Introducing our Capacity Building Practice Area Leader: Maurie Smith
Maurie Smith is a West Philly native with deep roots in the neighborhood where U3 Advisors got its start. She uses that perspective to help clients think deeply about the long-lasting impact of their work.
WHAT WAS YOUR PATH TO U3 ADVISORS?
I am proud of my roots – I grew up in Cedar Park where I currently live with my family. My sons are fifth-generation West Philadelphians. During my grandfather’s time, the idea of the University City District and its coalition of anchor institutions was just being formed. He was one of the founding members of Cedar Park Neighbors and worked strategically with, and sometimes against, the institutions to unlock funding for Cedar Park. Cedar Park, and now University City, is part of my history and part of my DNA. It wasn’t until later after I graduated from college, that I heard about urban planning and got reintroduced to my neighborhood through that lens. A lot of my work in grad school revolved around anchor institutions’ impact on planning and development where I took both a community and an institutional lens.
I ended up graduating from Penn and worked in community planning and project management in Camden, New Jersey. George and Omar were my consultants on the Downtown Institutional Plan. When U3 started to expand, they reached out and said they needed a project manager and I realized “I’ve been thinking about anchor-base work for a long time. This really energizes me – so, I’m in!”
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT WEST PHILLY?
Besides family, it’s about walkability. I’m lucky that my house is a 25-minute walk from the office. For others in our company, it’s about being able to bike or take transit everywhere. I think the sustainable, place-based focus of our work is born out in how we live our lives. My commute is part of my daily exercise – it’s part of my recharge.
WHAT ABOUT THE PRACTICE OF CITY PLANNING FIRST APPEALED TO YOU?
For me, it’s the confluence of history and planning and how that impacts the built environment. My undergraduate degree was very conceptual – I studied economics – so I was constantly dealing with hypotheticals. With city planning, there were very tangible examples right outside the classroom that spoke to the legacy of investment or disinvestment in neighborhoods. You could walk through a neighborhood, and you’d be able to see it and experience it. I wanted to have a real and meaningful impact in the places I cared about.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE WHAT U3 ADVISORS DOES TO A YOUNG PROFESSIONAL LOOKING TO ENTER THE FIELD?
When I interview candidates, I tell them that they need a blend of hard skills – technical and analytical skills – and softer skills like strategic thinking and storytelling to push decision-makers to be more impactful in their communities. Marrying data and analytics with visuals and storytelling – that’s what convinces leaders to act. That’s what gets a project implemented or a program launched as opposed to being a report on a shelf.