New Yelm Assistant Planner Maps Out Equity

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Casey Mauck, the new assistant planner in the Yelm Community Development Department, said she hopes to continue the good work of equitable planning in the city as she maps out her career.

A graduate of Western Washington University with a major in geography, Mauck is eager to put the school’s tutelage into action, she said.

“It’s a big focus at Western to think about how equity plays a role into environmental topics and planning especially,” she said. “The city has already done such great work looking at how planning can increase equity, and I hope that I can focus on that in my work, and try to bring my light to make sure that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy the city and the amenities that we have.”

She said that to her, equity means the city of Yelm will look at possible disparities between all the residents of the community and try to bridge that gap so everyone can have the same opportunities, or the same shot, to make sure everyone has an equal footing.

“Each project that comes across our desk, we’re trying to think, ‘How can we make sure this project increases equity? How can we make sure that this definitely doesn’t decrease equity?’” Mauck said. “That looks a lot of different ways, but I’m about three weeks in now and I’m excited to have more chances to delve into that work.”

Mauck has a certificate in geographic information systems (GIS), allowing her to specialize in digital mapping. She interned for Puget Sound Energy at the Snoqualmie Falls Museum; for Puget Sound Regional Council, the metropolitan planning agency for King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties; and for the city of Seattle in its survey department.

“When I first graduated, or was preparing to graduate, I was thinking about getting a GIS technician job, which is kind of just making maps,” Mauck said. “I’m not going to say it’s an uninteresting job, but there isn’t as much variety, so I decided to look into planning positions. Planning can be so broad. You can do housing planning, transportation, economic development, and I saw this job come up in Yelm.”

It was the opportunity of a varied workflow that initially turned her on to the job, she said.

“Working in (the) city of Seattle, you have a very narrow focus,” Mauck said. “It’s such a big city. There’s so many employees that each role has just a very narrow focus. What you do day to day doesn’t change very much. Then you come here, and our Community Development Department has six members. So your day to day work is just so different. It varies so much because we do the housing, and the transportation and economic development. We do all the planning from one small department, so I thought it would be really cool to come to a smaller city and it just worked out.”

She sees city planning as a way to ensure all of the infrastructure and services people want and expect are present when a city grows in population, she said.

“We need to make sure that our transportation systems can accommodate twice the population that we currently have,” Mauck said. “We need to make sure that our parks and open space develop at the rate that our population is also growing.”

Planning involves thoughtful ideas about the future to ensure that as the city changes, staff stays one step ahead, determining where the growth should be, and what policies the growth should follow, while making sure the city remains a wonderful place, she said.

In short, planning is proactive, rather than reactive.

“To be fair, a lot of things come up out of nowhere in planning and you get thrown a lot of curveballs, so there is a reactive element to it, but in general we are trying to do this comprehensive planning to make sure that we’re staying proactive,” she said. “We’re just trying to make sure that we’re looking 20 years out and thinking about what issues we may have so we can avoid them altogether.”

And as Mauck has it, people who work in planning often have a geography background. Her course of study and a degree in planning itself have a lot of overlap.

“My geography degree gave me a broad knowledge of physical geography, human geography and all these concepts that I’m now figuring out here — how to apply in an actual city, and real context,” Mauck said. “I just hope to bring some fresh ideas. … I didn’t grow up in Yelm, and I hope I can bring a new flavor to the team.”

Mauck grew up in Redmond and went to Sammamish’s East Lake High School. After she graduated, she studied in Denver for a year, but decided she liked it better in Washington, so she enrolled at Western.

Specifically, she says she likes the outdoor space the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

“I love the climate here,” Mauck said. “I love the forest. I moved to Olympia, so … I drive through all this kind of forest land on my way to work every morning and I love that. It’s so cool. Washington is a very special place in my heart.”

And Yelm just may become special to her as well.

“I came in here thinking that Yelm was a small town, and the more I learn about it, I have found that it really isn’t,” Mauck said. “It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the state. While we’re working to keep the small town feel — that’s definitely something that we have in our comprehensive plan, and we think about when we approve projects — the population is growing so fast. It’s just interesting to work in a city where it’s almost in a transition period of going from a smaller town, to this super fast-growing place with lots of new residents coming in.”

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