Metropolitan Planning Council welcomes new director of marketing and communications, director of transportation and research associate - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Metropolitan Planning Council welcomes new director of marketing and communications, director of transportation and research associate


Two long-time staff members promoted from director to vice president

Marisa Novara

Josh Ellis

Emily Blum

Audrey Wennink

Shehara Waas

(Chicago) …  The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC)—a nonprofit that helps governments, businesses and communities develop solutions to meet metropolitan Chicago's pressing needs, so that everyone who lives and works here can thrive—is thrilled to announce three additions to our team: a director of marketing and communications; director of transportation; and research associate. The organization is also proud to have promoted two directors to the position of vice president.

Emily Blum, Audrey Wennink and Shehara Waas bring years of experience in their respective fields—marketing, transportation planning and research—to the organization’s more than 80-year history advocating for solutions to tough issues like segregation, transportation infrastructure and water supply and stormwater management.

Josh Ellis and Marisa Novara have been architects of MPC’s growth and deepened impact, dedicated to a stronger Chicagoland of the future. Ellis helped launch Chicago’s experiment with bus rapid transit, guided MPC’s leadership on water and stormwater solutions and most recently directed the Great Rivers Chicago process to transform Chicago’s more than 150 miles of riverfront. Novara has led MPC initiatives on housing and community development, including technical assistance to attract balanced development near transit, and is currently overseeing the Cost of Segregation study, to determine what it costs everyone in the region to live so separately from one another.

“The Metropolitan Planning Council has a long history of spurring creative and practical solutions to tackle our region’s most pressing challenges and then sharing those lessons with others,” said MPC President MarySue Barrett. “Strong communications, data-driven research and analysis and creative policy development are all part of making that happen efficiently and effectively.”

Emily Blum joined MPC in January 2017 as director of marketing and communications. She brings 20 years of experience developing and implementing communications strategies around complex civic, social and political issues. Most recently, Blum served as director of marketing and communications at the Chicago Humanities Festival, where she led the organization through a rebrand to expand institutional visibility and introduced new audience engagement tools including post-event discussions.

Prior to this she worked as Senior Director of Communications for Heartland Alliance, a $90 million organization, and for Valerie Denney Communications, where she served as a consultant for a wide range of clients, including the Joyce Foundation, Chicago Public Schools, Citizens Utility Board and dozens of members of Congress.

Blum is an honors history graduate of Kenyon College and lives in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago.

“MPC’s work focuses on telling a cohesive story about the issues facing our region and others,” said Blum. “I’m excited about making innovative solutions a reality by raising the awareness and profile of MPC’s agenda.”

Audrey Wennink joins MPC in February 2017. She brings years of experience in transportation performance measures, safety and freight improvement strategy to the organization. Prior to MPC, Wennink provided policy and planning solutions and objective analysis for Cambridge Systematics. She has spent the last dozen years working on transportation policy and planning projects in the Chicago region, for the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and throughout the country.

Her recent local work includes multiple freight projects for the Chicago Regional Efficiency and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) along with transit planning for the South Lakefront Corridor Transit Study with the Chicago Dept. of Transportation.

Wennink holds a bachelor’s degree with a double major in English and Spanish from Colby College and a master’s of urban planning and policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is active with the Women’s Transportation Seminar.

“MPC is known for developing creative, practical solutions to the Chicago region’s most pressing challenges,” said Wennink. “Transportation is a big part of that. I’m excited to add my expertise to an 82-year-old organization that brings the right people to the table to get things done.”

Shehara Waas joined MPC in November 2016 and brings her penchant for data analysis, research and writing to her role as a research associate. In collaboration with MPC Director of Research and Evaluation Alden Loury, Waas aids staff with data and analysis needs.

Previously, Waas served as a member of the AmeriCorps National Civilian and Community Corps, working as a consultant for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office of Environmental and Historic Preservation. Waas earned her bachelor’s in environmental science from the University of Michigan and a master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy in 2016.

“I’m looking forward to making the case for solutions through compelling research that demonstrates both the interconnectedness of our challenges and the best path for the future,” said Waas.

For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area’s toughest planning and development challenges.

For more information, please contact MPC Director of Marketing and Communications Emily Blum at 312.863.6018 or Photos are available upon request.


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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