Adam Nowaczyk

HCD Member Spotlight: Adam Nowaczyk

Communities and the Idea of Possibility

By Deborah Myerson, AICP

The HCD Member Spotlight is a feature that shares the passions, projects, and programs of housing and community development professionals.

Let us know who we should talk to next! Tell us a little about them, and why we should talk to them. Self-nominations are also welcome.

Adam Nowaczyk had a 15-year career as manager and real estate industry professional and certification as a LEED Green Associate when he decided direct his career toward urban planning. A resident of Vienna, Virginia, Adam is currently a student in the Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program at Virginia Tech. He also manages the Facebook page for Virginia Tech's Capital Area Student Planning Association.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A Start in Property Management

I’m originally from Michigan, I’ve also lived in Chicago and Athens, Georgia where I was an undergrad at the University of Georgia. I majored in housing science, which has some overlap with urban planning principles.

After college, I worked for 15 years in residential property management, including 8 years with AvalonBay Communities in Northern Virginia. I had experience managing market rate housing, student properties, and project-based Section 8 apartments.

Getting involved with the American Planning Association

I joined APA when I started my degree in Fall 2019. I am still immersing myself in the experience of APA Divisions. In addition to HCD, I joined the Sustainable Communities Division and the Technology Division. I’ve participated in the Virginia chapter’s webinar, especially enjoyed the ones on resilience planning.

My interests now are in housing and economic development, and also historic preservation. With an advanced degree, I’d like to work in the public sector, such as Fairfax County government.

Connecting People and Place

I like to help people and make that personal connection. I managed a project-based Section 8 property of 180 units in Athens, Georgia in the early 2010’s. There was always a high volume of interested residents. We could only open the waitlist for a couple of hours a month, for 15 to 30 people to apply.

Supportive services were missing at the project-based Section 8 community. There was a resident who was the voice of the community. She didn’t have an issue with calling out the property management team. It turned out that I was able to help her with putting her work experience into a resume.

I am interested in alleviating homelessness. I like the Rapid Rehousing model and Housing First approach. I turned to planning with those interests, wondering, “How can you become the change you want to see?”

Taking it to the Streets

So many communities encourage just driving and parking. But the American Community Survey has found that 50 percent of people report that they want social interaction with a neighbor. I noticed that organized social events in apartment communities helps with resident retention and creating a sense of community.

Closing streets can do so much for a community. It’s happening more and more in the DC Metro area and Northern Virginia.

The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival transforms Reston, traditionally in the spring. Streets close for artists, vendors and residents, it creates a truly walkable environment. The Town of Vienna government hosts “Viva Vienna!” a mini fairground that brings out community members. It surrounds the Town Green next to a historic house that used to be a hospital during the Civil War and transforms a functioning business space into a community meeting area.  On the opposite end of the street sits the oldest business in Fairfax County a funeral home.

At Tysons Corner, there’s a long stretch of a divided county road from the Tysons Corner mall to an office tower. There’s a nearby apartment community with 558 units, and now they have closed a section of the road for biking and playing.

Free Time

My vacation this year was to Anna Maria Island, Florida. I enjoy spending time with the family. Pre-pandemic, I liked going to concerts, reading and being outdoors.

I’ve been trying to be more civically engaged, working at the polls for the primary and general election. I’ve also been organizing a community effort for traffic calming.

Urban Planning and the Idea of Possibility

At Virginia Tech, I’ve worked on a project about the consequences of the elimination of single-family zoning, looking at the imagined impact versus the reality. Our team had interviews with developers in the Minneapolis region. We found that it would help smaller builders to eliminate single-family zoning. This zoning change has been considered in Montgomery County [Maryland]. The Virginia legislature has looked at deregulating housing rules to allow property owners to build duplexes.

In my experience, the public and private sectors often have different and competing interests. And in housing or urban planning, not everyone is going to be the same or respond in the same way.

Planning books have really helped me to focus while I have been in school. My top three recommendations:

* The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro.

* The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, by Andrea Wulf

* Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life, by Eric Klinenberg

Communities contain the idea of possibility – urban planning shows you how to navigate the possibility in a smart way.  There’s also a certain approachability – people in the profession genuinely want to help.  I think of planning as essentially understanding what people are hoping to accomplish, and remembering: “Who are you trying to serve?”

The HCD Member Spotlight is a feature that shares the passions, projects, and programs of housing and community development professionals.  Let us know who we should talk to next!  Tell us a little about them, and why we should talk to them. Self-nominations are also welcome.