We are pleased to announce the opening of a new Toole Design office in Kansas City. Toole Design has had a longstanding presence in the Midwest, with offices in Madison, Minneapolis, and Columbus. Now we are excited to further that presence by putting down roots in Kansas City.
We have established ourselves in Kansas City over the past 6 years, with Tammy Sufi leading the charge on the ground and bringing in expert staff members from Toole Design offices throughout the country. In that time, we’ve been honored to win major projects including the Kansas DOT Active Transportation Plan and the Kansas City Area Regional Wayfinding Plan. With a growing portfolio of large- and small-scale projects in the area—and a growing staff of planners and engineers—the time is right to make it official with a Kansas City office.
Our dedicated Kansas City team will be able to serve the region’s communities even better, leveraging a deep familiarity with the area’s history, needs, and challenges—alongside the deep level of technical expertise and quality control that are the hallmarks of every Toole Design office. We look forward to helping communities of all sizes throughout the Kansas City region and in nearby states to plan and build better transportation networks.
To learn more about the new office and how we’re poised to serve the Kansas City area better than ever, read the interview below with Kansas City Office Director Tammy Sufi.
WHERE WERE YOU PRIOR TO KANSAS CITY? WHAT LED TO THE CREATION OF THE new OFFICE?
I was Jennifer Toole’s third hire, way back in 2002 when I was living in Washington, DC, before we had even become Toole Design. I was relatively new in my career at that point, but I had been inspired to go to planning school after working with families who had limited transportation options. I was thrilled to join a firm focused on bicycle and pedestrian planning and increasing options for people of all backgrounds. I got to lead some really significant projects for the company in the early days, like the Maryland Safe Routes to School (SRTS) pilot program (before SRTS was a national program), as well as bike plans for Seattle and DC.
My long journey with Toole Design has included periods of part-time work, a sabbatical to care for my family, and, in 2016, a move from DC to Kansas City. For 5 years, I was the sole staff member on the ground in Kansas City, but I was able to leverage our talented team members in Minneapolis, Madison, and other offices to win some exciting projects.
Why is now the right time for a kansas city office?
It has always been our goal to create an office here. Since I moved here, we’ve talked about it off and on. But now we have a team of local staff and we have built solid relationships with clients in the region. As an office with dedicated staff, we’ll be able to serve more clients, work on more projects, and bring the quality and expertise of Toole Design to more communities. And more staff means a broader array of skill sets, so we can work on more types of projects and deliver more specialized service.
what kansas city area projects are you proudest of so far?
I’ve been proud that we’ve been able to work on projects at both the statewide level and on the ground at the community level. We developed a statewide active transportation plan for Kansas that is really innovative, includes strategic and realistic recommendations at the policy level, and allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of transportation issues across state.
At the opposite extreme, we’re wrapping up work on the Smithville Transportation Master Plan and Complete Streets Guidelines for a community in Missouri with fewer than 12,000 people. It’s a wonderful small town on a beautiful lake, and they really want to retain their small-town character while growing in a smart way. I think we’ve helped them a lot in shaping and articulating what they want their transportation system to look like. They don’t want to take the approach many others have taken of just building more roads to address growth. They want to emphasize walking and biking alongside driving and have a say in what their roadways look and feel like for all users. Our team has learned a lot from these projects and appreciates the opportunity to work on both extremes.
who is the kansas city team?
Sarah Davis is a planner who recently graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She brings a ton of enthusiasm. She’s knowledgeable about the local area as a longtime resident who grew up in Lee’s Summit, MO. Sarah interned with Urban Three and Strong Towns, where she developed skills in research and data analysis and an understanding of the unique dynamics of small-town planning. She’s a great writer, a great researcher, and just brings a great energy. I’m excited about the qualifications she brings to the table and especially her interest in serving smaller communities in the region.
Mitch Coffman has worked in the Wichita region for a long time. Before joining Toole Design, he worked for an engineering firm where he was one of the only planners, so he’s a jack of all trades with experience in all types of different projects. He’s a great project manager, and he has a really good understanding of how strong partnerships can help give clients what they need. Mitch also brings a ton of energy and enthusiasm, and he has worked with clients of all sizes. Mitch is planning to move back to his home state of Minnesota, but he will continue to serve Toole Design clients throughout Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. We’ve only been colleagues for a short time, but I feel like we’ve worked together for years.
Fernando Oliveira will be joining the Kansas City team next month. He has been with Toole Design for several years already, working with the Minneapolis office. As a dually trained “plangineer” he is eager to work with a broad range of clients and learn all different types of things. I’ve worked closely with Fernando for the past 2 years, and he’s one of the hardest working people I’ve met. He’s also great at all the technical things that I don’t do (CAD, GIS, etc). I can’t wait for him to join us in Kansas City.
And me! As for my strengths, I pride myself on my ability to understand the big picture on a project and anticipate and work quickly to address problems so they don’t get in the way of larger project goals. I’ve worked closely with a variety of different stakeholders, and I make a point to really listen to what they’re all saying. I love hearing different perspectives and working to help people understand each other. A lot of times, there’s not as much disagreement as people think. It’s just a matter of finding the common ground.
I’m so excited about our new Kansas City team—and I’ve also been around the company long enough to easily leverage our companywide staff and resources to make our work as strong as possible.
what would you like the kansas city office to be known for?
It’s pretty basic: I want to be known for delivering outstanding client service and developing bold but realistic plans for communities.
We truly listen to our clients to understand their needs and understand the communities we’re planning and designing for. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each community—big or small—has a different set of needs, so we never want to get too caught up in what worked elsewhere.
In addition to the fact that we work with communities of all sizes, I’d also like our office to be known for working on lots of different types of projects, including both planning and final design work. And whatever the community, whatever the type of project, our attention to detail results in a top notch product—we want to get it right for the community we’re working with.
how would you characterize the cities and towns in the area?
There are only a handful of large cities or even medium-sized cities in this region. So it’s important for us to bring our understanding of small-town planning and how it’s different in terms of resources, needs, and ability to implement. We want to help them as much as we can.
I’ve also been witnessing exciting growth in a number of communities shifting to building facilities for people who walk, bike, or use transit and including different voices in the process. This part of the country has come a long way in its support for active transportation. With our pedestrian, bicycle, and access to transit expertise, I think we can continue to raise the bar for that sort of work in the Kansas City area. Toole Design and other firms in the area are doing great work, and we can all push each other along to develop strong active transportation networks across this region. I’m so excited to lead the way on that.
what do you love about kansas city? how do you get around?
Kansas City has a really strong history of architecture and urban planning rooted in the City Beautiful movement, and there are lots of walkable neighborhoods and parks to explore. I really love to walk and bike, which is why I do what I do. And while the Midwest’s lack of density often results in driving, you can also see how much people enjoy walking and biking on a daily basis, and there are many neighborhoods that are very supportive of that type of activity.
I love taking morning walks to my neighborhood coffee shop, where everybody knows me. It’s a small thing, but I’m also really excited about a coffee cup holder for my bike so now I can bike there too! I also loved biking with my kids to school when they were younger. It was so much more fun than driving.
Being able to do those kinds of things is fun and really important to me. Even before I became a transportation planner, I remember getting my first “grown-up” bike right after college, and I got on the bike and was so struck by how differently I saw my community when I was traveling at that pace. There’s a certain rhythm to being on a bike and the things you see and notice at that speed. It’s a whole different way to get to know a place. I love that wherever I go, but it’s particularly special in one’s own community.