My name is Erin Chantry and I am an urban designer, planner, and trained architect. My love for the built environment started at a very young age when I lay in bed with my mother looking at floor plans instead of hearing bedtime stories. I spent my childhood drawing floor plans, designing towns, building houses out of bricks, and playing with my matchbox cars on my street mat. This foundation stayed strong, and after developing my passion at boarding school, Phillips Academy Andover in Andover, Massachusetts, I finally attended architecture school at Washington University in Saint Louis.
I went to college thinking architecture was about designing the biggest and the most famous buildings. In my first architecture class called, “Building Community, Community Building, ” I learned what architecture is really about…people. We spent hours walking the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city and the most popular. We studied why some neighborhoods were successful and why others weren’t, who the people were who revived places to new life, and how they managed to do it the context of financial viability and policy restrictions. We looked at how streetscapes and street layout effected people’s personal lives. I did not realize it at the time, but this was my first urban design class. This class set the bar for me in my career. I spent the next few years trying to reach it again.
My experience working in architecture firms was very valuable. I learned how to please a client, manage deadlines and consultants, negotiate office politics, become a certified professional in green building, and put together a set of working drawings. I also learned that I really was a good designer. I might not be the most brilliant designer who would one day be drawing multi-million dollar projects on cocktail napkins, but I was well-informed, passionate about my work, and had enough intuition and talent to design effective and creative spaces. I developed really good solutions, to tough problems. However, in my architecture experience I was always haunted by one factor…how do I make a change? I was never satisfied with how my role as an architect could allow me to make an effective change in the issues I cared most about: the lack of community cohesion in neighborhoods, the negative social and environmental effects of suburban sprawl, and the loss of character in newly designed streetscapes. As I saw more and more of the same being built, I felt helpless in my profession. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t quite in the right profession….I was supposed to be an urban designer.
I have always been aware of the emotional changes that needed to occur in our built environment, but my experience at Oxford Brookes University in Oxford, England gave me the toolbox to make effective physical changes. Studying urban design, urban planning, and regeneration in England was fascinating and allowed me to see a perspective of the built environment that will undoubtedly continue to influence my designs. I wrote two dissertations, the first titled, “New Urbanism in Suburban America: Strategies for the Implementation of the LEED-ND Rating System;” the second titled, “The Effectiveness of Design-led Regeneration: What Difference Can Urban Design Really Make in Urban Development.” These are both topics that continue to interest me and will no doubt, along with traditional urban design principles, be explored on this blog.
I have recently returned to my home city of Charlotte, North Carolina to continue my career as an urban design and planner in The Urban Places Group at Stantec. Thank you for letting me share with you my thoughts and beliefs on how we can move forward together as built environment professionals in building a more socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable world.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine alone and do not represent those of Stantec.