Active Alum: Elizabeth Whitton
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“I'm passionate about using infrastructure to improve health outcomes.”

Elizabeth Whitton is a transportation planner with MetroPlan Orlando, where she has worked for the past 16 months. She is responsible for the agency’s transit and public health planning initiatives. Previously, Elizabeth conducted applied research for the American Planning Association’s Planning and Community Health Center. Her work has been featured in such publications as Planetizen, Next City and The Overhead Wire. She received her Masters of Planning degree from Florida State University in 2013.

Here's more about ACSP Active Alum, Elizabeth Whitton …

Q: Which ACSP member school did you attend?
A: Florida State University

Q: What specialty did you study?
A: Healthy Communities Planning and Land Use Planning

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: I'm fascinated by how health--yours, mine, ours--is affected by what is around us. Specializing in Healthy Communities and Land Use Planning improved my understanding of how infrastructure policy and planning impacts health behaviors.

Q: Where do you currently work?
A: MetroPlan Orlando, the metropolitan planning organization for Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties in Central Florida.

Q: How did your education prepare you for your current job?
A: My day-to-day activities can vary widely, but FSU’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning gave me a broad, strong knowledge base that I use every day—whether it is to analyze a policy, write a technical memo or become AICP certified.

Q: What are your job responsibilities?
A: I am responsible for the MPO's transit and health planning work. We are planning for an expanded multi-modal transportation system in an area larger than Delaware. I coordinate with our partners to advance transit projects, such as SunRail and Bus Rapid Transit routes. We want our transportation investments to improve health throughout the region. Our latest Transportation Improvement Program slated $595 million for projects that increase opportunities for healthy behaviors. I work with all parties in the region to increase and advance these type of projects.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on?
A: A project I'm managing right now is a lot of fun! The Corrine Drive Complete Streets study wants to understand and improve transportation options in a two-mile corridor that's seen a lot of change in the last decade. It’s the first study of its kind in the Orlando region and we are experimenting with different ways to engage the community, collect data and incorporate health considerations. Prior to this project, I really enjoyed developing a set of resources around transportation, parks, green infrastructure and health (as part of my work at the American Planning Association).

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: With each new plan or project, I hope we are closer to the full integration of health into transportation planning. I'm passionate about using infrastructure to improve health outcomes. At MetroPlan Orlando, we see it as a responsibility to use transportation dollars efficiently and in a manner that improves the economic, social and mental well-being in Central Florida.

Q; How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: The easy thing to say is that FSU's Department of Urban and Regional Planning reinforced my time management skills. I took 12 hours of class, worked at least 20 hours a week and served on a department committee. A strong time management system made it possible. I still color code my calendar, write out my to-do list by week and enjoy the thrill of crossing each item off the list. It has improved my productivity as a professional planner.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: My travel bucket list is lengthy, but if given the opportunity, I'd return to Morocco. I lived there for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. It would be great to go back and see how things have changed in the last 7 years, post Arab Spring especially.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: Exit West, the latest novel from Mohsin Hamid. I love his writing style and his ability to turn an abstract concept into something more relatable. He tells the story of war, the refugee crisis and global migration through the lens of a young couple. Do they flee after war destroys their country and the middle class life they expected? And when they do, how do they adapt to the unfamiliar? It made me think deeper about how we--as Americans and as planners--react to the refugee crisis.

Q: Do you have any advice that you would like to share for current planning students? 
A: Get involved—join committees within the planning department or school, attend public meetings, go to networking events and happy hours, etc. It is a great way to build your networks, learn about planning in the “real world” and gain experience that you can use in job interviews!

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