When someone pictures an urban planner, they may have a certain image of that planner in their mind; studious engineer, someone meticulously dressed, with glasses, their brow furrowed as they construct the open spaces we live in.

This description doesn’t necessarily fit with every urban planner however, as evidenced by Steven Snell — the project manager of Calgary’s BiodiverCity project.

Snell has a master’s degree in urban planning from Oxford University, and a background in writing fiction novels, which often come close to being considered autobiographical. He says his writing is just as important to him as his urban planning work.

Snell uses his urban planning skills to help maintain a natural setting in our urban centers. He also aims to make environmental leadership more accessible and easier to understand.

Making Calgary more environmentally friendly

Snell’s work as project manager of Calgary’s BiodiverCity project, — an initiative to help Calgary become more environmentally friendly — highlights how he combines his skills as a writer to make the path towards understanding ecology and our place in nature more accessible.

This is further demonstrated by the 50-page report he authored that details the plans and goals of the project.

“With the BiodiverCity policy, it was initially going to be a pretty dry policy, but the city was wanting a bit more of a story [that tells us] about biodiversity in Calgary and make[s] it resonate with us,” explains Snell who has been working on the BiodiverCity project since 2015.

He continues, “I thought this may be a bit of an opportunity to use some of my writing skills and provide a bit of a preface to the strategy.”

Anna Blaxley, a former co-worker of Snell’s, recognizes how his writing lends itself to his urban planning work.

Snell attempts to help citizens understand ecological work which is similar to trying to be an engaging novelist, she says.

“I think when you’re writing — especially from a place of wanting to engage citizens and as someone who wants to get their work out there and be read by as many people as possible — you want to make the writing itself engaging as well,” Blaxley says. “So, I think that’s kind of a nice parallel and they both kind of play into each other.”

Despite this attempt to help people better understand the way we exist within our environment, this is not Snell’s reasoning for working as an urban planner.

Combining expertise 

Over the years, Snell has moved across many fields — from areas as diverse as piloting to communications.

Moving around in such a way is, for Snell, a quest of sorts: a desire for intellectual stimulation, a way to challenge Snell’s mind and broaden his understanding.

This desire for expanding his knowledge is what led him to his current occupation, he says.

Snell thought that the concepts and readings surrounding urban planning were,“Quite challenging and stimulating, and this was similar to what I did in school.”

Unlike many other people entering school, Snell was not necessarily intent on finding a dream job.

To him, university was an opportunity to stimulate his mind and challenge himself. It also gave him the opportunity to travel and live in interesting places such as Italy and the United Kingdom.

Snell’s time at Oxford University was also the source for his love of writing.

Snell says he befriended some students while attending Oxford University who helped him grow his “cultural appreciation and understanding.”

Staying true to his love for writing

Despite his obvious passion for writing and some success, Snell says the process of getting his work to reach a broader audience has been a grueling one.

These processes — sending manuscripts to publishing houses and self-promoting himself through social media — have not been easy tasks.

“That sort of approach of trying to get novels published broke me,” Snell says. “But I still love writing.”

Despite the struggles he has faced, Snell says he has seen success with several of his books which have been published and made available on Amazon.

Snell’s long-time friend, Andrew O’Donnell says he recognizes the impact the struggle has had on Snell, but also notes that Snell has the power to push through it and still write for his own enjoyment.

“I think he’s able to differentiate between the business side and the more artistic side. I don’t think he ever wavers,” O’Donnell says regarding Snell’s artistic integrity. “He’s not going to go write something simply because he wants to try to make it sellable.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Snell wouldn’t appreciate his novels getting noticed more.

“I don’t write to be a millionaire, but to have a million readers I would write again.”

Editor: Holly Maller | hmaller@cjournal.ca

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