The word “planning” inspires dread in the hearts of some. Why waste time planning when you can just “do”? For others, they hear that word and receive blissful visions of well-crafted agendas. Shayla Beaco, the Executive Director of Build Mobile, delights not only in planning, but in providing Mobile’s neighborhoods the tools they need to see their communities reach their full potential.
Putting all the tools together
A city department developed in 2015, Build Mobile encapsulates all the divisions necessary to ensure the safety and quality of life for Mobilians as they navigate the city. Some of the department’s divisions include historical development, building inspections, and city planning and zoning. As Executive Director, Beaco manages these various divisions of the department.
“My goal each and every day is to make sure that all of the Build Mobile divisions align together in support of the city’s development process,” Beaco says, “We spend a great deal of time focused on creating innovative ways to improve overall efficiency. By integrating 21st century tools into our daily operations we have greatly enhanced development in the city of Mobile”.
Born and raised in Mobile, Beaco attended McGill-Toolen High School and graduated from Spring Hill College with a bachelor’s in political science. “I think the thing that got me really interested in government and city planning was based on my upbringing,” Beaco reminisces, “My dad has always been a government junkie, but specifically with local politics. He never approached it from a partisan perspective, it was really important for him to understand city politics”. Beaco says her father participated in neighborhood convenings and “barber-shop talk”, and politics were a popular topic at the dinner table. “It helped me to truly understand how important the voice of the community is for government operations.”
Beaco discovered city planning at an internship. “That for me was the perfect way to blend my interest in the government with my desire to serve the community, and to really focus on the neighborhood and how the city can work with its citizens”. Beaco went on to obtain her master’s in city planning at Auburn University, and joined Mobile’s long-term planning division after she graduated. In 2013, she joined Sandy Stimpson’s team as the Senior Director of Community Affairs. She was promoted to Senior Director of City Planning in 2016, and later that year was assigned her current position at Build Mobile.
Beaco believes city planning not only fits her interest, but her personality too. “I’m very task-oriented,” Beaco assesses, “What I’m passionate about is understanding the collective voice. You’re not gonna see me in isolation making decisions for people”. Through her work, Beaco wants to understand people, the problems that affect them, and build solutions to those problems together.
Adding a personal touch
Though Beaco expresses love and dedication for her job, she doesn’t deny it comes with its challenges. Beaco asserts that a personal touch is necessary to fully reach a citizen who is overwhelmed by information. “I had a citizen one time that was having lots of problems, and it was just easiest for me to get in my car one day and go to her.” Beaco says, “Now was I able to fix her problem right then and there? No, but I think she appreciated that someone thought enough to care, but I also took the time to explain the issue in terms she could understand and that she could digest”.
One of the biggest responsibilities Beaco has faced is building a comprehensive plan for the entire city. “Any good city operates from a comprehensive plan, and that’s your vision. Mobile unfortunately had not gone through that exercise in many years,” Beaco says, “I understood and knew why it was so important that we take the time to lay out our vision. And how you do that is not in a bubble, it’s through intense community conversations.” Beaco says the city convened with over 3,000 Mobilians discussing what their priorities were for their city. Beaco and her team took citizen concerns and developed the “Map for Mobile”, a long-term plan that serves as a guide and direction for city growth. The plan was adopted by the city in 2015, and a 5-year status report and action plan was recently published by Build Mobile.
Map for Mobile
Beaco cites the “Neighborhood Toolkit” as one of Map for Mobile’s parts she’s most excited about. “While the Map of Mobile is a city-wide plan, we recognize that we got to break that process down for smaller communities”. So Build Mobile crafted the Neighborhood Toolkit as a vital part of the Map for Mobile. The Toolkit will serve as a guide for how neighborhoods can convene community meetings, outline a plan for their community, and how to obtain assistance from the city to resolve the concerns in their plan.
Beaco believes it’s critical to provide neighborhoods with this template and assistance so they can use their own voice to communicate their goals for their communities. “Because at the end of the day, the last thing the city wants to do is to tell people what’s important to them–we want that information to come back to us,” Beaco affirmed, “ We feel like this helps to arm them with the resources that they need to be able to prioritize what’s important to them”.
Beaco’s favorite pastime is to spend hours in Langhan Park with her family. “It’s a large diamond in the rough, it has so much potential I think.” Her thirteen year old daughter favors the arts while her nine year old son is pursuing athletics, so Beaco says Langhan Park’s wide variety of activities is the perfect spot for them. When they aren’t at Langhan Park, the Beaco family likes to take road trips around the country and visit the cities the children are learning about in school.
Beaco firmly asserts that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support of family members, bosses, and colleagues. “It’s all about paying it forward, and looking for that next young woman out there who wants to do something great in this world, but needs that cheerleader to be able to tell her she can do it, “ Beaco says, “That’s how I see myself, that’s how I got to this point, and it’s important to me that we all take on that responsibility.