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January 2019 Member Spotlight: TJ Blakeman, AICP

Updated: Jan 2, 2020

The APA-IL is starting 2019 with a new members-only newsletter feature called Member Spotlight. Every month, the APA-IL will turn the spotlight on members who are making an impact in Illinois urban planning and with the APA-IL. These members exemplify the APA-IL's determination to Make Great Communities in Illinois!

This month, we talk with...

TJ Blakeman, AICP Senior Planner for Economic Development, City of Champaign and APA-IL President

TJ Blakeman standing at podium at 2018 APA-IL State Conference

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in the small, west-central Illinois farm community of Ashland. After graduating high school, I became a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My sophomore year I discovered planning and changed my major to Urban and Regional Planning. During my time at UofI, had an internship at the Champaign County Planning and Zoning Department and then at the City of Champaign Planning Department. Following graduation, I debated whether to enroll in graduate school or apply to the City of Champaign. I chose the City I loved and now, sixteen years later, I don't regret that decision at all.

Most of my first ten years were devoted specifically to revitalizing Champaign's Downtown. My first major assignment was serving as the project manager for a new downtown plan. I also played a role in creating our Campustown Action Plan, multiple capital improvement plans, two TIF district extensions, and created three new TIF districts. The second half of my career has been focused on citywide economic development activities.

The best part about my career at the City of Champaign has been the planning culture. I have had the great fortune to have amazing co-workers. Also, Champaign is a city that realizes planners are uniquely qualified to tackle issues facing the community and it is a city that is willing to try new things. It has been a pleasure to work for such a dynamic community.

How have you been involved with the APA-IL?

My involvement began in 2002, during my junior year at UofI. I was the University of Illinois Department of Urban & Regional Planning Student Planning Organization's (SPO) Vice President until 2003.

In 2006, I worked on the APA-IL State Conference / Four-State Conference in St. Charles and loved every minute of the experience. Since that groundbreaking conference, I'm proud to have played a role in each successive conference.

I started my time as an elected officer with APA-IL on January 1, 2007 when became the Illinois State Section Secretary. In 2009 I was elected to the Chapter's Executive Committee as Secretary. Four years later, I was elected Vice President of the Chapter and in 2017 became the Chapter's first President-Elect. I am currently in my final year as Chapter President. When I step away from the Executive Committee as Past President on December 31, 2020, I will be walking away knowing that over my 14 years of service we made a difference to the planners and communities in Illinois.

What advice would you give someone entering the field of urban planning?

There are two pieces of advice I like to give students who are considering planning as a profession. My first piece of advice is to broaden your skills to include graphic design. Communication is key in conveying planning concepts in today's world. If your ideas are going to resonate with citizens, the story must be told in a way that speaks to many audiences. It's a skill that needs to be supported and honed throughout your career.

My second piece of advice stems from my love of local history. You must be passionate about learning the local history of the places you plan. It's not enough to scratch the surface. You must dig deeper to understand the complete picture. Today's challenges are difficult to solve, but history can always guide you to a solution.

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