planner and was there an instance, situation, or issue that made you realize that planning was the profession for you?
I’ve always been a planner, making checklists and organizing activities for all my fellow 5-year olds on playdates, but I didn’t even know planning was a profession until I graduated from college and moved back home to Santa Fe. Ken Hughes is a family friend and would send out emails about biking opportunities and solar panels and so I asked him what kinds of masters degrees I should look at to do “sustainability stuff” and he said, “Planning!” Since I try to see the interconnect-ness of all things, and I like facilitating meetings, planning turned out to be a great fit for me.
2. What is the most challenging aspect of being a planner to you?
I do a lot of comprehensive long-range planning and I work hard to build a rapport and trust with the communities I work in. Bringing groups to appreciate the value of planning takes a lot of well thought out exercises, discussions and demonstrations. I also need to listen to what the people want and then synthesize their information and translate it into an actionable plan. One of the hardest things about being a planner is that I don’t want to let these people down after they have grown to trust me with their ideas. After a plan is written, the implementation is somewhat out of my hands, but I worry that these often-times skeptical people will completely lose faith in the process if the plan does not work out as we hoped. The other challenge is bringing new possibilities to a group, expanding opportunities of what could be when their experience has been defined by the past.
3. What area or planning issue are you most passionate about and why?
The reason I became a planner is because I want to address the climate emergency. I have a very optimistic outlook, seeing that the future could be so much better than the past, serving all people more equitably, restoring native knowledge about how to live with the Earth, and enabling local economies to flourish. I am really excited about local food systems and soil health at the moment. At Santa Fe County, we launched the AgriGate, an online platform to connect local food producers with local food buyers.
Check it out at www.agrigatesfc.org. Soil is the other way we can invest in carbon capture and a healthier ecosystem (which means healthier people). Did you know one teaspoon of healthy soil has more microorganisms than all humans on the planet??? (https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/secret-life-soil) Healthy soil holds water, supports plan diversity and captures carbon. I’m excited about the work Santa Fe County is doing on open space properties and on our demonstration projects to support regenerative agriculture.
4. What is your proudest achievement as a planner thus far in your career?
As a planner, I consider all of my work to be team-led. I think my proudest achievement is to be part of the Santa Fe County team of planners, a group of amazingly intelligent, worldly and passionate people who want to make the world a better place. I am amazed by my “work family” every day because we are trying to push the bounds in environmental planning, capital planning, agriculture planning, community-based economic development, and quality of life. They push me to keep learning and applying myself in new ways and I am proud that I was good enough to join their ranks three and a half years ago.
5. What do you do to unwind from the rigors of your career?
I grew up dancing with my family, my mom has taught West African and Haitian dance in Santa Fe for 33 years. I dance with my mom and her students of all ages to rebalance and reconnect.
6. What is your advice for people considering planning as a profession?
Planning is more than just land use, so planners don’t need to just think about zoning. We need to think about how all disciplines relate and benefit from a planner’s perspective. Don’t be afraid to use your planning skills and knowledge outside of the planning bounds. Everyone can benefit from a planner’s education.