Women in Planning
A Day in the Life of...
Susan Claris is a Chartered Town Planner. She is an Associate Director at Arup working in the Transport Consulting team in London. She is also a Trustee at Living Streets – the UK charity for everyday walking. What does your typical working day look like? My working day starts with my walk to work. I live in Islington and work at Arup’s office in Fitzroy Street, just off Tottenham Court Road. It is a 3.5 mile walk and a lovely way to start my day – whatever the weather. There is always so much to look at – the changing of the seasons, seeing the same faces going to school or work, changes to buildings etc – and it gives me great thinking time, as well as good exercise.
My typical day at work is a blend of meetings, emails, phone calls etc on the various projects I am working on, together with the variety of issues that crop up in my role as staff manager for our Transport Consulting team of 80 or so people.
I try to move around the office as much as possible during my working day – face to face contact is so much better than messaging! - and I opt for walking meetings when I can. I am blessed with working in a lovely part of London so there are many good local routes for walking meetings. I also always try to make sure that I get out at lunchtime – even if it is just for 5 or 10 minutes.
After work can often be a work talk or an evening meeting, or an evening out to see a film or a play or listen to some music. After which it is normally the bus home as it is late. My day usually ends with some music – a better way to get to sleep than listening to the news – but the time it ends can be very variable!
How do you unwind on an evening or weekend? My best way of unwinding is to go for a walk – I find that just unravels any issues I have running around my head. For evenings and weekends in London, the challenge is always deciding what to do as there is so much choice. In my local area of Newington Green in London there is always a lot going on – my local pub has a fantastic folk music session every Thursday evening and there are some great independent cinemas close by. And we are lucky to have what I consider to be the best greengrocer in London – great news for a weekday vegan/weekend vegetarian like me. I also love visiting the Kent coast at weekends. The train trip from St Pancras to Folkestone is great – there is that moment when the train crosses the River Medway at Rochester and my whole body has a sigh of happiness. I find looking out to sea and watching the waves is a great way to unwind. What is your favourite/most rewarding project you have worked on? I started work 35 years ago – so it is hard to choose just one project! When I worked for the Department for Transport my favourite project was organising a motor show for people with disabilities – that was a lot of organisation and a lot of fun and it was very rewarding. In my 25 years with Arup there have been many projects that I have loved working on. To give two examples, in my early career I did a lot of parking studies. Whilst parking does not always sound the most interesting, it was a great opportunity to work with a local council to set objectives, develop measures, consult on these with the local community and then implement a scheme – and then to monitor it. So to see a project through from start to finish – and to get feedback from local residents on how a parking scheme had improved their quality of life. A more recent example is the work I did on Cities Alive: Towards a walking world (www.arup.com/walkingcities) – this report shines a light on the benefits of walkability and suggests ways in which areas can be made more walkable, illustrated with case studies. Arup is an employee-owned company and encourages initiatives such as this which is great. What are the best and worst bits about your job? The best parts are the opportunity to shape the built environment to create happy and healthier towns and cities and the opportunity to work with a great bunch of like-minded people. We are all enthusiasts who love what we are doing. I am always energised by the great quality graduates that we take on each year and the fresh thinking and optimism that they bring to the firm. I also love the way that the job has evolved over the 25 years I have been with Arup. When I joined the emphasis was more on traffic engineering and I have seen transport planning broaden as a discipline. I joined Arup with a combined degree in planning and anthropology and a Masters in transport planning – that was quite unusual at the time, whereas now we take on people from all sorts of academic backgrounds. The worst bits are probably how long it takes some change to happen. Transport schemes can take a very, very long time. But I am encouraged by the recent changes to introduce measures as trials as a way of introducing something more quickly and to enable people to see what the impact might be. An example is the change at Bank Junction in the City of London – a trial closure was implemented in May 2017 (prohibiting all vehicles other than buses and bicycles) and following this 75% of the public consultation responses supported or generally supported the scheme. It was voted to be made permanent in September 2018. I think that this is a great way of achieving community engagement. We need to move away from the “decide and defend” mode of consultation and instead think of engagement as market research to shape and improve what we do. Who has had the biggest influence on your career and why? I have been lucky to work with many good people over the years who have inspired and influenced me, so it is impossible to focus on one individual. For me, it is more down to the working culture. The reason that I have stayed with Arup for so long is because of the variety of the work and because I have always felt able to take the initiative and follow my passions. I have had great opportunities to work both in this country and abroad, so although I have been with the same employer for the last 25 years it does not feel like it has been the same job. I have worked on hundreds of projects over this time – some very short in duration, others can last for years and I like this mix of small and large projects. What is the best bit of advice you have received in your career? Never be afraid to ask what you think might be a stupid question – sometimes the simple and most basic questions can be the most revealing. What is your favourite place? Again, very hard to focus on just one…..! I love London and I think it is a city that is constantly improving and my home area of Newington Green has great transport links (particularly the Overground and the bus), is close to the centre of town but still has a community feel to it – and I am very happy to say I know all my neighbours. But I also love the peace of Sandgate and the joy of walking along the seafront and looking out to the ever-changing sea.