Active Alum: KC McFerson
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"Planning school changed the way I interact with people, my environment, and ideas."

KC McFerson is the CDBG-DR Watershed Resilience Pilot Program manager at the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). She assists watershed coalitions and member organizations with grant and project management as well as regulatory compliance in completing river restoration projects that achieve community and economic development outcomes. She graduated from the University of Oregon, School of Allied Arts and Architecture and the School of Law in 2014.

Here's more from our conversation with KC:

Q: Which ACSP member school did you attend?
A: University of Oregon

Q: What specialty did you study?
A: Environmental Land Use

Q: Why did you select your particular specialty?
A: I concurrently completed a law degree (JD) and a Master of Community and Regional Planning (MCRP), both focused on land use and environmental management. My goal was to develop both skill sets to assist community decision-making for more harmonious land use outcomes.

Q: Where do you currently work?
A: I work at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs in the Division of Local Government. This division provides technical and financial assistance to local government bodies and includes offices such as Community Development, Demography, and eight regional offices.

Q What are your job responsibilities?
A: Currently I manage the Watershed Resilience Pilot Program. This federally-funded program supports recovery and resiliency projects related to the 2012 and 2013 federally-declared fires and floods. Projects are awarded for staff and capacity building in watershed coalitions, as well as river restoration projects. Restoration projects must be technically sound, focused on natural channel design, and also achieve community and economic development outcomes. These “multi-objective benefits” demonstrate that disaster recovery funding can be leveraged to repair damage, reduce future risk, and touch many sectors of human life all at the same time. As the program manager, I oversee grant application cycles and provide technical assistance to grantees to ensure regulatory compliance. In addition, I support partnerships and project managers to build capacity across multi-jurisdictional watersheds.

Q: What's your favorite project you’ve worked on?
A: Day to day, I enjoy the complexity and positive outcomes in many of the flood recovery river restoration projects I work on. But my favorite project involved working with my MCRP classmates on a small project in Gold Hill, Oregon, where we created a storm water management program so the town could comply with the Clean Water Act. Striving to utilize voluntary action rather than regulation, it was exciting to learn which approaches resonated with the community. For example, while environmentalism for its own sake didn’t resonate with some community members, creating vibrant fishing habitat for anglers did. Also, while I personally found it satisfying to pour through the land use code, finding opportunities to add incentives for low-impact development, the true reward was identifying a series of solutions that garnered local buy-in and complied with federal and state regulations.

Q: What future goals do you have in your field?
A: My ultimate goal is to improve community decision-making in Colorado. I enjoy applying my legal and planning skill sets to water-related issues and believe water will become a major issue in the state over the next 20 years and beyond.

Q: How has planning school changed your daily habits?
A: Planning school changed the way I interact with people, my environment, and ideas. With people, I learned to more effectively communicate my ideas as well as better understand reactions, because as my favorite planner Leslie Knope says, “[yelling is just] people caring loudly.” Within the built environment, I began to observe my surroundings more carefully and try to understand the reasons for any number of design choices. Finally with my ideas, I organize my thoughts and values more effectively now and enjoy discovering new and/or opposing thoughts and values of others.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A: Growing up, I wanted to be a nature photographer.

Q: How many different cities have you lived in and which was your favorite?
A: I’ve lived in 8 cities, each informative in different ways. My favorite was Fort Portal, Uganda because that inspired me to pursue both law and planning. Uganda is so different culturally it challenged my ideas and what I was accustomed to at the time.

Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
A: I would travel to Cuba because the culture, food, and dancing look fantastic.

Q: What is the title of the last book you read? What did you learn from it?
A: The last book I read was Ready Player One to prepare for the recent movie version. I took away several messages, but primarily that we cannot use technology to overcome shortcomings of human tendencies. Also, I wish the Oasis existed in reality because I would love to build my own planet.

Q: What’s your favorite color and how would you creatively incorporate it into a planning project?
A: My favorite color is green and I would incorporate it by finding opportunities to integrate native plant species as much as possible. I recently visited Singapore, which is known as “A City in a Garden,” and I was impressed with the commitment to incorporating plants into the built environment, including skyscrapers with dedicated open space floors and plant-covered exteriors.

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