Why I Became a Planner Blog Series – Cynthia Bowen
By Katie Bannon, AICP, APA-Indiana Communications Committee Chair
Today, Cynthia Bowen, AICP, leads the planning group for Rundell Ernstberger Associates (REA), an urban design, landscape architecture and planning consulting firm, but she began her undergraduate at Ball State intending to become an architect. Cynthia grew up in Plainfield, Indiana, and since Ball State had an architecture program, attending Ball State was an easy choice. Then, as today, all first year undergraduate students in Ball State’s College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) were required to take a course within the three CAP undergraduate disciplines – architecture, landscape architecture, and planning – before declaring a major. The first year planning class was Cynthia’s first exposure to planning. She ended up getting a ‘C’ in the class and initially decided to declare architecture as her major as originally planned. However, after speaking with Jim Segedy and others within CAP, she realized that architecture was not what she wanted to do. Cynthia switched her major to planning because she wanted to work on a broader scale. She realized she was less interested in what was inside the building and more interested in how the building fit into the community. She wanted to know more about the building’s context. Who was coming to the building and what do they think about? She wanted to be more part of the grand scheme directing development.
After completing a few internships within the public sector, Cynthia realized that government wasn’t the right fit for her. She was interested in working in a faster paced environment and saw how the politics of government often slowed things down. After graduating from Ball State, Cynthia worked for Camiros, a consulting firm in Chicago, for two and a half years. Working at Camiros provided Cynthia with a good foundation for her entire career as she had the opportunity to be involved in every aspect of projects. After Camiros, Cynthia worked for HNTB for about ten years. While at HNTB, she met her mentor, Dave Wenzel, HNTB’s Vice President and National Director of Planning and Sustainability. Cynthia says that Dave taught her everything and helped her to be successful. She stills goes to him today for advice and stresses how important it is to have career mentors.
In 2007, Cynthia left HNTB to start the planning group at RW Armstrong. When RW Armstrong became part of CHA in 2012, Cynthia went back to being a planner rather than running the entire planning group. She had missed some aspects of being a general planner, including the opportunity to work more with clients and specific projects rather than focusing on pursuing work and managing the firm’s profitability. In 2014, Cynthia was promoted to lead the entire planning group nationally for CHA.
In 2015, Cynthia left CHA and went to work for REA starting their first planning group. The environment is much different than an engineering firm. It’s a smaller group of people with 16 people in Indianapolis and 3 in Louisville and disciplines ranging from landscape architects to civil engineers and now planning. The office is an open studio with multiple people working on projects together – a more collaborative and creative environment. Cynthia will be responsible for expanding REA’s planning services, bringing in new clients and adding new planners into the mix.
Over the years, Cynthia developed a broad background in planning, working on everything from designing a new city in the Middle East, airport plans to transportation and corridor plans to comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. One of REA’s current planning projects that Cynthia is working on is the reconstruction of Monument Circle in Indianapolis. Cynthia enjoys consulting because it allows her the opportunity to work on a diversity of projects. However, unlike in the public sector, she doesn’t always get to see the fruits of her labor since she may only work in a community for a year to a year and a half. In regards to international planning, Cynthia believes that the key is to trust the process. Because other countries may have vastly different values, the planner’s role is to listen to their values and plan for them.
Cynthia has served the planning profession in a variety of capacities on both the state and national level. While a student at Ball State, she served as the Student Planning Association (SPA) representative to the APA-Indiana Chapter Board. When she lived in Chicago, she served on the Pro-bono Committee of APA-Illinois. Upon returning to Indiana, Cynthia served as APA-Indiana’s PIO, Central Region Representative, PDO, and Chapter President. On the national level of APA, she has served on the Board of Directors as Region IV Director and Secretary/Treasurer and on the Chapter Presidents Council as Vice Chair and Secretary/Treasurer. Cynthia was just recently elected President-Elect of APA and her term started on January 1, 2016. She will serve one year as President-Elect, two years as President and one year as Past President. She will then have to figure out what to do with her free time and find another way to give back!