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Wednesday, November 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 20.0° F  Fog/Mist
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New Madison planning head Katherine Cornwell moves to town in Gypsy Farm Bus
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Cornwell moves in front of a bus she's driving to Madison this week.
Cornwell moves in front of a bus she's driving to Madison this week.

Katherine Cornwell was busy packing her beehives in Denver on Tuesday afternoon. Due to start her job as director of the city's planning division on June 10, Cornwell first had a bit of an adventure to take on.

Cornwell is moving to Madison in an old school bus dubbed the Gypsy Farm Bus. She used the bus in Denver as a mobile farmers' market, an extension of her urban farming efforts there. Now she's bringing it to Madison.

"It's my Jack Kerouac moment," she says of the trip, which she is making alone. If her offbeat mode of travel is any indication, Cornwell should be right at home in Madison.

The city's passion for local farming is one of the things that attracted Cornwell to the job. Along with her farming efforts with Postage Stamp Farm Collective and Sunnyside Urban Farm, Cornwell is also a beekeeper. Although she laments that eight of her nine hives died over the winter, Cornwell says she plans on continuing the hobby when she settles into her new home in the Marquette neighborhood.

Her philosophy for urban planning is to admit that "cities are messy places," filled with conflict and competing interests.

"One of the most important things is not to shy away from conflict," she says.

In Denver, Cornwell worked as a senior and principal planner, writing a variety of plans, including Blueprint Denver. She says her experience drafting development plans for Denver's busy Colfax transit corridor will help her in balancing the clashing interests over development projects.

When the various sides get bogged down in turf battles, "it is toxic to a planning process," she says. "You've got to find out where the compromises are. You can't do that if you avoid conflict."

Urban planning generally involves taking a long view. Does Cornwell get frustrated with slow progress? "Of course."

But she adds that successful urban planning usually prompts some immediate progress, even though the plans aren't fully realized overnight.

Neighborhoods along Denver's Colfax corridor struggled for 15 years to come up with a development plan. But when they finally adopted something, about seven years ago, there were results.

"To notice [significant] change takes a long period of time, but as long as you've got stuff out of the gate, that's a sign of a successful planning process," Cornwell says. "If a plan sits on the shelf, the plan isn't good, or there's something wrong with the implementation."

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