Young Planner of the Year introduces new social initiative

20 September 2016
Megan at the NZPI awards earlier in the year. Image supplied.

While there was a long list of reasons why Megan Couture was awarded the Lance Leikis Young Planner of the Year title from the New Zealand Planning Institute (NZPI), perhaps the main contributing factor was simple; she’s not very good at saying no. "I tend to put my hand up for everything," Megan laughs. "I love it though, it gives me variety and certainly keeps me busy!" The NZPI acknowledged this in the citation at the award ceremony in Dunedin earlier this year, citing her contribution to planning practice and research through her work on 'regionally significant' projects and involvement with the Young Planners Committee here in Auckland. 

After graduating with a Master of Urban Planning in 2013, Megan has made significant strides since entering the profession. She works at MWH Global (now part of Stantec), an engineering consulting firm contributing to some of Auckland’s biggest infrastructure projects. Since graduating, Megan has been working on the Northern Interceptor Project; a Watercare initiative which will service the wastewater needs of a growing population in North West Auckland. "Consulting is a different life to working in the public sector, it has been a great opportunity," Megan tells of her experience. "I am seconded to Watercare two days a week where I assist in stakeholder and community engagement; I have the opportunity to meet with with land owners, present to the Local Boards, and liaise with local iwi. Back at the office, I prepare resource consent applications and Notices of Requirement, manage technical specialists, and prepare the Assessments of Effects on the Environment." The variety in her role is novel and an advantage she is aware of. "I don't think many people get to do all of this so fresh out of planning school. My team pushes me to the next level, allowing me to think about things in a different way."

Once again, it was putting her hand up which led to her latest pet project, the Planning Collective. Through her network of fellow planning graduates, Megan offered to assist with a consent for an activity on its way to Auckland. That activity turned out to be one of last summer's most successful events, the Pop-Up Globe. "I was excited to help because, this project was tangible, something that people could truly experience," she recalls fondly.  With the Pop-up Globe season receiving outstanding reviews, Megan was able to enjoy its reception. During the performance, she overheard high school students raving about the play and how it had inspired them. "That was the whole point,” she says. "I began to think how I could continue doing similar work; giving planning advice for people who wanted to bring interesting projects and ideas to Auckland." And so, after recruiting a few friends, the Planning Collective initiative was born. "The Collective will be a volunteer basis, with planning professionals giving their time and advice where they can." Inspired by models such as Planning Aid in the United Kingdom and Engineers Without Borders, Megan has high hopes for the Collective. "At this point, most of us are based in Auckland, but there's no reason why we can’t be nationwide.” She and her team will soon be presenting the initiative to the NZPI to get their feedback and to develop a way forward.

With three years in the profession under her belt, Megan feels confident about the place young graduates have in the industry. "I think young planners add a fresh perspective and energy to the profession. Having worked with the Young Planners Committee on a number of initiatives, including the yearly Young Planners Congress, I'm excited to see how their ideas will integrate and change the profession."

When asked about what she would like to get involved with, Megan cites Auckland's Hobsonville Point as inspiration. "I'd like to get into structure planning. Hobsonville Point is a great example of urban design, social needs and planning outcomes coming together to create a place where people want to live, work and play. It would be great to play a part in that."

No doubt if the opportunity to continue comes along, Megan’s will be the first hand raised.