Member Spotlight: Cynthia Bowen, FAICP
Interview with Cynthia Bowen, FAICP
Interview with Cynthia Bowen, FAICP, as told to Deborah Myerson, AICP.
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Invested in Equity Issues
I joined the APA Housing & Community Development Division about four years ago, when I started dealing more in-depth with housing and neighborhood planning issues as a planning consultant. I wanted to have more access to housing research, experts, and connections.
I am especially invested in equity issues. There was one particular project where I realized equity was among the underlying issues. Citizens Energy and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) hired my firm to complete a redevelopment plan for the Indianapolis - Marion County Community Justice Campus in the Twin Aire neighborhood southeast of downtown Indy.
At a design workshop for the project, I began to understand there was a large stakeholder African-American and Hispanic population, often low-income, sometime undocumented. We needed to build trust: to peel back layers and understand what was going on.
People wanted the Community Justice Campus to create jobs and raise property values. As a planner, I realized that the system saw it as their opportunity to put a large project somewhere. My responsibility was to look out for people and try to help them get the best out of the situation, work with the neighborhood organizations, and make sure gentrification didn’t drive them out of the neighborhood.
I seek to work in partnership, to bring everyone to the table so they have a seat. We gave the client what they wanted for the development opportunities. But we also created a forum where neighborhood advocates now met with the city twice a month. Now, the Community Justice Campus is being built – and neighborhood organizations are taking ownership of the plan and implementing the programs.
Educating the Client and the Public
My thought process always involves thinking about other people. A community may hire my firm, saying, “We want more executive housing. We want more million-dollar homes on large lots.” But large lots don’t mean that homes will sell for a million dollars. I work to educate the client and the public. As a consultant, I help them understand the duty to provide a range of housing, including workforce housing and affordable housing. We can’t be afraid to talk about these issues, or they are never going to be addressed.
I believe that every plan that you do as a planner, one should strive for an outcome that is implementable. We should be putting together plans with bite-size pieces for implementation.
Perspective as a Woman in Planning
Early in my career, I had no women mentors. All my mentors were male. I was fortunate that I had good male mentors who were a strong influence on my career and gave me a lot of good advice.
But, I did not have any female mentors until later in my career. It can be a hard row to hoe without having those mentorships. There were times when I felt alone and isolated. Most of my career I have worked in engineering firms, often run by men.
When I worked overseas, they wanted a “western woman” to lead their projects and I was always respected. They appreciated my knowledge and what I could do.
Now, I make sure that I am a strong mentor for other women. I am a principal – one of two female principals at my firm. We have a group, “Ladies who Lunch” in my company, a beneficial way to get together to talk about women’s careers and issues.
Hobbies & Home
I love to sew, knit, and garden. When I was traveling a lot, that was a great time for knitting. I’ve knitted even more in the last year since being home during COVID. I’ve also sewn quite a few masks!
A Different View as a Planner: APA President
Serving as APA President allowed me to dive deeper into planning issues like housing and automated vehicles. I had access and exposure to everything APA was doing—so I knew of every emerging issue coming out, and how we as planners were responding.
I was able to travel around the country and see all the work that planners are doing. It was awe inspiring! Inspirational and powerful.
I never set out to be the president of APA. It was just one of those things: I was on the APA Board of Directors. I thought, “We need another good leader. I think I can continue where we are going.”
APA is there is there for planners, and planners are making a difference. I don’t think planners hear that enough. I know what it’s like—I get stuck in the trenches every day. But when you see what our planners are doing, they really are changing communities one at a time. They really are changing the world.