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Fellows in the Field: Marcus Bush

Recently appointed the youngest Chair to serve in the National City Planning Commission, Marcus Bush is a Pomegranate Center Fellows Graduate who took an active role in our Manzanita Gathering Place project and Butterfly Park in 2013. In his words, Pomegranate Center’s Fellows Training “was seriously one of the most influential experiences I’ve ever had and was a huge motivation to becoming more civically engaged in my community.”

Marcus grew up and currently lives in National City, a culturally and historically diverse community in San Diego County. National City has faced a lot of challenges (such as a high unemployment rate and high crime) and Marcus is committed to staying involved in the community and working with local leaders to solve many of these challenges.

Here are highlights from our recent conversation with Marcus:

PC: What are your hopes for what the future holds for your community?
MB: I hope that my community makes huge improvements in measurable ways. When you look at the statistics/demographics, as a municipality, we have the highest percentages of crime, lowest median household income, highest obesity rate, highest unemployment rate, and other data that is reflective of our challenges. Improving those statistics is evidence of true improvement to the community. But there’s also intangible ways that I hope we can improve when it comes to civic engagement, empowering our youth, and instilling pride in all of our community members.

PC:  What are some of the joys and/or some of the biggest challenges of your job as a Community Planner?
MB:  The joy is that it’s fascinating work that I’m truly passionate about. Some of the challenge is the amount of time it can take to see your work and plans actually come to fruition… normally after a plan for a neighborhood or city is development it take years and even decades to finally be realized. Another challenge is persuading the public to support plans against opposition that can often be short-sighted, skeptical of change, and reactionary if not downright selfish.

PC:  What lessons has your work life taught you?
MB:  To be humble, patient and really listen to the needs/wants of the community. It’s important to not force your own ideas and beliefs on how a city/neighborhood should operate on the people who actually live in that city/neighborhood.

PC:  What do you think are the most important lessons from the Pomegranate Center Fellows Training?
MB:  The collaborative process when it comes to creating a place for the community. When designing a project and going through public/community hearings it tends to fall into an unconstructive process where someone speaks for a project and someone else speaks against it without any meaningful dialogue or new ideas being offered. Pomegranate’s process breaks through that unproductive pattern. Also, The idea of creating the grandest art with the cheapest/most sustainable materials.

PC:  What about the Fellows Training was most helpful for you?
MB:     1) Navigating the public hearing process and facilitating public meetings, 2) Involving all members of the community, including “potential detractors” such as gang members, naysayers and 3) Creating a place where the community feels ownership.

PC:  Do you have any favorite stories from your work life?
MB:  Yes, how opportunities can come through/by God, seemingly out of nowhere, or by fate, luck… however you want to look at it. My path to the awesome place I’m at in my career today can be traced back to when I worked as a vending commissary worker at PETCO Park (Padres ballpark) in 2008, when I was 19. We worked in overheated, poor conditions and I realized that we pay union dues and that the union who we pay dues to should be monitoring and helping us with poor working conditions but wasn’t. When I was invited to a union meeting I attended so I could voice our concerns, and the Union President was impressed by my knowledge and advocacy for our department and so she offered me an internship. That internship turned to a full-time job as a union representative. Through that job we worked on various political campaigns and one campaign was for a woman running for city council (now Councilmember Mona Rios) who was from my community (in National City) and I developed a great relationship with. She mentored me and encouraged me to get more civically-engaged and eventually I was appointed to the Civil Service Commission and then the National City Planning Commission, which was perfect since my educational and professional background is Planning. That position of being a planning commissioner and eventually Chair, got me a lot of recognition in the local planning/urban development professionals network, which was crucial to me getting noticed and hired by my current boss, Brian Mooney at Mooney Planning Collaborative. Everything is connected and opportunities are everywhere if you go out and look.

PC:  What is your best advice for other Community Planners?
MB:  My best advice to other Community Planners is to diversify your education and professional background. Being a community/city/urban/transportation planner is more than policy and academic principles… the majority of making a plan happen is support and involvement from the community. It’s important to interact with those community members on a human and emotional scale, to talk to residents one-on-one, listen to them, understand the concerns and challenges of the community… and to also be firm when necessary and educate them on certain academic principles, or inform them about benefits to a concept, or challenge them when there’s misstatements or incorrect facts. It’s important for planners to be involved with non-profits that advocate for planning issues such as affordable housing, urban development, planning professionals, and even general service clubs that have vast networks of business and regional leaders.

PC:  What work are you most proud of?
MB:  Butterfly Park through Pomegranate Center

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Marcus’s story was featured in La Prensa San Diego, and the Filipino Press (page 15) and we’re honored to list him among our Pomegranate Fellows Alumni.