Updated: Jan 21, 2020
Karp Strategies is thrilled to name Ali Sutherland-Brown as our newest Director. Since joining in 2015 as Karp Strategies’ very first hire, Ali has consistently delivered top-flight project management and client service, outstanding project thought - including for stakeholder engagement, strategic planning, and community development initiatives across sectors, and leadership in business development and marketing.
We recently sat down with Ali for a Q&A to reflect on her journey at Karp Strategies, and to get a sneak peek at what’s to come in this exciting next step:
First off, a much-deserved congratulations! You’ve been deeply embedded in the firm’s development, from its nascency to its rapid and ongoing growth. What are your reflections looking back at this journey? Are there any unexpected places this path has taken you? When I first joined the firm in 2016, I knew that the team would eventually become larger than just Rebecca and myself, but I don’t think either of us could have expected growth of this magnitude. Karp Strategies is now made up of 13 people (and still growing!), and I can confidently say that I get to work with a team of people who are not only super smart and kind, but are also equally excited to come to work and solve problems together. As Director, I want to continue making sure that we maintain an incredible staff as we continue to grow so that we can best serve our clients and change the city for the better.
As I’ve grown with the firm, and now taking on the role of Director, I spend a lot more time thinking about project processes in addition to focusing on content and outcomes. Creating great processes for managing projects and team workflows on day-to-day level leads to better results for everyone, and it’s something that’s surprised and delighted me. Working with our dynamic team also means that I’ve been able to deeply engage in subject matters that initially would not have grabbed my attention. I originally became an urban planner to focus on the built environment and its effects on people. As a full-service firm, Karp Strategies also specializes in workforce development, transportation, and market analysis, to name a few. The first project that I worked on at Karp Strategies was a small business market study, and this served as an entrée to better understanding the expanse of what makes a city tick.
In addition to your becoming Director, Karp Strategies has also named two new Principals, Jen Becker and Helen Ho. Looking ahead, what can Karp Strategies’ diverse array of clients expect from our new senior leadership structure? This is an exciting time – our clients have an even larger brain trust and executive team from which to access diverse expertise, skill sets, and histories. Jen is a powerhouse in sustainability, energy, and industrial/manufacturing policy issues, Helen is a transportation, consensus-building, and city governance guru, and Rebecca continues to lead our team with market analysis, real estate, and public policy acumen. This move means that Karp Strategies’ senior leadership is even more accessible to our clients, and well-positions the firm to continue offering a wide array of urban planning services.
You’ve been leading our recent strategic planning and real estate industry advisory work, whether it’s a project in Karp Strategies’ portfolio, or as part of our thought leadership with CoreNet and the New York Building Congress. What can our partners look out for as we team up to create exciting real estate opportunities and analysis in NY and beyond? Karp Strategies continues to deliver holistic solutions to complex problems for our clients, and we are able to do so in part because of our involvement in organizations such as CoreNet and the New York Building Congress (NYBC). We are committed to looking forward and outwards by plugging into the leading real estate and infrastructure networks, and we bring our learnings and connections back to our clients. I recently attended a NYBC conference designed for construction and engineering experts, and by attending, I was able to learn about fascinating topics such as technological advancements in conducting environmental assessments, and the potential impacts that drones can have on buildings and the urban environment overall. Right now, w also bringing our policy perspective to CoreNet to help its members better understand the impacts of congestion pricing in NYC.
You also recently completed the Coro Leadership New York fellowship. How has your Coro experience informed your work at Karp Strategies, and vice versa? Both my work at Karp Strategies and my Coro LNY experience underscore the importance of feedback. When given intentionally, feedback can be a gift that helps you and your teammates grow. Coro provides a space to practice, develop, and hone one’s ability to self-reflect and provide constructive feedback, and I apply those skills every day to my work at the firm. Karp Strategies has been a feedback-driven team from the get-go. As a team, we strive to hold honest discussions about how a community may or may not benefit from any given project, and how we can leverage our role as consultants to foster greater trust, transparency, and partnerships in the systems that run cities.
What’s one thing you are currently working on at Karp Strategies that excites you? The Connected Communities Initiative (CCI)! This project feels like an encapsulation of why I became an urban planner. We’re working with CCI, an effort led by the Capital Projects Division in New York City Housing Authority to investigate how it can use tactical investments in the built environment to help residents become healthier and better connected. As we help CCI put together a strategic plan for the future, we aim to strike the right balance between aspirational and practical: essentially, we want to create a roadmap that inspires and empowers NYCHA staff and residents, but also provides realistic and actionable ways to create change.
And last but not least, what currently inspires you in the urban planning sphere overall?
I’m inspired by the growing movement to integrate mental health outcomes into our built environments. It’s important to remember that in the early 20th century, the leading cause of death was infectious diseases, which was why things that we now take for granted - like zoning and Department of Sanitation - were created. Today, people are much more likely to suffer from heart disease, obesity, stress, and feelings of isolation—chronic, preventable diseases, and things that are affected by the way our open spaces and buildings are designed. I think we’re on the cusp of creating more regulations and initiatives that grapple with how people are getting sick today, including just how much of the global population suffer from anxiety and depression (about 30%). The more we openly talk about mental health, the more we can break down barriers and taboos to facilitate open conversations and lasting change.