The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Notes from the Field: Katherine Crane '16

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Rockefeller Center-funded interns reflect on their experiences as part of our "Notes from the Field" series. Click here to read more about the Rockefeller Center's Internships program. To read the entire series, click here.

Student Intern: Katherine Crane '16

Internship Organization: San Francisco Planning Department – San Francisco, CA

How would you describe your employer in one paragraph? What’s the elevator pitch? 
The City Planning Department is in charge of urban planning in accordance with the mayor's office and the Planning Commission. It has jurisdiction over the city's General Plan, allowing it to guide growth and development throughout the city. There are two parts to the department: Current Planning, which involves permits and ordinances and short term issues, as well as Long Range Planning, which involves citywide, big picture plans for the long term. I'm working in citywide, long range planning, and within this department I'm on a team called the Sustainable Development Program. The Sustainable Development program works to improve the environmental sustainability and resilience of San Francisco and incorporate these concerns into the whole Department's planning process. For the past couple of years, our main focus has been Eco-Districts, which is a program that fosters sustainable development from the bottom-up through engaging the community to create their own sustainability action plans.

What are your specific responsibilities in the organization? 
I'm working on program development for Type 3 Eco-Districts (there are four types according to different levels of development within neighborhoods). Type 3 Eco-districts are all the neighborhoods that are already developed and mostly residential, which is most of the city, however we have not yet found a successful approach to engaging these neighborhoods. Before we attempt to work with a neighborhood, it is important to develop the program so it will be relevant on the ground. I'm doing research and interviews with stakeholders throughout the city to write a report that makes recommendations for how to make Type 3 Eco-Districts successful and how to engage communities.

How did you feel on the first day of your internship? 
Getting a tour of the office layout was kind of intimidating with the rows of cubicles surrounded by private corner offices with dazzling views. It was all very surreal because it looked like it was copied exactly from a movie set in a government office. The work environment was pretty relaxed with people chatting and laughing in the kitchen and hallways.

What is your favorite part of the internship so far? 
My favorite part of the internship is simply being surrounded by people who are just as interested in urban planning and sustainable urbanism as I am. There are unlimited conversations to be had about gentrification, urban design, the future of cities, etc., and I learn so much just by chatting with people about the new designs posted on the wall or new architecture projects nearby. Everyone is excited, positive, and knowledgeable about these issues I find interesting; it's almost as if I'm taking an urban studies class just through talking with my peers.

One of the most rewarding experiences I've had is participating in a workshop with a visiting firm that is an expert in the field of net-zero architecture. The firm and the department are trying to work together to scale up net-zero buildings to the neighborhood scale. It was amazing to be able to offer feedback and insights on San Francisco's sustainability projects and be treated as an equally valued member of the brainstorming team. It was also exciting to feel like I was participating in what could be the first net-zero neighborhood project in America.

What challenges have you faced so far? 
It's definitely a challenge for me to sit in front of a computer at a desk all day. Sometimes I have to kickstart my brain and snap out of the computer stage by going for a walk to visit a nearby planning project or going to shadow at the PIC (an off-shoot of the department where the public can come in and ask us any question about zoning or planning). I have to remind myself that the big-picture work I'm doing will one day apply to real situations and individuals.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of your internship? 
I want to gain a better understanding of how urban planning works, and especially how the process could be improved. I want to use this experiential knowledge to form my own ideas and theories about how we can create more sustainable and resilient cities. On a more personal level, I want to be able to make more informed decisions about what kind of work environment I want to be in and, frankly, how I can avoid a career that involves sitting in front of computers doing work that is detached from my everyday experiences.

What have been some practical lessons you've learned in the day-to-day life of your internship?
Having a bike is a huge necessity. Reading for work can always be printed and taken to a park at the end of the day. Asking people for directions is way easier and more interesting than pulling out your phone. If you're curious about the murals in the alleys in the Mission, ask the homeless people there - they'll give you a personal tour and an extensive local history lesson. Never eat lunch at your desk. Take different routes when you’re biking home - you'll find new street fairs, protests, buildings or stores you didn't know existed.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences