Kate Sales, Geospatial Analyst (retired)

Kate Sales worked for Urban3 for a little more than three years, but her interest in planning, development, design and human behavior is a lifelong pursuit.

“I have always been interested in maps, and figuring out why things are the way they are, and where things are, and why they’re there,” she explains. “You can make a map of practically anything.”

Her curiosity about the relationship between human decisions and the built environment led the Asheville native to pursue a degree in geography from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Returning after graduation, she began to look for careers that would allow her to professionalize her interests, which led her to Urban3. In 2018, a successful six-month internship became a full-time career as a Geospatial Analyst for the firm.

Kate’s next professional step will take her to New York City, where she’ll join the public sector as a project development coordinator in the Innovation and Performance Management Division of the city’s Parks Department. Before she departed, she took a little time to reflect on her journey to and through Urban3. “I’m just really grateful for my time here, and whatever I do next will definitely be influenced by what I did here — and I’ll make sure to come by the office sometimes.”

What are the most important things you learned about yourself working at Urban3?

I remember coming into the office for an interview and Joe was just really energetic and excited about all of their ideas. He’s always ready to talk to you and explain everything to you, even if you’re just an intern, sniffing around for a job. He believes that anybody who comes into the office is a potential audience for being introduced to his ideas and joining his army.

I started in March 2018, and I started my first project that was all mine in November of that year, which was relatively quick. I really relished that because I was not expecting to leave school and be given so much responsibility so soon, I know sometimes you have to put in a lot of hours before your employer will hand you something to take care of, so I, I really enjoyed the fact that they were like, “Okay, like, you seem like you can do this. Here you go.” I wasn’t thrown into the deep end, but I was definitely thrown into the medium end. 

I also learned a lot about slideshows [laughs]. I think a lot of times people are trying to over-explain things and firehose information at you. So reeling it back in and just sticking to the labels and the maps and the bare minimum is way more effective in saying, “Look at all this information. I need you to digest it right now.” Visual presentations are a core part of a project process and our work. Just keep it simple, keep it clear. The everyday person who doesn’t spend a lot of time looking at data needs it translated basically, into something they can read pretty quickly and understand.

What did your time at the firm teach you about cities that you didn’t know when you started?

Seeing how people you might actually agree with on many issues can take the wrong stance on different types of development. Learning the term NIMBY (not in my backyard) and trying to help them understand that sometimes you do need apartment buildings near downtown or in downtown.

I don’t think anyone here has a background in psychology, but it’s been interesting to try to understand people’s emotional relationship to a place and why that’s so hard to work with. A lot of times a person’s relationship to a place is not rational. So when you realize that, you realize that all of your logic and reasoning is not going to reach them; you’re going to have to change your tactic. At Urban3, we use data to say, “Hey, this is not my feeling or opinion. This is just what the numbers say. How does that interact with what you’re thinking and feeling?”

What advice would you give younger people looking for a career in this field?

I would tell young people: don’t be afraid to do something that stretches you a little bit, maybe a little bit outside your comfort zone. I think you’ll be rewarded for going with that path over just funneling into a traditional planning job.

Urban3 is really unique in that they make an intentional effort to recruit younger people. I guess they know that our minds are more malleable [laughs], and we haven’t been in a planning firm for 20 years. Getting us in early and helping us understand — it’s not quite like a second college, but it’s like another education that I’ve had. They not only invest in younger people, they treat us like we know what we’re talking about, which we do — maybe, I think, most of the time. Some places act like you don’t know anything until you’re 40. This is unfortunate because that’s a long time to not take anyone’s ideas seriously. At Urban3, we’re always experimenting and innovating. Being curious and thinking of new ways to do things is honored.

Kate and her colleagues are eager to help you better understand your city’s finances so that you can grow with resilience and responsibility. Contact us to learn what we’ve done for other communities and what we can do for yours.