July 11, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Urban and Regional Planning Alum ‘Detangles the Knot’ of City Geography

B/W headshot of male

Alum Kyle May currently works as a city planner in Columbus

by Kristin Distel

“The second you start to detangle the knot of the urban world, it hooks you,” says Ohio University alum Kyle May, a self-described “geography nerd.”

May earned a B.S. in Geography—Urban Planning from the College of Arts & Sciences in 2009.

Since 2011, May has worked as a planner at Planning NEXT, an urban design consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio, a business that he describes as “relationship-based.”

“I’m most proud of my relationships, or those people I now know and respect who are doing amazing things,” May explains.

One of the highlights of his job is the opportunities it affords him to travel, meet new people, and improve the cities he visits and the lives of those who live there.

“I enjoy meeting people across the Midwest and the country who are all dealing with this city problem,” he says. “It’s interesting to really see this country for what it is: a network of regions, cities, and neighborhoods all trying to improve their station. This is (almost) universal. It’s cool to apply your experiences elsewhere to problems in one place or another, all the while learning new lessons about how the world really works.”

Athens as a ‘True Gem’

Despite the broad range of cities his job allows him to visit, May notes that there is no place quite like Athens and Ohio University.

“Embrace Athens,” he advises current and future OHIO students, “because it is a true gem.” May’s job often allows him to travel to college towns, but he has yet to find a community that encourages growth and inclusiveness like Athens does.

“Athens is truly unique,” he remarks. “It’s a community that cares about its future and its community. It’s a place where students can try out adulthood, meet brilliant people from across the globe, and learn how to engage. It shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

‘There Is No Average Day’

One aspect of May’s city planning career that he finds especially exciting is the variety in his daily workplace responsibilities.

“There is no average day,” he says. “While this is a bit stressful, I’d say this is the type of career students should look for.”

In the course of a single week, for example, May notes that he:

  • Developed a website for a project in Athens, GA
  • Wrote a meeting summary for a community engagement process for a county just outside of D.C. with more than 4,500 individual comments from 1,500 participants
  • Facilitated a meeting for a seven-county Convention and Visitor’s coalition in northern Indiana
  • Wrote a proposal for more work in Elkhart County, IN, (RV capital of North America)
  • Took phone calls from former clients in Cleveland, Muncie, and Madison, IN
  • Finished the draft of a comprehensive plan for a township in central Ohio

Curiosity Sparked at OHIO

May notes that his OHIO coursework in Urban and Regional Planning, while rigorous, sparked his curiosity about the world around him and how he could contribute to the lives of citizens and the development of cities.

OHIO’s Geography Department faculty members were invaluable in helping May find his passion and his career path. He points to Dr. Yeong-Hyun Kim’s course, “Urban Geography,” as a milestone in his studies. “The professors at OHIO opened relationships I would never have formed otherwise,” May says.

“As a student,” May explains, “I wanted to know everything I could about cities: why they formed, what sustains them, and where are they headed.”

He states that these questions extend far beyond urban planning and are actually “part of our fundamental human questions: How do we do better? How do we live better? How do we leave our world, better?”

“I learned this,” he says, “at OHIO.”

Advice for Current and Future OHIO Students

It’s important to use one’s college years to establish relationships with people who will become lifelong colleagues and friends, he suggests.

May encourages students, no matter their major, to use their time at OHIO to learn self-reliance and confidence, and above all, to find what makes them curious.

“For me it was, is, and will always be cities and people. I love it. I fell in love with it at OHIO, and it has led me to a career I love. OHIO is a special cauldron, if you mix the formula right. Use it to explore the world, use it to find your passion, and give back to it once it has delivered you safely to adulthood.”

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