A Postcard From: Heather Liang ’18

Name: Heather Liang
Class Year: 2018
Major: Growth and Structure of Cities
Hometown: San Jose, Calif./Beijing, China

Internship Placement: Department of Planning and Development — Policy and Analysis Division (Philadelphia City Planning Commission), Mayor’s Internship Program
Job Title: Planning Intern
Location: Philadelphia

What’s happening at your internship?

My summer has been extremely fast-paced, and even more enriching. I am working at the Philadelphia City Planning Commission—newly integrated into the Department of Planning and Development—as my field placement in the Philadelphia Mayor’s Internship Program. My primary project at the Planning Commission is a parking inventory of Philadelphia’s University City District. I am working closely with the city’s transportation planner, David Kanthor, to produce a report that will benefit policymakers, business owners, developers and community members in and beyond UCD.

I have been analyzing data that the PCPC has collected about parking facilities, and gathered more data through both onsite and virtual surveys. Using geographic information system software ArcGIS and CycloMedia’s Globespotter, I am able to compile, analyze, and visually represent parking data in the context of UCD’s built environment and existing infrastructure. We will be able to use details about parking location, capacity, occupancy, and rates, along with parking and transportation policy of UCD institutions, to make recommendations for the future of parking in UCD. One of the big assignments that I tackled was a virtual survey of on-street parking capacity in University City. For the first time, PCPC can use detailed on-street data for more in-depth understanding and analysis of parking.

In addition to this project, I have also had the opportunity to attend meetings about a wide array of planning topics, such as Vision Zero traffic safety, downtown freight and delivery, bike trails, urban agriculture, and more!

As part of the Mayor’s Internship Program, the Mayor’s interns come together once a week to hear from panels of city employees in different department, attend leadership development trainings, and visit municipal operation facilities. These sessions have been fun and informative additions to my role at the Planning Commission.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I knew that I wanted to stay in Philadelphia this summer, and really familiarize myself with and take advantage of the vast urban laboratory that has been a short train-ride away for the past three years. I learned of the Mayor’s Internship Program through my major advisor, and saw it as a great opportunity to aim for a position with the Planning Commission. Not only would I get to work with a department that directly aligns with my interest in planning, but I would also have the unique opportunity to hear first-hand from many city employees and officials, and receive valuable HR training (and meet the mayor!).
Additionally, I wanted to apply for an internship in municipal government as a step toward determining my post-grad career direction. I have worked with a few different nonprofits, so I was interested in seeing what the public sector of the planning world was like, and how it differed from nonprofit work. Working with PCPC has definitely broadened my knowledge of the options ahead of me!

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

One of my favorite parts of this internship has been the opportunity to use ArcGIS to conduct spatial analyses and create maps. I have been eager to practice and learn more about ArcGIS since I took an Intro to GIS course last fall. Applying the skills that I had learned to this parking project, figuring out more operations, and seeing that manifest in real, useful maps was very rewarding. This process has also helped me identify more GIS-related skills that I want to learn! For example, the next project that I want to take on is learning Python coding for GIS operations.

What is something you have learned from your internship that you didn’t expect?

Throughout my studies, I have not spent a lot of time learning or thinking about transportation. That has changed now that I have spent the summer working with the city’s transportation planner, and done in-depth analyses about car-use and transportation alternatives. I had not realized that there was a world of information, research, and debate about parking! Fun fact: the ideal daytime parking occupancy is 85 percent! It hadn’t even crossed my mind that this is something that planners had put a number on!

Also, unrelated to parking, but a great Philadelphia fact that I learned: the William Penn statue that stands atop City Hall tower is 37 feet tall — making him the tallest statue on top of a building in the world. Also, the statue is hollow: the top of his hat has a latch that opens to the inside!

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