Many of the most beautiful cities in the world are designed not to be closed off from the natural environment, but to reflect and sustain the beauty of the surrounding ecosystem.
Sue Hann is the City Manager and former Public Works Director for the city of Palm Bay, Florida. She also sits on the Board as Transportation Director at Large for the American Public Works Association (APWA). Throughout her career, she has been the head of projects and programs that involve every aspect of running a city, from roads, traffic signals, drainage, budgetary matters, and all other elements related to the transportation system.
“The best short description of my job is ‘doing my best to make my community better,’” Hann said.
Florida and the city of Palm Bay harbor a rich ecosystem of plant and animal life. As Hann noted, preserving this ecological diversity can be challenging to city planning officials, who must figure out ways to serve the needs of citizens without harming native plant and animal ecosystems with construction and pollution. Hann said she considers this to be not just a challenge, but also a great responsibility.
"We’re frequently faced with looking at trade-offs,” she said. “How do you design the transportation project so that it minimizes its impact on the environment? You have to work out what is the best decision for the transportation facility, the community, as well as the environmental considerations, and how to integrate all of these competing interests. ? It’s good stewardship to make sure you minimize you environmental impact regardless of whether federal, state, or local regulations require you to do so.”
As Hann’s projects in Palm Bay go to show, balancing society’s needs with environmental considerations can turn out to be much more of a blessing than a burden for a community. When Palm Bay needed a new network of pedestrian and bicycle trails, for example, Hann proposed a hybrid, part natural, part man-made trail network that served a public need and provided a scenic route for the community to enjoy. Because of the natural trails concept, the city was able to connect major points on the map via environmentally friendly trails without harming its protected wetland habitat. Under Hann’s supervision, the city also recently broke ground on a highway beautification project that used local plant life to highlight the beauty of the city’s natural landscape.
City and transportation planning officials like Hann require a diverse set of skills ranging from science, to business, to public speaking. Hann said that courses in school that taught her how to communicate effectively with the public and with city and government officials were very helpful to her in her career. Business and public administration courses, specifically, complimented her engineering skills, and helped her to communicate her ideas to the public.
“You’ve got to be able to talk to the community in a way they can understand,” she said. “Learn how to communicate your ideas to people before it becomes a critical point in your career, and that will help you so much in the long run.”
She also told students that environmental experts are needed for any city transportation project, creating a whole world of opportunity for those interested in environmental science to pursue careers in the transportation industry, where they are greatly needed.
“On a transportation project of any size, you will have environmental experts as part of the project team,” she said.
Hann said that students who are interested in city management or public works might benefit from visiting the APWA. She said that as a young engineer, the organization provided her with a network of experienced peers and mentors that gave her confidence to succeed early on. She also said she believed networking and mentoring relationships were a valuable career resource for students.
“Build that network of folks who are going to be working in a profession similar to yours,” she said. “Having those resources, people you can talk to about your career as things come up is really important.”
For more information and a first glance at professional networking opportunities in Hann's industry, you can visit the American Public Works Association website online. Or, for a more detailed look of the city of Palm Bay’s sustainability efforts, check out their Office of the City Manager page.