Social Impact Internships: Lara Bernard (’26)

Lara Bernard

Hi! My name is Lara Bernard and I’m currently a sophomore majoring in 6-4 with an interest in urban planning. For this IAP, I worked at the City of Tucson, but more specifically the Plan Tucson Team as a Future Growth Planner. As an intern, I explored what it’s like to create
long-term plans within the local government sphere, participating in community forums and using community feedback to update and revise Plan Tucson. My main project, however, was updating a Map Analyzer tool which converts an image of a Tucson map with stickers on it into a GIS shapefile for easy processing and analysis. Using this tool, the people at the City of Tucson are better able to capture and analyze data from community forums.

Throughout the internship, it became clear to me that the Plan Tucson team is deeply
committed to fostering a community-centric approach towards social change. Developing a
two-decade-long plan that addresses a wide array of urban issues (land-use,
transportation/mobility, climate action, economic vitality, historic preservation, community
resources, etc.) means that this plan will have major impacts in the near and distant future, so it’s
important that it reflects the needs of the people it will affect. To achieve this, the plan undergoes
numerous revisions through both virtual and in-person community forums, working groups
(volunteers that take the time to deeply dive into the specifics of the plan), and discussions
within the Plan Tucson team. This ensures that the plan can shape a future that allows the city to
prosper and expand.

Participating as a notetaker/facilitator in a virtual community forum, I had the
opportunity to engage with the community firsthand, and I was pleasantly surprised at the
diverse turnout and depth of discussion that occurred. There were people of many ages and
backgrounds, and it was clear that the community really cared about the future of Tucson. This
grassroots level of political participation was a powerful reminder of the importance of civic
participation and the impact of collective input on shaping public policies and plans, especially
seeing how behind the scenes, every comment and concern is considered.

I also noticed the amount of collaboration that went on with other sectors of Tucson, such
as the Southwest Decision Resources, Parks and Recreation, and the Equity Data team. The key
to creating a well-balanced plan lies not only in engaging in deliberate and effective dialogue
with your team, but also seeking a broad spectrum of perspectives and insights — learning about
strategies and goals others are using enables better informed decisions. This in-depth
communication not only enriched Plan Tucson, but also aligned it with other sectoral goals,
leading to a more cohesive approach to social change.

The insights I gained from this experience have allowed me to gain a new perspective on
the intersection of urban planning and public policy. As I move forward in my academic and
professional career, I am now better equipped to think of innovative solutions that incorporate inclusive planning and a commitment to social equity. Engaging in work that has a positive impact is always rewarding, and something that everyone should strive for in their work.

Tags: Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships IAP 2024

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