Karin Murphy only became an urban planner because of some philosophical advice.
As a graduate student at the University of Florida, she was earning good grades in her pursuit of a philosophy degree. It came as a shock, then, when she received some harsh feedback from her professor, noted philosopher R.M. Hare.
“He said, ‘You will never be a great philosopher,’” Murphy said. “’But you would be a great urban planner.’”
Murphy heeded that advice, taking a new path that eventually led to her directing Sarasota’s new Urban Design Studio. In a sense, she’s returning to finish what she started, helping the city institute an urbanist, form-based zoning code.
Murphy, who moved to Sarasota when she was 15, first began working for the city as a planner in 1999. At that time, much of the city’s plans and design standards had not been codified. Murphy and other members of the city’s planning department told City Manager David Sollenberger that they needed to rewrite the code.
Sollenberger listened, bringing in the consulting firm Duany Plater-Zyberk to help produce the city’s downtown master plan. Murphy stayed through the initial implementation of that plan, and racked up 60-hour workweeks in the process. The schedule, combined with a desire to spend more time with her three children, made a 2006 private sector job offer too attractive to turn down.
Over the next seven years, Murphy eventually started her own planning firm and helped write a form-based code for downtown Bradenton. She kept her eye on Sarasota as it struggled to make any headway on a citywide form-based code. With all but one of her children off to college, Murphy decided to return to the city and help rewrite the zoning regulations.
Some people might be reluctant to return to such a hectic job. Murphy’s workload may be even more significant now, with principal urban designer Andrew Georgiadis as her only partner in the Urban Design Studio. Still, she said she feels compelled to lend her hand when she thinks it’s needed.
“I think it’s not enough for me just to be an urbanist; I really believe in helping communities to achieve that,” Murphy said. “Especially when it’s a place that you were raised, and you see that they’re having these difficult struggles and you have a skillset that you think would help.”
Murphy said there are a number of factors that contribute to her urbanist philosophy: she’s a people person; she loves cities; her grandmother never owned a car. Ultimately, she thinks walkable communities are healthy communities with good civic engagement, all of which adds to a city’s quality of life.
“It’s important to me that I leave those kinds of things behind for the next generation,” Murphy said. “I think sometimes our generation did some damage; I’d like to do my part to heal that fabric in cities.”
Murphy thrives off the varied workload, and says the experience has been fun so far. The design studio has been open for just more than two months, but for now, she’s up to the challenges.
“Some people can only do one thing, and they get really frustrated if you get interrupted at that one thing,” Murphy said. “We’re keeping all these balls in the air at one time and still knowing, at some point, we have to stop and get it all done into a work product.”