By the Sustainability Office
Ginger Cannon is no stranger to working in complex systems like the University of Utah. An experienced city planner, Cannon is the University of Utah’s first active transportation manager. Brought here through a unique partnership between Facilities Management, Administrative Services, Health Sciences, Student Affairs, Research Park and Land Administration and the Sustainability Office, Cannon will work to integrate active transportation into campus life.
Active transportation is self-propelled, human-powered transportation, such as walking, biking and skateboarding. Improving infrastructure for active transportation modes of travel to and on campus has the benefit of improving physical health, reducing road congestion and positively impacting air quality in Salt Lake City. Cannon’s goal is to help the U achieve its sustainable transportation goals, while increasing access to safe, convenient transportation options.
Cannon sat down with the Sustainability Office to talk about her new role and the ways in which she hopes to improve the active transportation experience for the U community.
Congratulations on your new position.
Thank you. Since my arrival, I’ve been impressed with how welcoming and helpful people have been. I look forward to meeting more students, staff and faculty and learning more about the university.
The active transportation manager is an innovative role involving partnership between multiple departments on campus. Which units have helped to make this position possible?
After hearing from students about the need for biking and walking improvements, a number of departments worked together on a strategy and funding mechanism for institutionalizing this work. These departments are Facilities Management, Administrative Services, Health Sciences, Student Affairs, Research Park Administration, and the Sustainability Office.
In creating the position, they agreed that there is wide consensus and support for a university-level manager charged with coordinating the U’s active transportation efforts. I happen to be that fortunate person and hope to exceed expectations in this new role.
It is exciting that so many departments are invested in sustainable and active transportation on campus. What are your future plans to improve campus mobility?
Active transportation is not new to the university; there are components in the Campus Master Plan, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, and the new Parking and Transportation Master Plan that are specific about goals, priority projects and related implementation phases. The university also supports innovative programs to increase student, faculty and staff transportation choices to and from campus.
When you look at these plans and the transition to more on-campus housing, there will be increased demand for a robust active transportation network that serves to attract and retain high-performing students who call this campus their home. I envision a campus that has leveraged transit, strategic redevelopment and the arts to become a connected and vibrant place that’s a magnet for future generations. I realize it will take years to achieve that vision, but every physical change is an opportunity to improve mobility and move the U toward its sustainability goals.
You recently moved to Utah from Minneapolis. What drew you to the University of Utah?
I was born and raised in Salt Lake and spent most of my teenage summers on campus at basketball camp (I can still hear Elaine Elliot’s voice yelling ‘run faster!’ when I enter the Huntsman Center). I wanted to work at the University of Utah for many reasons – the learning environment, the diverse culture and workstyles and a myriad of challenges for active transportation on and around campus.
It is an added bonus to live near my parents and siblings again (all U of U alumni) while enjoying an active commute to campus every day.
Your resume also includes an impressive array of experience developing long-range strategic plans and maintaining and building new public infrastructure. How will these experiences inform your approach to this new role?
Like many people, I have a diverse work history involving multiple professions – most of that work is related to urban design and planning, or what I like to call ‘the art of creating great spaces.’ I’m trained as a designer and horticulturist and most recently worked as a planner for the award-winning Minneapolis park system. It’s the people and placemaking of that city that taught me how connected active transportation is to my personal values regarding health, community and environmental sustainability.
Working out of the Sustainability Office is a great fit as I have led past projects that align with the department’s many functions, whether the topic is urban agriculture, energy efficiency, green building, waste management or public engagement. There are too many projects to list, but I am happy to have been involved in all of them, as each has contributed to a depth of experience that led me to this work opportunity.
When you’ve worked for a large city like Minneapolis, you really get a feel for how complex systems function and what you can do to best effect change in your role. I see the university campus as its own city with distinct boroughs. I am motivated by helping a project or initiative come to fruition, and then quantifying the positive impact of that effort on people’s lives. I can’t think of a better place to do that work than here at the U, where physical and programmatic transformations are shaping the campus experience now and into the future.
What do you find interesting or exciting about active transportation?
I observed Minneapolis change for the better due to a coalition of people who pushed for active transportation improvements, including the funding to maintain new facilities and expand biking and walking programs. My built environment provided a safe and enjoyable way to live life without a car, and getting places on my own two feet doubled for exercise, so I started to think there was something interesting about this active transportation world. You can’t observe people committed to biking and walking in Minnesota’s subzero temperatures and not wonder what kind of magic they are experiencing during their daily commute. Through this new role, I hope to champion and improve campus mobility, safety and access for all people who move through our shared spaces.