Daniel Nairn, Regional Planner, Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission
Where were you born (and raised, if different)?
I was born in the Albany, New York, area, but spent the majority of my childhood in Delaware.
When and why did you move to the Charlottesville/Albemarle area?
My wife and I moved to Charlottesville in 2008. I was enrolled in the Urban and Environmental Planning program at University of Virginia, and she was a Spanish teacher in the Charlottesville city schools.
What neighborhood do you live in now?
We live in Woolen Mills. When we first moved to Charlottesville, we explored the city on bikes and were quickly captivated by this neighborhood, with its parks, historic character, and wide variety of homes. We jumped at the chance to live there in 2010, and have since found many kind and generous people here. I’ve never lived in a neighborhood with such a distinct identity.
Family (spouse, kids, etc.)?
There’s four of us. My wife and I have two daughters, one almost three and the other almost one week old. The extended family, unfortunately, is far away in different directions.
What is your alma mater and when did you graduate?
I graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in philosophy/economics, and later went on for my MA in planning at UVa. In between, I graduated with an MA in theology from Gordon-Conwell, a seminary in the Boston area.
What were you doing before you came to work for TJPDC?
I started working at TJPDC as an intern, while still a student, then moved into a full-time role upon graduation.
Your job title is Regional Planner – what, in your own words, would you say you do?
Most of my work is project-based, so responsibilities change from month to month, but it’s typically in the realm of housing and community development. For example, right now I’m working on a grant application to address substandard housing conditions in a floodplain in the Town of Columbia. I’m also working on a 5-year plan used to guide some federal housing and community development funds allocated to our region, known as the Consolidated Plan. These two projects are good bookend representations my roles, one very local and specific proposal and the other a truly regional plan with a longer time horizon.
What is the best part of your job? The most difficult part?
I really enjoy sifting through data for our region and making it meaningful in some way, either through displaying spatial relationships with maps or attempting to quantify changes that are underway. I know that some people are a little suspicious of statistics, but there is really no other way to understand anything at the scale of a metropolitan region, and I believe one of the primary responsibilities of planners is to accurately handle data to adequately equip our decision-makers.
The most difficult part of my job is learning the administrative procedures and rules for various federal and state programs, especially when multiple sets of rules are at play in a single project. In recent years, some real improvements have been made in breaking down departmental “silos,” but these initiatives have yet to work their way fully into day-to-day operations.
How does your job most directly impact the average person?
Most of my work is supportive and long-range by nature, so it can be difficult to tease apart a direct causal relationship to a particular outcome. For example, I helped collect data on land use and housing conditions to equip staff in Charlottesville for their comprehensive planning process. This information allows the city to use their resources more efficiently. I’ve helped with similar tasks in the more rural counties. I help to organize a number of training events and create a forum for regional dialogue. PDCs in Virginia have little legislative authority, but we offer technical assistance to localities and foster collaboration as needed.
What is the most interesting project or work experience that you’ve had while with the county?
Drafting an Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice last year was an interesting experience. We often hear about housing affordability problems in our community, and it’s a particularly challenging task to pinpoint what the various causes for this may be, in order to help identify appropriate solutions.
What is a little-known fact about you?
I met my wife in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. We were both organizing and conducting church services in the various campgrounds around the park.
What do you do outside of work hours – hobbies, etc.?
I’m pretty involved in my church, Portico Church. I haven’t pursued any hobbies long enough to be good at anything, but right now I’m teaching myself woodworking. I enjoy finding used things and trying to refurbish them. I used to do a fair amount of backpacking and canoeing, but that’s on hiatus for a little while. I now mostly walk around the neighborhood, which is still nice.