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 for All in Illinois!
This month, we talk with...
Vasudha P. Gadhiraju, AICP
Director of Innovation and Technology, Town of Normal
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Visakhapatnam, a metropolitan city in South India. I grew up in a neighborhood with an ocean on one side and mountains on the other. I miss that occasionally :) After finishing my bachelor's degree in Architecture from Andhra University, India, I moved to the United States to get my Masters in Community and Regional Planning from Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa. My marriage in 2005 led me to Central Illinois, which became my home sweet home since.
What are some of your current or notable projects?
Any career in the public sector is very rewarding. I feel particularly privileged to be a public sector planner throughout my career. Here are a few highlights of my career.
I currently serve as the Director of Innovation and Technology for the Town of Normal. In this role, I oversee the Town’s smart city planning and innovation efforts while managing the technology department. This role allows me to better utilize technologies to achieve the goals and objectives laid out in the Town’s comprehensive plan. My team’s role is to channel technological disruptions into innovative opportunities. How can this not be exciting?
Before my current position, I served as the Executive Director of the McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCRPC) until August 2019. There I provided oversight of the MPO and long-range planning activities including transportation, land use planning, housing, and other programs in Bloomington-Normal and the McLean County Region. I spearheaded the Bring It On Bloomington and PLANiT Normal, award winning comprehensive plans for the City of Bloomington and the Town of Normal respectively. Very high levels of community engagement that helped create those comprehensive plans that are truly reflective of the unique nature of the communities was very rewarding.
Prior to joining MCRPC in 2013, I worked for the City of Decatur for eight years. I started as a Current Planner and held several titles after that including GIS Coordinator, Environmental Planner, Neighborhood Planner, and Economic Development Coordinator. As a GIS Coordinator, I played a key role in the City’s enterprise wide GIS program development. As an Environmental Planner, I worked on several energy and environmental projects funded by AARA. As an Economic Development Coordinator, I worked on the City’s TIF districts and Downtown redevelopment projects. As a Neighborhood Planner, I had the opportunity to work closely with the neighborhood groups and the community.
Each one of those positions and projects provided an incredible opportunity for me to learn and grow as a person and as a planner.
How have you been involved with the APA-IL?
I’ve been involved in APA-IL for a long-time. I’ve been an APA-IL member since 2005 and served on the following Committees over the years – a couple of conference planning committees, served as the Regional Coordinator for ISS Region 4, and served on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
What advice would you give to a new hire entering the field?
Like any field, planning is being disrupted by technology. Regardless of your area of practice – transportation, land use, housing, historic preservation, infrastructure, environment, or energy – be prepared to witness everything change and change rapidly. As digital natives, most of you are probably not afraid of technology. As planners you are trained to build bridges between many subjects and stakeholder groups. Use these distinct skill sets to help communities be intentional and prepared for technological innovations (or disruptions). The American Planning Association (APA) and their partners such a Smart Cities Council are beginning to increase resources for practicing planners. Be sure to take advantage of those.
APA Technology Resources and Recent Articles
APA Division On the Radar: Smart Cities and Sustainability
Are Cities Prepared for Autonomous Vehicles? (May 2019)
Planning, Meet Technology (July 2019)
Virtual Horizons (October 2019)
Cities, States Wary of Facial Recognition (November 2019)
Could Pooled Ride-Sharing Improve Sustainability? (November 2019)