The Democracy Cog

by Christopher Dunne

It’s been a whirlwind two months since I started as a Senior Planner with Highland Planning and only a little longer since I’ve been able to call Rochester my home.  I’ve already had the opportunity to help our region’s public transit system Reimagine itself, build a MetroQuest survey to gather input for one of the City’s riverfront park projects and, of course, furiously scribble down notes on a butcher pad at meetings in Buffalo and Cayuga County.

All of this has been new but also familiar.  My background is in state government in Massachusetts. After college, I worked in three state senate offices where I did everything from answering the phone to drafting legislation and budget amendments on healthcare, education and transportation. Serving constituents and working on political campaigns taught me the value of listening and the importance of breaking down technical jargon into words that everyone can understand. While working at the State House, I earned my Masters’ in Public Administration from UMass Boston where I authored blog posts about autonomous vehicles, a study of escalator passenger behavior in the area’s subway system and a review of the state’s lobbying laws among other projects. After getting my MPA, I made the move from Boston to Rochester this past September.

Part of what excites me about working for Highland Planning has been the opportunity to get quick crash courses on the communities that we partner with throughout New York.  Having worked for the people of cities like Springfield and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I’m no stranger to the post-industrial challenges that Rochester, Buffalo and other cities in our region face. Seeing firsthand the dynamism and creativity that people in these communities use to address these challenges though has been moving and it’s great to have a role to play in that transformation.

I’ve also loved the opportunity to think more about my personal passion for urban cycling and walking. As Monroe County looks at updating a decades-old transit system and Buffalo and surrounding communities explore transit-oriented development, I’ve had the chance to think more about the obstacles and opportunities communities encounter when trying to increase bike- and walkability. There is a wonderful intersection of engineering, politics and social psychology in these questions.

I sometimes half-jokingly sum up my career as “democracy cog.” The machinery of our system relies on human beings involved in law-making, campaigning and translating what the public wants into action, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work in roles in all of those areas.  In my past positions, I listened to the concerns of communities and helped make policy.  I’m now thrilled to be working for a firm that amplifies the voices of those who are affected by policy decisions like the ones I used to help make.

If you want to talk politics or policy, tell me about an opportunity to engage the community or just pass on your favorite vegan recipes, shoot me an email.

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