Della Rucker [dellarucker]
What is your profession? What is your title printed on your business card?
I'm the principal of the Wise Economy Workshop. I'm an urban planner who focuses on economic development and public engagement issues.
What did you study and why did you choose to study that field?
My undergraduate degree is actually in education -- from a program with a heavy emphasis on organizational theory, sociology and psychology. I taught high school English for a couple of years and then sort of morphed into a historic preservation specialist -- research and writing skills were helpful.
After a few years, I started feeling that, although I loved preservation and local history, I was getting stuck into a very small corner of the world. So I went back to school and did a masters degree in urban planning. So it's a bit of a weird career route.
I think the reason why I was drawn to planning is that I wanted to deal with the most complex and most important systems I could think of -- the places where people live and work and play and all that. Having grown up in the Rust Belt, I had a pretty strong sense of how economic issues impact people's lives -- impacts that run through everything. I wanted to be part of figuring out how to make places work better for the people who need and want to love them.
What is expected of you in your job, and how do you accomplish it?
I have three streams to what I do: first, I do consulting -- I work as an advisor and partner to local governments and community-oriented nonprofits to help them establish long-term plans and make sound strategy decisions. Second, I develop tools to help them do that, like guides and templates. Third, I give presentations and write for publications.
What links do you have on the Internet: website, blog, social networks?
Facebook: Della Rucker aicp cecd. There's another one that is just my name, but that's my personal account. There's also a business page for the Wise Economy Workshop
LinkedIn: the usual
Google +: Della Rucker
Who have been the most influential people in your career?
I usually think of myself as having three major influences, although I know there are a lot more. One is my husband, who is in a completely different field, but we've been together for 20+ years, and I value his opinion and perspective (he doesn't always believe that!).
The second would be my colleague/business partner through most of the '00s. I learned a lot from him, and still do.
The third would be my dad, who did nothing relating to what I do work-wise, but he understood where my own passion was, and he made a point of showing me that what I was doing was worthwhile. And he did that at an age when a lot of my female age peers with small children were hanging it up -- something that I felt a lot of pressure to do but didn't want to. He's been gone more than 10 years, but that still sticks with me and has motivated me through some tough times.
Which languages do you speak, and how have you learned them?
I have a rudimentary level of badly-pronounced conversational French. Left over from high school. Piece of advice: learn a language well while you are young and have time to do it.
Do you have a website or blog? How was the process in making it? Does it accomplish the purpose for which it was created?
Both. They're always evolving. I try now to write on the blog every day and to stay a few days ahead of myself. Writing is damn hard, but there is no better way on the planet to work out what it is that you want to say to the world. And the feedback, the immediate feedback, that you get from a blog is pretty gratifying.
How do you feel about speaking in front of an audience? What experience have you had in this arena?
I do a ton of public speaking -- have spoken all over the U.S. I don't care if it's 5 people or 500. I love it.
Do you attend cocktail parties, presentations, fairs or conventions related to your profession?
Lots. Speaking at conferences and meeting and talking with people is probably my favorite part of the job.
How are you different from others in your professional sector?
A few key ways. First of all, I have a pre-planning career background that is very different from the usual. I've worked as a journalist and trained and worked as a high school teacher. I think the journalism part gives me a sensitivity to story and a little different skill set when it comes to reading people. And writing in general is much easier for me than for many planners, I think. It's just not as much a part of the standard skill set.
I have often said that I haven't been a teacher for nearly 20 years, but I use that skill set everyday. If you want to learn how to manage a group of people, keep them on track, move the group toward an important goal and build their understanding, a good teacher is about the best model I know of.
The program that I came through at Northwestern (at least at that time) placed a strong emphasis on two areas that I particularly draw on almost continually. Because it's a school of education and social policy, they placed a strong emphasis on organizational management, as well as sociology and psychology. My mental framework for working with communities draws heavily on that, and most planners and economic developers don't have the opportunity to encounter that while they are still at their most malleable.
