06-2019 Planner Profile: Ben Serr

Planner Profile: Ben Serr 

Current Position: Senior Planner, Growth Management Services, Washington State Department of Commerce

Total years in planning: Eight years.

Hobbies: Cycling, going to concerts, travel, and gaming of all sorts.

Hometown: This is always a tough question for me to answer as my family moved frequently for my father’s work when I was growing up. By the time I was 18, I had moved eight times and lived in Oregon (1 year), Washington (6 years), Oklahoma (3 years), Colorado (3 years), and Texas (5 years). My folks are from Port Angeles, and Washington always felt like home. I moved back to Washington shortly after turning 18, and with the exception of one more year in Texas, have been living in the state ever since.

Favorite Places: Pike Place Market; the Quad at UW when the cherry trees are in bloom; Moraine Lake, Banff National Park; Covent Garden, London; Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, and the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Why did you choose a career in planning? I once heard it described by someone else talking about their career in planning as, “I liked cities and maps”, and that really resonated with me. Making our communities a better place for all people appeals to me, and I feel like that is directly tied to the work planners do.

Why did you decide to be a planner in Washington? I love Washington and don’t really want to be anywhere else!

What projects/initiatives are you currently working on? Aside from my normal duties of reviewing comp plans, development regulations, and providing technical assistance for my assigned counties, cities, and towns, I am working on a project to provide outreach to water systems in Adams, Franklin, Grant, and Lincoln counties around the issue of declining groundwater levels. The groundwater in some of the area has seen groundwater declines of up to three hundred feet. This is an existential issue for some of these communities and I am working with them on actions they can take to effect change and plan for the future. I have also been representing Commerce on a small state agency called the Forest Practices Board. This body is responsible for rule making for forest practices in the state that are implemented by the state Department of Natural Resources and local jurisdictions around the state. Getting up to speed has been like trying to drink from a firehose.

What was your first planning related job? I worked as a research assistant at Eastern Washington University creating a strategic plan for three neighborhoods in northeast Spokane. It was a great introduction into community planning and outreach.

What advice would you give a new planner? Make connections with professionals in the field. I had the benefit of meeting people in my role as a research assistant. I made use of the mentorship program through the Inland Empire Section. I had an internship with the City of Spokane for college credit, and I served as a liaison to the local section for the student planning organization at EWU. These things paid huge dividends to me in establishing my career early on.

What do you wish you had known when you started your career? I wish I had known about planning earlier in my professional life. My first career was in the biotech industry. Oddly enough, that start has helped me in my planning career, but it was a detour I don’t think I would take if I had to do it over.
If you were not a planner what profession would you likely be in? My first degree was in biology, and I was interested in preserving genetic diversity in endangered species. I think I would have gotten a master’s degree in wildlife biology to do that work. However, I am happy I found planning.
Do you have any favorite online sources related to planning that you’d like to share, and/or planners (historical or present) that have inspired your work? Some of my favorite websites for planning in are:

  • MRSC - http://mrsc.org
  • Growth Management Hearings Board - http://www.gmhb.wa.gov/
  • Project for Public Spaces - https://www.pps.org/
  • CityLab - https://www.citylab.com/
  • Chapter 36.70A of the Revised Code of Washington - https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=36.70A


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