Mentor Match with Kurt Christiansen, FAICP

At the upcoming National Planning Conference you’ll have an opportunity to connect with some of the most accomplished professionals through mentoring.

The deadline to apply for the Mentor Match program is April 3, 2017. Notification of matches will happen on April 17, 2017.

Kurt Christiansen, FAICP

Kurt Christiansen is the economic and community development director for the City of Azusa, California. He has been an active member of APA, serving as president of the APA California Chapter, vice chair of the Chapter Presidents Council, and a member of the APA Governance and Membership Committees.

Christiansen is a member of the California State University, Northridge, Urban Planning and Studies Department Alumni Council. He earned his bachelor's degree from California State University, Northridge, and master's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. He currently serves on the APA Board as the Director Elected from Region VI.

As a Fellow of AICP, he has gained one of the highest honors that AICP bestows upon a member.

Sterling credentials and accolades are definitely things that you want to see when choosing a mentor, but how do you know if you’re going to connect on a level that leads to trust? We asked Kurt some questions that are meant to get to more of a personal measure and a peek into what really makes him tick.

What is your most marked characteristic?


If I am working on a project, I want to make sure that I am doing the best job I possibly can. When working with others, I want to make sure that everyone is on the same page. When working with a new planner I want them to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it a certain way.

What do you appreciate most in your colleagues/employees?

Honesty and creativity.

I value people who are honest and open. It is important that a person feels confident to communicate issues or concerns. I would rather you talk to me early than to wait until it is too late to easily resolve the issue.

As a Department Director, I tend to surround myself with creative people who think outside of the box. There are many ways to accomplish tasks and I expect people to try different methods. Innovation is an important part of planning profession

What are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about traveling. Seeing new places, experiencing different cultures, and expanding my world view are very important part of my life. I believe that it is important to be constantly learning new things, and traveling to new places is how I accomplish this end. The planning nerd in me takes pictures of architecture, signs, adaptive reuse of buildings, transportation modes, art in public places, historic places, and the list goes on and on ...

Which living or dead person do you most admire?

I admire people who have a sense of adventure, an innovative spirit, and a compassion for others. Sally Ride would be a person who has these traits. As the first American female astronaut, she got to view the earth from space, something very few people have done. She had a passion for teaching young children about space and science, especially young girls, sharing her love of adventure and exploration.

Another person that I admire is Walt Disney. His innovation and creativity in family entertainment is unmatched. You can learn many planning lessons by observing how the Disney Theme Parks operate, whether it is the movement of people, the pedestrian experience walking around the park, or even how the cast members interact with the public.

What faults do you have the most tolerance for?

A messy office is something that I can tolerate because I can totally relate. I have always had a bit of clutter in my office. It is not a sign of being disorganized or not being productive. I believe this shows passion and creativity.

I also think we all have a little fear and anxiety related to our jobs, especially a first job or a new job. This is completely natural. A true leader and mentor will understand these feelings. Seek out others to talk to, ask questions, and be social, in the end we are all in this together. Embrace the new and the unknown. Also remember, those around you want to help you succeed. Your success is the group’s success.

What advice do you have for aspiring planners?

Be like a sponge, absorb as much as you can, from as many professionals as you can. In the workplace, do not limit yourself to just planners, listen and learn from all of your colleagues. Listen to what people say and ask a lot of questions.

I also tell new planners to invest in their careers. Join and get involved in the American Planning Association. APA networking events will sometimes lead to finding a mentor or even lead to a new job. APA is filled with people who will be willing to be a mentor. I also encourage all new planners to become AICP. This credential shows employers your commitment to the profession.

What’s your motto?

As a former Boy Scout who earned the rank of Eagle Scout, I live by the motto, “Be Prepared.” You can accomplish anything if you are prepared for the task.

Another motto I try to live by is “Pay it Forward.” One of the values my parents instilled in me, from a very early age, was the idea of service and giving back. I do this by volunteering my time for worthwhile projects and organizations in hopes of making things better for future generations.

Mentors, someone in your life has mentored you, now it is your turn to mentor the future generation.

Top image: Thinkstock illustration.

March 6, 2017

By Kurt Christiansen, FAICP