UNO Alumna Named New Director of Planning for Jefferson Parish

University of New Orleans alumna Teresa "Terri" Wilkinson is the new planning director for Jefferson Parish.  With three UNO degrees under her belt, she says she is ready to take on the responsibility.

“I have the opportunity now to lead the planning initiatives for the parish that I grew up in,” said Wilkinson on Wednesday, the smile evident in her voice. “In fact, we’re in the fourth generation of our family living and working in the parish -- so I have a real commitment to our future.”

Wilkinson holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Studies, a master's degree in urban and regional planning and a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from UNO.  She has worked for Jefferson Parish's planning department since 1998 and for the past four years served as assistant planning director.

The suburban parish planning department is responsible for administering land use policies and development regulations for the parish's 130,000 land parcels. Wilkinson’s department determines zoning regulations and develops plans aimed to help create streets and sidewalks, housing and businesses.

“We play a role in developing and transferring recommendations to decisionmakers and elected officials on many actions related to land development,” said Wilkinson, who said her new role will provide her a direct hand in providing recommendations to policymakers.  “Having a greater influence on recommendations is something that I look forward to.”

With 435,000 residents, Jefferson Parish is one of the state’s largest parishes and still growing. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the growth in population and change exists alongside changing demographics that include an aging population.

In recent years, Wilkinson was part of a team that developed a strategic plan and new zoning for Fat City and continues to facilitate redevelopment efforts for this neighborhood. Wilkinson also supervised the Jefferson Parish Planning Department's 22-member staff and $1.6 million operating budget, among other responsibilities, according to her resume.

The new zoning and strategic plan for Fat City introduced New Urbanism to Jefferson Parish, marking a switch to urban-style planning for the traditionally suburban parish. New Urbanism, an urban design movement that started in the early 1980s, promotes communities where residents can walk to shopping, school and work.

As a result of the switch, Fat City will see wider sidewalks, more balconies and arcades, parking lots behind buildings, more green space and more mixed-use zoning, which allows for a combination of business and residential property.

Despite Wilkinson’s deep roots in the greater New Orleans area, her career includes post-graduate work in Boston, where she found herself working with colleagues who held advanced degrees from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University and other universities known for their first-rate academic programs.  Shortly after receiving her doctoral degree from UNO, she fielded offers from the private and public sectors, as well as academia, where she was offered tenured professor positions. Two years out of school, she said, she sat for a standardized exam offered by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and passed her on first try.  The standardized test has lower than a 60 percent pass rate.

“I found I was very competitive in terms of my education and my knowledge and my skills,” Wilkinson said Wednesday. “That was a satisfying realization. UNO prepared me well.”