Second, from a methodology standpoint, the program put a huge emphasis on small group cooperative learning techniques, which is a method for enabling students to build mastery of a topic or skill by giving them structured activities that they complete collaboratively, with guidance from the teacher. That resonated to me, and from my perspective the most important thing was that I saw this approach building a deeper level of understanding of -- and ability to successfully address -- the issues. As far as I know, I am the only planner in the U.S. with this background and the only one that consciously tries to fold small group cooperative learning methods into planning and public engagement.
Do you do telecommuting?
I have a home office. I did this for most of the 90s as well, and I love it. I hate wasting time commuting.
What is the most important thing you have learned from experience?
That I don't know everything, and we all need to crowdsource as much wisdom as we can get.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A journalist. I latched onto that in 7th grade and didn't let go until... I was halfway through my first college journalism class. A transfer quickly ensued. :-)
How do you handle customer complaints?
Talk to them. Be compassionate. Do your best to make it right.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
Most of my work right now is on the blog at www.wiseeconomy.com/blog. I tend to read nonfiction - histories and essays. I get too sucked into novels.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
People who connect the heart and the mind -- people who bring personal passion and a strong personal voice to the issues they are writing about, which can really be anything.
What well known writers do you admire most?
Umair Hacque is a strong favorite right now. Historically, my big 3 have been Alan Paton, Richard Rodriguez and Lewis Thomas. I guess the only unifier there is that all three have very strong, very personal voices that convey something complex powerfully.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Yes! The best thing about blogging in the reader feedback. Hands down.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
Your voice changes over time. What both my writing and my speaking sound like today is related to, but definitely not the same as, my writing or speaking voice 10 or 20 years ago. If you change -- and I can't imagine not changing -- your voice changes. It's still you, but it will change. I don't think I search for it as much as I hope to refine and articulate what comes out.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Pull them out, make any revisions you see fit (remembering that your own voice has probably changed and matured, and that's OK), and show them to someone you can trust. Chances are they suck much, much less than you think they do. :-)
What do you currently have in your MP3 player?
The Killers. A lot of em on heavy rotation.
What books are you currently reading?
The Great Reset by Richard Florida. I'm about 3 years behind the rest of the world.
Places in the world that you have visited recently.
Um... does Tulsa count?
What do you use: Mac or PC and why?
PC. I used Macs for most of the 90s, including buying one when _no one_ had a Mac! But I switched over to a PC during grad school.
Do you believe there is excessive sex and violence in the media?
Not really. Again, it's all in what you choose to consume. I do think there's more stupidity, more playing to the lowest common denominator than there should be. Even as a mom, demonstrating stupidity, judgementalness, mean-spiritedness in media is, I think, more damaging than sex and violence. Counteracting messages about sex and violence so far seems to me a lot easier than dealing with nastiness or meanness.
What were your favourite subjects when you were in primary/secondary school?
English. Followed by history.
Do you think video games, chat rooms, etc. have a dangerous addictive
effect on teenagers?
I have a teenaged son, and I can see where it can definitely become addictive. But so can many other things. And like most things, there can also be benefits from video games. It's all in how you use it and what you choose to consume from any given media. The biggest challenge is to guide them to have their eyes wide open about what they are choosing and lead them to think ahead about the impacts of their choices.
Have you ever bought works of art? What type of art? What compels you to purchase art?
That's probably the closest thing to a hobby that I have. I have bought a lot of original paintings, ceramics, glass and jewelry over the past several years. I seem to be drawn to strong colors and strong lines, and I lean a little more to the abstract than my husband, who also appreciates and buys original art.
What magazines do you frequently read?
Smithsonian and Fast Company. And American Craft. Also National Geographic and INC when I have the chance.
How do you kill time?
Kill time? I freakin never have enough time.
In which city do you live? What are your favourite and least favourite things about it?
I live in Cincinnati - moved here about a dozen years ago. It's a facinating place -- sort of a mix of east coast, midwest and south. It has a surprisingly strong local culture, and it's a city that's currently in the midst of one of those rebirth of civic energy moments that's really thrilling to be able to watch unfold and play a small part in. The downside is that it has a history of a very cautious culture -- some people call it conservative, but I think it's more of a sense of taking change very seriously, and not chasing trends. That can feel both very sound and very frustrating, sometimes at the same time. And while the city's self-image is improving, there's still too much of a sense of "oh, we're nothing special." Which is completely not true at all.