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Winnipeg Office Growing Rapidly: Introducing Jeff Palmer

Big things have been happening at our Winnipeg location. Over the last few months the team has nearly doubled in size with the addition of three talented new team members. The nimble crew of nine now has an even more broad range of skills to serve clients and specializes in two (often overlapping) streams: land use planning (traditional community planning), and active transportation. The team is currently busy responding to RFPs and doing business development, and this week will be speaking at the Manitoba Planning Conference, an event that draws a large crowd and helps familiarize elected representatives with planning policies and the principles of good land use planning.

We recently chatted with one of the new hires, Jeff Palmer. Jeff is a lifelong “Winnipegger”, husband, father of two, and a well-known and respected community planner. He recently ran for City Council and came in a close second. Jeff is passionate about revitalizing downtown areas and inner-city communities with an eye toward affordable housing and heritage building preservation. He has an Arts degree from the University of Manitoba (1993) and planning degrees from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (1997) and the University of Manitoba (2003). He launched his career working with the Forks Renewal Corporation, a former CN railyard brownfield in downtown Winnipeg that is now a heavily visited tourist attraction.

Before joining Urban, Jeff was a partner at Catapult Community Planning, a consulting firm involved in economic development and land use planning projects. He sits on a variety of boards and has volunteered for the Westminster Housing Society (a registered charity working in the West Broadway neighbourhood), the Performing Arts Lodge, Storefront Manitoba (an organization dedicated to advancing awareness and appreciation of architecture and the built environment) and is the Manitoba Director for the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP).

Cindy Hughes: Jeff, we feel lucky to have you join the team at Urban – why did you decide to come on board?

Jeff Palmer: I’ve been lucky to have an interesting career that’s allowed me to contribute to the betterment of our city and people, and I saw that Urban Systems has the same commitment to vibrant communities that I do. Our values and philosophy really lined up. I don’t rush into decisions, so I got to know people in this office over time and worked on a few projects with them. I’ve only been here for a month now but I think everything I hoped for is happening. I’m enjoying my colleagues, the office, and the opportunity to work on a broad range of interesting projects. This is a great team where everyone has a voice.

CH: We heard you ran for City Council recently. Can you talk a bit about that?

JP: That’s right, I ran for City Council last Fall. It was always in back of my mind to run one day, and last Fall I realized I had no reason not to do it—the kids were old enough, there was no incumbent—and I decided to go for it. I was the seventh person in the race. Here we have wards and my ward had 45,000 people in it so it’s really hard to knock on every door, but I tried. In the end, I finished in second place. It was very close and I was the underdog going in. I had no political experience but a good platform built on urban planning principles. We ran a shoestring campaign with lots of creativity. I don’t regret running one bit, it was a wonderful experience, but I am not sure I’d do it again any time soon (laughs).

CH: As a kid did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? What drew you to your career in planning?

JP: I’ve always been interested in cities. I built cities out of Lego as a kid. Do you remember that game? Start with the green sheet and build your city around it—one house, two houses, and before you know it you have your very own Lego city. I kept that interest in cities and after my Arts degree, I realized I wanted to do something more specialized. When I found out planning was a profession, I was interested. I found a school in Halifax that checked off all the boxes for me. That was the beginning of my relationship with the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP), where I’m now the Manitoba director. I love that planning is so broad and diverse. You can be at a planner’s breakfast seminar and talk to twenty different people doing twenty different things. What’s special is that intersection of policy, design and the environment. And I love how there is no ‘one planning solution’ that applies to everyone. Everything is tailored to each client; it’s a flexible environment to work in.

CH: You’ve talked before about your love of Winnipeg. What do you love about it? And since you grew up there, do you see many changes happening today?

JP: I’ve always thought of Winnipeg as a bit of an underdog and to me that’s a positive thing. I like being the underdog. There is so much energy and positive momentum in this community now. The economic opportunities are far more plentiful than when I first graduated. Young people are staying to make careers here instead of leaving and taking their talents elsewhere. This such a great place to raise a family and the lifestyle is unbeatable. We have a great standard of living, strong family ties and really special small town connections, alongside big city creative lifestyle options and cultural opportunities. The things you’d move away for before are all here now. Entrepreneurialism is on the rise and there’s a whole wave of professionals and other creatives starting their own businesses. There’s a real sense of confidence and a very strong feeling of community.

CH – When you’re not working, what can we find you doing?

FrostPalmer-family-postJP: My wife Carolyn and I love to go on family holidays with our two girls. Our in-laws have a cottage in Ontario where we spend time in the summer—we love that beach cottage community vibe. I make the family go on road trips and three of the four of us like it (laughs). We drive a 1985 VW Westfalia around and we’ve been all over the continent, to Halifax, Alaska, San Francisco and Quebec City for starters. Our kids are in French Immersion and I was pleasantly surprised in Quebec to hear them speaking fluently!

CH: Thanks Jeff, it’s great to have you on board!

Stay tuned for updates and intros to other new team members in Winnipeg. Learn more about the upcoming Manitoba Professional Planners Institue conference at www.mbplanningconference.com.

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