Project Cities Student Highlight: Keith Morphis

To highlight some of Project Cities’ star students, we interviewed Keith Morphus. Keith graduated from ASU in December 2020 with a Master’s in Urban and Environmental Planning. Keith has worked on three projects with Project Cities, covering various topics, including downtown revitalization and transit. With the Town of Clarkdale, Keith worked on the Downtown Revitalization Plan. With the City of Peoria, Keith worked on the P83 Urban Village Visioning project for his master’s culminating experience. The following dialogue and summary come from an interview with Keith about his experience in the Project Cities program.   Question: What were some of your key learning or takeaways from your experience with Project Cities, in terms of professional development or educational outcomes? Answer: "I like the overall framework of Project Cities because having worked before I went back to grad school, I kind of had a perspective of how the world worked, at least in the private sector. So, working with the cities, especially since I wanted to go into city planning at the county, I thought it would be great to work with people in the fields to kind of understand some of the problems that they run into because a lot of time in academics they’ll talk about things from a high level and won’t really talk about any of the roadblocks… So working as a private citizen with the Chief of Staff at the City of Peoria, it allows you to kind of get real world realities of what they’re dealing with.”   Question: Tell me a little bit about your background and why you’re so interested in working with cities. Answer: “From my perspective, my interests aren’t really coming up with broad theories, it’s more or less, working in the real laboratory, in the real world trying to implement policies and changes that will improve people’s lives.”   Question: Describe what you imagine will be your project impact in the upcoming 5-10 years. Answer: Keith imagines that in Clarkdale there will be revitalization of tourism, especially in the downtown area. He also imagines that in Peoria, old spaces like the old shopping mall will be revitalized and given a new purpose, “I think a lot of suburban communities don’t have a place, don’t really have an identify.”   Question: What are you passionate about? What motivates you to study? Answer: “The main reason I went back to school, I wasn’t excited about accounting, and I had noticed as I had been riding my bike, you couldn’t really ride your bike safely, anywhere you would be bumped by cars, and it made me realize you can’t get anywhere without a car…and it’s very stressful. But when you’re outside on the bike, or public transit, you can listen to your music, or you can do work emails, you can multitask. It kind of came from that but also looking at our land use policies, around housing and zoning, that makes it a very cold feel where you don’t know your if you’re considering quality of life and emotional and mental health, it might be better for people to be involved in their communities, and so that motivates me.”   Question: What does sustainability mean to you? Answer: Keith noted that in urban planning there is an emphasis on the environmental aspect of sustainability; however, with his background in finance he also has an economic viewpoint for sustainability, and he believes sustainability should be accessible to all people and designed to improve quality of life.   Question: In closing, do you have any parting advice for students that are new to the Project Cities program, or new to ASU in general? Answer: “I would say to make the most of your time. As a person that worked, I would joke when I was in the program that when I worked in accounting, I was interested in all these urban planning ideas and concepts, and I couldn’t find anyone to talk to, especially where I’m from the university doesn’t have an urban planning program. So, coming here you could just talk to your professors at any time, even afterward, you can still email them and talk to them, and being able to talk to other students who are interested in the same things, just being able to have conversations with people that understand the concepts and ideas you’re interested in, it’s engaging and exciting. So, make the most of it, because you don’t know where you’re going to end up afterwards.”   Project Cities is a member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N) and is administered by ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and the Sustainable Cities Network. Stay up to date with Project Cities and the Sustainable Cities Network by following us on social media or subscribing to our newsletter.