Name: Andrew Carten
Class Year: 1975
Title: Planning Consultant. Retired Planning Director
Organization Name: I was the Planning Director for the City of Trenton, NJ for 23 years and then worked for a community non-profit for four more years. I presently do community development planning on a contractual basis with state and local governments and local non-profits and mentor youth
1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?
As Planning Director, I was responsible for Land Use Planning ( Master Plans, Zoning and Planning Board applications) , Transportation planning ( managing state and federal funded projects–roads, bridges, light rail, intersection upgrades, bikeways, etc.), housing and economic development projects, and serving as the Mayor’s representative on a variety of task forces, boards, etc. My position at the non-profit involved planning the adaptive re-use of vacant industrial land into uses that better served the community. Undoing some of the environmental injustices that had been imposed on the community and introducing more desirable and healthier uses in their place—skatepark, soccer field, urban farm, restoration of an African American cemetery . My consulting work involves reviews of community planning grants, downtown parking studies, special needs housing.
2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?
My first employer after graduating from Holy Cross was Jordan Marsh Department store—the economy was in a recession and I needed a job. I quickly learned that retail was not for me but I also learned the importance of communication skills, earning the trust of the patron. I then worked at a psychiatric facility at a local hospital with the sole objective of saving up enough money to travel in Europe ( which I did with my college room mate for almost six months) Visiting the older European cities and observing they functioned, their infrastructure layout and spatial design , was very informative and presented a variety of ideas on how we can design urban space to be more useful, safe, and utilized. The hospital job taught me the importance of listening and communicating with sincerity. After Europe, I realized that if I wanted to get into planning, I needed to get a masters degree . I earned a masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Rutgers University School of Planning . During graduate school, I secured an internship with the the NJ Division on Aging and worked on a task force charged with determining how Casino Revenue funds should be spent for the New Jersey’s aged population. That task force work earned me a job with the NJ Department of Community Affairs and their Housing Demonstration Program. The ever changing landscape of the work, the variety of programs and the connection with the local communities affirmed that this was the right career for me.
3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?
I played a little bit of rugby but otherwise wasted my chance to take advantage of the many activities and resources Holy Cross offered at that time. I wish that I had taken advantage of the college consortium and the additional class offerings those schools provided. And, in hindsight, I regret not getting more involved in some of the community service programs.
4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?
Political Science. My interest in planning was actually sparked by a reading of Lewis Mumford’s book, “The City in History” in high school. I had been intrigued by cities–the factors that led to their creation, how they evolved and their natural transformation over time. At Holy Cross I became more interested in politics and took advantage of the Independent Studies program to work with State Representative Paul Guzzi doing legislative research. That experience introduced me to the machinations of politics–and a better understanding of why the legislative process is often described as sausage making.
5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?
Analytical thinking–Father Lapomarda and Dr. Anderson were two of my favorite professors. They made history fun . They would always frame the discussion to insure that both sides of the issues were considered in the analysis and emphasized the importance of building a position that was strong enough to withstand challenges to your position. Fr. Lapomardo offered your fellow classmates to be judge and jury of your presentation . Today, I think of problem solving as a jigsaw puzzle . Difficult decisions are made easier if you can quickly identify the factors at play–the barriers, the points of objection, the key decision makers, their historical inclinations, political biases, etc. Together, those pieces formulate a clearer understanding of the issue and a game plan on how best to approach the problem at hand.
6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?
Advice is just that-advice. Everyone is different. The circumstances and opportunities I had when I was 22 are different from what students today face. The job market and workforce expectations have changed . I believe that the so called “quietly quitting” movement is simply an effort to recalibrate the work-life balance to a healthier level. But work levels will always fluctuate. Some people thrive on heavy workloads that extend beyond the traditional 9-5 , 5 days a week routine. Others dream of being able to reduce their work time to even just a 9-5 routine or be in a position to set their own schedule. So find out what that happy balance is for you and align your interests with those jobs that require that level of time commitment. Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to others as to where you are in the game of life’s accomplishments. Assign value to your beliefs—even if it may not be as financially rich as others. If it aligns with your beliefs and needs….you are doing fine. If you end up making a lot of money–hello computer programmers—enjoy your wealth but don’t forget those less fortunate —the food insecure, the homeless, recent immigrants.
That being said, there are some skills that are as important today as they were in my time. The ability to read and write clearly and succinctly is a diminishing art. It is a very important skill to possess to be successful in your work. In the planning profession, you will have to read a lot and provide your share of reports and memos, often with a tight deadlines.
For those freshmen, sophomores and juniors. I would highly encourage you to seek out internships in your field of interest or even volunteer for an agency that you know could use some help–aspiring lawyers are needed to help out recent immigrants seeking to obtain legal status, or qualify for various programs