Forging a new generation of urban planners

ASU alumnus is the recipient of the inaugural School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Community Practitioner Award

As an established urban planner in Arizona, Ian Dowdy has built an expansive career that spans more than 15 years across the private, public and nonprofit sectors rooted in his ethos of service to improve the quality of life for others. He says it’s uplifting and that investing in the next generation of planners that is the key to making our communities better places. 

“I’ve often thought as a planner, ‘How can I have a little impact on everything that I’m doing?’ For me, it’s been about bringing my skills to the table and applying them in ways that I can be a good citizen and member of the planning community,” said Dowdy, Arizona State University urban planning alumnus '04, and master of business administration alumnus '08, who serves as the director of Progress Meters for the Center for the Future of Arizona

“Sharing my knowledge with others, bringing up people who are emerging in their careers, helping them learn how to use their skills in the best ways that they can and giving them opportunities to make an impact … it’s a really important thing. I think it can create a much better world, and I feel an obligation to do that.” 

Dowdy is the inaugural recipient of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Community Practitioner Award. The award honors an exemplary individual or organization in the community for their contributions within Valley communities, and to ASU geography and urban planning students.

“Our students benefit from the range of mentoring and networking opportunities our colleagues in the professional world offer them,” said Meagan Ehlenz, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and member of the school’s award committee. “Ultimately, (our school) believes community partners are what makes our ASU and Valley communities great. Ian embodies the spirit of this award to the fullest extent and we’re delighted to recognize — and thank him for — his work.” 

A deep commitment to Arizona

Chosen for his deep commitment to Arizona communities, as well as ASU’s urban planning program, Dowdy regularly gives back to urban planning Sun Devils in innumerable ways — from guest lecturing in classes to mentoring students to participating in the school’s annual career fair. 

Dowdy most notably has played a key role for the better half of a decade working with ASU faculty to incorporate real-world planning projects into the classroom, enabling students to have hands-on learning opportunities that can prepare them for the types of projects that they might participate in as a planner.

In 2014, Dowdy — who then served as the program director of the Sonoran Institute — led a multi-disciplinary, multi-university project involving ASU urban planning students that evaluated the environmental impacts of the proposed new interstate I-11 that would connect Phoenix to Las Vegas. 

Marrying built environment research with public sustainability goals, students collaborated with the Sonoran Institute to envision designs for different segments of I-11 in ways that could reduce potential environmental impact. Students were given opportunities to think critically about advancements in infrastructure and then present their projects to ADOT and the federal highway administration.

Additionally, in 2018, Dowdy led a project with ASU students in collaboration with the White Tank Mountain Conservancy to identify how the city of Buckeye could grow without blocking wildlife’s natural corridors.

“Ian really cares about the community and is very passionate about what he does, specifically for Arizona,” said Nicole Baltazar, a master's in urban and environmental planning spring 2020 graduate who nominated Dowdy for the award. Baltazar credits him with being a big influence and inspiration for her in her budding career. 

“He is a great advocate for the wonders that Arizona holds and why people should come and stay in Arizona,” Baltazar said. “I really admire how passionate Ian is. … His kind heart brings light into every person’s life he touches.” 

Paying it forward 

Ian Dowdy teaches ASU students about Center for the Future of Arizona, Progress Meters in 2019.

Dowdy’s enthusiasm for helping others reach their goals is rooted in a compassionate Arizona urban planning community and a supportive older cousin. 

At the age of 9, around the time Dowdy was in the fourth grade — when most kids are consumed with playing kickball and learning long division — Dowdy’s older cousin, an electrical engineer and power system planner for SRP, brought him to his workplace, instilling in Dowdy at a young age the power of mentorship. 

“I loved what he did,” Dowdy said, reflecting back on his cousin’s decision to show him around his office. “We were kind of a poor family growing up in Maryvale in west Phoenix. My parents always had ambitions that I would go to college ... but it was seeing someone working in one of these professional fields that really gave me the passion and interest to really focus on that and pursue it.” 

“That experience I had, going to his job and learning about what he did, really laid a foundation for me to pursue my own passions and to make the world a better place for future generations. The mentorship was an important part of that and I think it has been in my career. Now, I look for opportunities to give back in that same way.” 

Supporting the next generation of thinkers 

Dowdy hopes to encourage others to support students and create professional opportunities for a new generation of urban planners. 

“I feel very honored to be recognized by the school, and for me, it’s a tremendous honor to give back in this way. I never pursued or sought out after recognition, but I think the planning community has an obligation to make the world a better place. We have an obligation to pass on skills and help support others who are advancing in their own and creative ways,” he said. 

“Let’s find ways to mentor and support and help those who are up and coming, the next generation of thinkers, in any profession, especially in planning, because we need it more than we’ve ever needed it.”