Staff Spotlight: Sean Northup

MPO News
| Wednesday, January 08 | 11:12AM

Sean Northup has thought in “map view” his entire life—from the early years moving around the country with his family to the formative years spent mastering SimCity. It’s little surprise that the boy who built towns out of boxes, blocks and Legos, and drew maps of cities with his friends would be become an urban planner. Here’s some Q&A so you can get to know him better.


We have a golden retriever named Molly. She’s the perfect dog: We did Frisbee and agility with her when she was younger, now she loves to swim and chase the kids.


I do lots of kid stuff, like Cub Scouts, ballet, soccer, swimming and Little League, plus volunteering at the school, Junior Achievement, and the YMCA.

I like to play sports whenever I can, mostly basketball, racquetball, golf, and softball, or just mess around at the playground with the kids and the dog. I also like to play chess, yo-yo, and play strategic board games.

Heroes growing up?

Steve Yzerman, who was captain of the Red Wings for like 20 years while they were winning Cups, bringing in all the best players, and NEVER missing the playoffs. Dude was a leader among legends, and just so clutch in the big moments. Everyone wanted to play with him.

Favorite place to visit or vacation?

My grandparents (and now my parents) have a cottage on a lake in Northern Michigan. We have lots of family within a few hours and still spend a good bit of time up there in the summer. I learned to ski there, both snow and water, and we would swim, tube, play board games, have bonfires, tons of home improvement projects. Still my favorite place to visit, now my kids’ favorite too.

Most underappreciated aspect of planning?

Planning itself is underappreciated, but I guess the most underappreciated aspect is how much it has to be the art of the possible. Most planners go to school for four or six years to study cities, then read a mountain of literature on best practices every day of their careers. Then they take an oath to support the public good, and make recommendations based on that mountain of context. Then we take all of that knowledge, and we start whittling away at it with remonstrators, citizen boards and elected officials who often have competing interests and vastly different foundations for forming their opinions. To get a good plan written, approved, and implemented is a monumental task – negotiating all this is both an underappreciated skill, and an explanation of why so many plans either don’t get built or totally underwhelm.

Most important recent trend in planning?

The renewed focus on equity is essential and long overdue. Pretty much every national conversation about cities gets back to housing affordability, wage growth, equal access to opportunity, and the identification of legacy institutional barriers. If we start to chip away at these issues, we’re really on the right track.

If you could improve one aspect of Central Indiana infrastructure, what would you do?

I would electrify the whole system to improve efficiency, reduce emissions, and focus climate change solutions on power generation sources. Can I use my wand to create an adequate renewable energy source instead?

If you could change one thing about the way Indianapolis has grown over the years, what would it be?

I’d keep the interurban network, and stop the highways before they destroyed neighborhoods in the urban core.