Erin Sutherland graduated with her urban studies degree from the College in 2014. Now, she lives in Miami, FL working as an Urban Planner for Akerman, LLP in their Land Use Law Division. As the youngest employee in the firm, Erin assists international and domestic clients with performing due diligence work on the most cutting edge development projects throughout South Florida.
Erin Sutherland ’14, Urban Studies
How did your urban studies classes and professors help prepare you for your career?
Cities go through this cycle of growth and decline, and Urban Planners need to anticipate these fluctuations. My professors encouraged us how to plan for the future, and respond dynamically, rather than react spontaneously and do more harm than good. Also, my professors had interesting careers before entering academia, and that helped relate theories and case studies to actual real-world application.
How did you learn about your position? What attracted you to your position?
While at CofC, I focused my classes, research and internships around Economic Development and I was determined to continue that momentum. I’m originally from Miami, and the city is exploding with growth and opportunity. I reached out to a few people I connected with in Downtown Miami, and asked if they could connect me with anyone in the Economic Development/Urban Planning field. I ended up interviewing with Akerman, LLP, and walked out of the interview thinking, “This is the company I want to work for, and the group of people I want to collaborate with.” I saw myself growing within the company, learning from the attorneys and fellow urban planners. What really stood out was that I could see the people within my practice teaching me, rather than telling me what to do. The following morning, the Land Use Law partner that I interviewed with offered me the job.
Can you describe a normal day in your position as an Urban Planner?
That’s the best, and most interesting part of my job. There is never a “normal” day because every project I work on is different, and requires different approaches. Urban planning is a very multidisciplinary field, like a massive puzzle, that involves politics, environmental concerns, real estate, engineering, the public sector, transportation, etc… and we’re hired to make sure all those pieces fit together before our client has the green light to start breaking ground. I’m constantly running around dropping off site plans for review at the City of Miami, preparing visuals and maps for clients, drafting preliminary due diligence memos about the property based on Miami’s Zoning Code and the restrictions of each urban area, or making sure the water infrastructure can support a thirty-story mixed-use building. Those are just a few pieces.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on some really interesting projects, like the Faena Forum, which is a mix of developments that will create a cultural district in Miami Beach, Historic Preservation in Little Havana, development near the Wynwood Art Walls, and revitalization projects in the Miami Design District. Each area of Miami has its own unique identity and sense of place, and that’s what makes what I do so exciting.
What advice would you give current students?
Get involved in what you are interested in, and find people who will take the time to mentor and guide you. I sought internships with the City of Charleston and a local non-profit called Enough Pie, and both people who I worked with took the time to involve me in really cool projects. I learned so much about Charleston through those experiences, and I felt like I was making positive impacts within the community. They encouraged me to be proud of my work, and to speak up when I had an interesting proposal for an economic development policy, or alternative way to finance a development project. I gained so much confidence in myself because my input was important to them and brought a new perspective to the conversation. To this day, I still consider them my mentors.