Interview by John Valdez, AICP, APA-NM President & James Foty, AICP, APA-NM PDO
Richard Meadows is the Technical Planning Manager for Bernalillo County Public Works. He has been at the County for the last 12 years and previously worked in Tribal planning, private consulting, and several other planning areas. Due to his achievements over the course of his career, he was nominated by his peers and awarded APA-NM’s Planner of the Year for 2020. The following is a short Q&A with Richard on his interests, passions, and advice for young planners.
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?
Richard has always wanted to be a planner, going all the back to childhood when he would build miniature towns in his backyard. As a teenager, he enjoyed drawing maps of cities and imagining new places and neighborhoods. As a college student at New Mexico State University, he decided that he was more interested in urban planning and the variety of roles that the field offers after first exploring architecture. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a masters in planning degree, Richard worked as a Tribal Planner in Arizona and later in New Mexico. Since then, he has explored many other planning avenues including private consulting, housing, and land use planning before transitioning to his current role as a transportation planner at Bernalillo County.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a planner to you?
Throughout Richard’s career, a common thread for him has been finding the best way to relate planning projects and recommendations back to the community’s needs and desires. He sees it as an ongoing test for planners to ask: are the projects, processes, and strategies we’re using improving our communities and benefiting most people? And, if not, how can we do things better?
Related to these questions is the ongoing challenge of learning how to listen to all the different voices within a community and balance potentially competing interests and needs. In addition to being able to listen and respond to the different interests in a community, Richard has had to had to find ways to balance his planning knowledge and expertise with the sometimes divergent interests of multiple stakeholders. As Richard has learned, being able to do this well takes time, experience, and commitment.
What were the special challenges you faced this past year due to COVID-19?
Richard has found working from home and the transition to Zoom meetings have worked out well overall. However, as many planners have experienced in the past year, Richard has found that it has been hard to conduct effective and representative public outreach during the pandemic. Due to the limitations on in-person meetings and events, he and his team have had to get creative with public engagement strategies and utilize more online tools.
For example, Richard has been the project manager for Bernalillo County’s El Camino Real Trail Project that began in early 2020. The team for the project initially planned several in-person community meetings and events but had to pivot to online meetings and a more extensive project website because of the pandemic. As a result, the consultant for the project has created a virtual project tour to share the history of the trail and neighborhoods it passes through with community members. Although moving to online engagement has created challenges and come with some limitations, it has also allowed the project team to post content (including public meeting materials) that stakeholders can access on their own time.
What area or planning issue are you most passionate about and why?
Richard has always been passionate about finding ways to innovate to ensure that planning projects benefit our communities and the people living in them. As a result, he has been interested in pursuing new ways of doing things and moving forward, especially as the planning field has evolved over the last 30 years. Richard is currently interested in planning projects that consider and address the impacts of development, including climate change implications. In the future, Richard would like to learn more about economic development planning and ways to integrate transportation planning projects with effective economic development strategies.
Richard is also passionate about capital planning and seeing projects come to fruition. Although he is modest when talking about his accomplishments, he has overseen the planning of several large-scale transportation projects within Bernalillo County and been instrumental in securing funding for many of them in the past decade.
What is your proudest achievement as a planner thus far in your career?
Richard really enjoyed working on the Bridge Boulevard Corridor Plan with a diverse, multi-disciplinary project team and multiple County Departments. Since the plan was adopted, many of the recommendations have been implemented, including some of the roadway improvements and the formation of the South Valley Main Street.
Earlier in his career as a young planner, Richard worked on the General Plan and a Specific Area Plan for the Tohono O’odham community of San Xavier outside of Tucson. Many years later, he went back and was pleased to see how these plans had been implemented as envisioned in the plans he had worked on years before.
What do you do to unwind from the rigors of your career?
Outside of work, Richard enjoys gardening, walking his three dogs (two chihuahuas and a pitbull mix), getting out in nature, hiking, camping, riding his bike, and spending time with family.
What is your advice for people considering planning as a profession?
Richard’s advice to young planners is to remember that planning is not just about doing one thing such as zoning or land use – it’s a diverse field with many different career paths to explore. He encourages young planners to explore different facets that interest them and be open to career possibilities as they emerge.