Bettering communities with geography

Liz Moeller, Staff Writer

Through the presentation of “Community Planning and Economic Development,” Jana Punelli lectured to students about how she put her 2015 geography degree to work as a planner for Nebraska cities.

“I do a lot of different types of planning projects,” Punelli said.

She explained that her job is to inspect properties such as abandoned locations to see if they can be repaired or destroyed, and also to aid towns and cities to getting funds that they need for community projects such as swimming pools. She started her work as an assistant community planner, but was promoted within a couple weeks.

“It’s not boring, I get to travel three or four times a week. There isn’t a set definition to how to do things,” Punelli explained to the students. “Some weeks are busy with five things due at the end of the week, and some weeks it feels like I’m doing nothing.”

Punelli described that for most of her job, she drives around to spot things that are against the law, such as cars without license plates being in yards and even said that she had seen port-a-potties. This is known as nuisance abatement. Mostly she finds lots with uncontrollable weeds, grass, trees and bushes, while others may also have broken windows and doors. Sheds and other outside buildings also may be in disrepair.

Finding these items isn’t the only part of her job, it may just be the easiest compared to what she also does. She also approaches the owners of the properties to tell them that they need to clean their property or else action will be taken.

“That’s why I get yelled at, because people don’t understand what’s wrong with it, and no one wants someone touching their property.”

Some of the most interesting properties have been ones that are abandoned. Punelli explained that one of her worst houses was one that looked pleasant on the outside, only to find a cat and bird skeleton, bullets and corn cobs spread all about the back of the house. Other times, every window will be broken out, and she may find up to four bongs and heaps of snack food.

It isn’t all digging through abandoned buildings, though. She also assists in mapping for communities, to find where the best area would be for a pool, a grocery store or other community needs. When a town doesn’t have enough funding, she will help find alternative sources.

A question asked during the lecture is if the workers such as Punelli have to assist with emergency management.

“Most districts have their own management and we come in to assist the businesses to get back on their feet,” Punelli said.

One of her goals is to create a vacancy registry to find lots that no one is living on, being that much easier for cities and citizens to narrow down what can be placed where, replacing ancient broken down houses with new stores or housing to influence the community. Punelli ensures that she does her best to make sure that every town she assists looks the best it can be to give Nebraska cities a good image to all.