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An Honored Career of Asking the Right Questions


Alumnus, Mart J. Black, FAICP, BA in Sociology ’69, ranks among the elite in his field of urban planning and recommends the career to those who want to participate in making communities vibrant and healthy.

Mart BlackMart J. Black, FAICP, BA in Sociology ’69, asks questions for a living. Being strategically inquisitive has been part of his role as a long-range planner of cities and communities.

“Community members tend to think in terms of ‘here and now’ or ‘how things are,’ but I stand up in front of public meetings with as many as 500 attendees and get them to explore how things could be,” Black said. “That’s how to come up with a successful, comprehensive, multi-decades plan for how a particular community should grow.”

Black excels at what he does. He recently received the highest honor bestowed upon professional planners: He was welcomed into the elite 2020 College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the professional institute of the American Planning Association.

UST Class Changed His Life

As Black reflected on how his professional journey began, he said, “The field caught my attention during an Urban Sociology course at the University of St. Thomas. Professor Wilma Goetz, who has since passed on, talked about the concentric circle theory and other ideas about how cities grew, and I was captivated. That class changed my life.”

Black was attracted to the science that could allow communities to grow without nightmares reported on the nightly news — flooding, disadvantaged neighborhoods, lack of housing, not enough affordable education, traffic congestion and so forth.

After graduation and a stint in the Air Force, Black earned a master’s in urban studies from the University of New Orleans in ’78. His knowledge and skills took him to positions within the private and public sectors.

Expert Planners Are Learners Forever 

At present, he focuses his expertise on rebuilding the subsidence-plagued coast of Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana, where storms in 2006 flooded 11,000 homes. Accepting the challenging job to develop strategies for resilience and sustainability meant expanding his knowledge again.

Black said, “The principles and processes for developing their 50-year plan were in my toolkit, but I had to learn about local factors, including the absence of freshwater and sediment that historically formed this area; geological contributors, such as fault lines; relative sea-level rise; and even hurricanes.”

A Career Path Full of Opportunities

He recommends his exciting field to people who want to participate in keeping communities vibrant and healthy.

“I see job openings all over the country,” Black asserted. “And planners can also specialize in niches like transportation, traffic, land use, housing, a variety of areas. It’s a great career path, one I continue to enjoy.”

Urban planners typically need to have a master’s degree. UST can provide interested students with the associated undergraduate programs, including economics and political science.