Well planned: Creating safer and inclusive communities

How Jacklyn used her degree in planning for good

While volunteering her time with local groups as a high-school student in Guelph, Jacklyn became aware of the challenges facing low-income families and those suffering from violence and abuse. But she knew it wasn’t enough. Build more affordable housing, she thought, and you create a sustainable community built on diversity and inclusion.

The problem was, how do you make it happen? Assisted housing is complicated; it includes provincial, municipal, and community consultations and approval. Then there’s the permits and project management—not to mention building the housing complex itself. In short, it needs a planner.

“As social, economic and environmental challenges become bigger, the role of the planner becomes increasingly important,” says Jacklyn, now a fourth-year Planning student at Waterloo.

“You need to be motivated to address complex issues—what we call ‘wicked problems’—in both theory and practice. It’s not enough to just think about it. You need to make it happen, too.”  

So, when Jacklyn saw a co-op job opening to work with Habitat for Humanity on Cityview Village, an ambitious, 28-unit townhouse complex for low-income families, she jumped at the opportunity. Hired as an assistant planner, Jacklyn was involved with everything from site-plan clearances and ensuring construction met accessibility requirements to consulting with future residents and the community.

“Working with Habitat taught me so much about planning and what it means to build sustainable communities,” says Jacklyn. The most rewarding part? “Connecting with the families and making sure everything met their expectations.”

Jacklyn’s experience with Habitat for Humanity was made possible through a Global Citizen Internship, a donor-powered program that provides non-profit sector companies with the funds required to hire Faculty of Environment students.  “Opportunities like these are really a triple win: students like me gain valuable work experience and apply their knowledge learned in the classroom; non-profits are able to achieve their mission through skilled labour that would not otherwise be affordable; and the community wins. In the case of Habitat, we were able to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing units for families in Guelph.”

Jacklyn and a colleague from Habitat for Humanity working inside the townhouse complex during construction

During her co-op term, Jacklyn worked side-by-side with industry professionals on everything from site-plan clearances and ensuring construction met accessibility requirements to consulting with future residents of the community.

“It was an incredible experience, personally and professionally,” says Jacklyn. “I chose Waterloo because I knew I wanted to combine classroom work with real-world experience, and that’s what co-op offers,” says Jacklyn.

“Co-op exposes you to the wide range of skills and sectors in need of planners, something that I could never understand without getting out there and trying it.”

With her degree nearly finished, Jacklyn is ready to face the wicked challenges ahead, whether it’s working with non-profits, in the private sector, or with the province. Wherever she lands, Jacklyn is eager to shake up the built environment by putting the needs of the community first.

“At its core, that’s planning,” she says.