Planner Profile: Jamel Torres
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Meet Jamel Torres, Transportation and Land Use Planner, Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission:
HOW MANY YEARS IN PLANNING PROFESSION?
Four, including 1.5 years in the Public Health field.
Transportation & Land Use Planner, Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND
I grew up in Denmark, ME, which is a small town in western Maine with a year-round population just under 1,200 people. I attended the University of Vermont (UVM) where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Studies and minored in Geospatial Technologies. In 2012 I graduated from the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine with a Master’s degree in Community Planning & Development. I currently live in Freeport with my fiancé.
WHAT LED YOU INTO PLANNING?
After graduating from UVM, I began searching for a practical way to use my background in environmental studies and geospatial technologies. I have always been interested in how communities are designed and planned so I decided to pursue a graduate degree in planning. I soon realized I could incorporate my interest in the environment and mapping into a profession in the field of community planning and development.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT PLANNING IN MAINE?
That is a tough question since I have only been a professional planner here in Maine, however, having worked in several different regions in the state I think the diversity of communities across Maine makes planning here unique. For example, in York County (Maine’s second most popular County) populations range from around 1,500 people in the Town of Newfield to around 21,000 people in the City of Biddeford. The wide range of planning issues facing rural communities compared to the more urban communities is fascinating. Additionally, the diversity of issues facing inland communities compared to coastal communities is unique to coastal states like Maine. There is never a dull moment!
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
I find it truly rewarding to engage the public on planning and development issues that will impact the future of their communities. Public participation is very important in planning and it is intriguing to witness community members engaging in the planning and decision making process.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
One of the most challenging aspects of being a planner in Maine is facing the classic attitude of “we want things to stay exactly the way they are; there is no need for any change here.” This can be very challenging because most planners think creatively and work to develop innovative solutions to long-term problems. Changing the status quo can be critical to improving communities within the scope of the planning profession so when I encounter strong resistance to change, it can make my work very challenging.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR DREAM PROJECT – WHAT KIND OF PLANNING WORK WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE MORE INVOLVED WITH?
I think it would be really interesting to work on expanding passenger rail service to urban areas such as Lewiston-Auburn, Augusta-Waterville, and Bangor-Brewer. I think there is an interest in more passenger rail service in Maine and it would be great to be a part of that effort. Additionally, I would like to be involved in the ongoing planning for commuter passenger rail service between Brunswick & Portland and Saco-Biddeford & Portland. As the Portland commuter traffic continues to increase it will be important to provide a more efficient option for commuting.
WHAT IS YOUR NICHE OR MAIN EXPERTISE?
I would say customer service is one of my main strengths. I find that having a friendly personality goes a long way in planning, especially when tough decisions are being made. In terms of planning, I feel most experienced in GIS mapping, transportation planning, and community engagement.
This profile was originally published on February 20, 2017.