|By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, June 21, 2003 - 8:17 am: Edit Post|
Ken McMurry works in Municipal Development in Honduras
Ken McMurry works in Municipal Development in Honduras
Local Planner Answers the Call of International Service
By Linda B. Dixon, AICP
Ken McMurry has worked as a Senior Planner with the Alachua County Growth Management Department for over three years. His work has covered a broad spectrum of local government planning including site plan reviews, rezonings, annexation issues, policy and ordinance revisions, and liaison work to an architectural review board and scenic highway committee. So what would make a person like Ken decide to pack it all up and move to Honduras for two years with the Peace Corps? Many of his co-workers joked that it was the recent County Comprehensive Plan update that drove him to such extremes! But, the truth is that international planning and volunteer work is nothing new to Ken. Hereís the rest of his story gathered in an interview conducted on his last day of work with the County, December 7, 2001.
Q. What made you decide to go into the Peace Corps?
A. I had thought about it for a long time and am always interested in travel. I have spent time in Honduras and other parts of Central America. In 1998, I went to Honduras as part of an environmental project in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society and PROLANSATE Foundation, a Honduran non-profit environmental group. That project involved developing a national park on the north coast. I spent five weeks working with the locals to study and document resource use and culture, and develop an environmental education program to help increase local community awareness and participation in management of the park.
I found out that the Peace Corps had an assignment in Honduras working on municipal development in urban and regional planning. I am interested in sustainable development, which has also been a focus of our local County Comprehensive Plan. This project will give me an opportunity to work on different facets of sustainable community planning in a country that does not have the developed resources that we have but that has many of the same problems with developing economies while preserving the environment.
Q. What will you be doing in this assignment?
A. The goal is to provide technical expertise to increase community participation and strengthen the ability of local governments to provide municipal services. Honduras is undergoing a national movement to decentralize and distribute the provision of services to the local government level. I will be working with the mayor, local council and community groups on issues of planning, public participation, vision and goal setting, and developing the capacity to provide services.
Q. How did you find out about the program?
A. I have known about these Peace Corps programs for quite some time and have had friends go into the Corps. Through these channels, I found out about the urban and regional planning programs in countries transitioning from centralized (i.e. colonial) governments to become more democratic.
Q. If other planners are interested, how can they get more information on the Peace Corps planning programs?
A. They can start by visiting the website at www.peacecorps.gov . They can also go to a local office, like the one I visited at the University of Florida. There, I was able to meet people who had recently returned from Peace Corps assignments.
Q. Do you have a choice of where you go or what you do on a Peace Corps assignment?
A. Yes. During the application and interview process, they explore your experience and interests so that they can match you up with an appropriate assignment. International work creates some degree of uncertainty because you have to be flexible to go where the needs are at the time.
Q. You mentioned your earlier experience working in Honduras, have you had any other experiences like this? I so admire your willingness to pack up and go, is this the sort of thing you do regularly?
A. When I was working on my masterís degree in Landscape Architecture in 1997, I got involved in a project in Belize. It was an archaeology project excavating Maya ruins, but with a local development component to build an appreciation for the ruin and explore the potential for related eco-tourism and small business development. As part of that work, I built a model of the ruin that was installed in an interpretive display at a local visitors center. When I went back to Belize last spring, I saw the model still in place and enjoyed visiting with friends I had made on the first trip.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish in Honduras this time?
A. Personally, I want to experience life in another country with a different economic and cultural condition. I think it gives a different perspective on the United States and on my profession as a planner and landscape architect. I think it will be interesting to see how sustainable concepts are applicable outside the U.S. and to share my knowledge with a community trying to achieve its goals working at the grass roots level. I am also interested in using my design skills to help develop their vision with graphics and visual communication tools.
Q. What do you expect to be the biggest challenge?
A. The biggest challenge will be adapting to a different way of life for that long amount of time, and achieving personal and professional acceptance in the community. I was able to do that in Belize and Honduras, to the extent that time allowed. Most of all, people are concerned with achieving their goals. There is no time for barriers. We work together and make friends in order to achieve those goals.
Q. How do you think North American planning concepts will transfer to Central America?
A. Sustainability applies all over the world because we are "all in this together", in a broad sense. Planning does not stop at the borders, and these issues are cross-cultural. A lot of other countries look to the U.S. as a model for development, although it may not be the best model in terms of sustainability and wise use of resources. You have to be open to hear what they want and not be hypocritical saying we enjoyed making these mistakes now you canít do that. But, you have to help people understand the consequences of the choices they make, and help them make informed decisions. For example, I saw a lot of road building in Central America since my 1997 visit. I want to encourage them to explore other solutions than just more and bigger roads. I want to help them identify unique and desirable characteristics of their community to capitalize on. These communities need to avoid haphazardly importing ideas, and instead, incorporate the ideas into their unique culture. To accomplish this, techniques need to focus on area planning to identify unique resources and community participation to strengthen the role of citizens in the democratic process.
Q. I have to ask, how much did the events of 9-11 influence your decision to go on this mission?
A. Initially, it gave me pause as to whether this was a wise thing to do. But then, it reinforced the importance of being aware of other countries and their visions, goals, needs and dreams. We are all involved in each otherís lives and are not isolated within our own borders.
Kenís experiences as a Peace Corps planner in Honduras will be documented through the Alachua County Growth Managementís website at http://growth-management.alachua.fl.us/ .