HOK’s Lynn Carlton on building a strong urban core
From Real Estate News, July 20, 2015 – As an urban planner with architecture firm HOK and the district council chair of the Urban Land Institute, Lynn Carlton is helping shape the landscape of Kansas City. She sat down with us to share her goals for the organization and tips for succeeding in the business. What are your goals for ULI? One of my major goals has been to increase the diversity of programs. We’ve added members-only events where we’ve interviewed the mayor. We’ve introduced WLI, the Women’s Leadership Initiative, which highlights women in the real estate industry. And now I’m working with the mayor on creating a diversity initiative with ethnic backgrounds so we can have more African Americans and more Hispanics and welcome them into the real estate industry. We’ve also started Technical Assistance Panels where we take eight member volunteers representing every different discipline from planner, landscape architect, architect to banker, developer, real estate lawyer and broker. They all volunteer a full day of their time and the city submits an issue or a challenge they’ve had that they haven’t been able to overcome. So we come together, volunteer our time for a full day, meet all the stakeholders and tour the site, and have a charrette in the afternoon. What’s great is we’re throwing out design, developers say ‘you can’t do that,’ brokers say ‘I can’t sell that,’ and so we try again. It’s a real iterative process right there that afternoon. By the evening we present it back to the city council at an open public meeting. We’re not paid at all; this is voluntary and free. We just try to come up with the best real estate solution to help them get past some sort of problem.What makes you passionate about urban planning? From a young age, my family really instilled in me the importance of the center city and how a healthy center city and neighborhoods make a healthy region. When I was little, every city that we’d go to we’d immediately go downtown, see the downtown and historic buildings, and go to the museums and galleries. Through that I learned about the city from the inside out. Growing up on Ward Parkway gave me the sense of a great neighborhood in the city. I’ve lived in 7 cities and everywhere I’ve gone straight downtown and really understood what the downtown means and what the downtown neighborhoods offer. I majored in geography and minored in economics in college, and then I worked for a city planning department and went to graduate school for urban planning in Pennsylvania and I chose a school that was right in the center of the downtown that had issues in its own backyard to use as a laboratory. I did another program more on the design side so that by the time I graduated I had a full spectrum of understanding of design, historic preservation, the economics behind it, planning and landscape architecture. What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned so far? When I moved back to Kansas City, I heard a lot, “We’ve never done that before.” If anything, that challenges me to want to understand why it hasn’t been done before and what we can do to change it. It’s a process where you have to make course corrections but using “We’ve never done it that way before,” is something that doesn’t sit well with me. There are always ways to learn to do things better and to challenge and question the status quo. How has dedicating your time to the community enhanced your career? I think it’s extremely important to volunteer for your community. That’s one of the reasons we moved back to Kansas City was that I wanted to be more involved in the community. In Boston, it was a hard place if you didn’t grow up there or go to school there to really get involved. Today what I’m most passionate about is the Lead to Read program. When I came back to Kansas City from Boston, I realized I had an extra thirty minutes that I wasn’t sitting in traffic and decided to dedicate it to doing something in the inner city. Luckily I found this program, Lead to Read, and so for thirty minutes once a week, I go to Wendell Phillips Elementary and read with a first- or second-grader. This will be my fourth year and it is hands down my favorite thing I do all week. The stats say children who are not at a third grade reading level have a 65 percent chance of landing in jail. Prisons are built based on what percentage of the population is reading at a third grade level. So instead of building prisons, I want to get my time in with the kids and I love reading with them.