A Motivated Leader in Urban and Economic Development


Urban Planning: An Avenue for Economic Justice

Starting off his journey in South Dakota, with the desire to learn more about economic development, Zack Avre finds himself at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, interacting with local communities and learning about the issues urban areas face. Continuing his journey by departing from the Midwest to New York City has allowed Zack to further his interests in city planning and economic development by being exposed to a new urban environment. 

Midwestern Roots 

Raised in South Dakota in a working-class, single-parent household, Zack grew up with a personal interest in economic justice. Though Zack was originally drawn to the idea of attending a university far from his hometown, he ended up only four hours away at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. Zack was attracted to Macalester College because the institution demonstrated a deliberate focus on civic engagement, service learning, and supporting first-generation college students, like him. One of those supports included the Bonner Program. Bonner gave Zack the opportunity to not only attend college, but also to cultivate his own academic and service interests. Through his time as a Bonner, he was able to further develop his interest in economic equity.

Exposure to City Planning 


As a Bonner, Zack served with the Union Park District Council, a neighborhood association. As a Community Outreach Organizer, Zack interacted with members of the local Somali population, where he directly engaged with them around civic leadership and economic development initiatives. He later worked at an affordable housing developer in Minneapolis. Through these service experiences, he realized that the field of planning would allow him to bring all of his passions together. 

Because Macalester College does not have an undergraduate degree in City Planning, Zack majored in Geography, minored in Political Science, and did a concentration in Urban Studies. 

Being a Bonner allowed Zack to “have tangible experience in the field and really test all of the concepts [he] was learning in the classroom to [his] Bonner work.”

Moving to New York City

Due to his experiences in Urban Planning and in connection with his Bonner service at Macalester, Zack applied to the NYC Urban Fellows Program. He was offered a position with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)

“Being from the Midwest, NYCEDC took a risk in hiring me. Ultimately, I hired because of the prior experience I had working at the neighborhood level in community organizing and affordable housing positions I got through Bonner.”


Zack worked as a Project Manager, engaging with a handful of different projects, including protecting the Garment Manufacturing industry in NYC. He worked with neighborhoods in South Brooklyn from rising sea levels post-hurricane Sandy. For Zack, the highlights of this work were the day-to-day versatility and the significant emphasis on community development and interaction.

Next Steps

After three years at NYCEDC,  Zack has been accepted the Master of City Planning program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a focus on Economic Development. He plans to start his program in the fall of 2018. Zack is excited by the prospect of studying and pursuing a career focused on spreading economic opportunity. Though Zack’s commitment to economic justice has not wavered, he has changed his mindset about leaving the Midwest. Following his Master’s degree, he hopes to return to Minnesota and work in economic development in the Twin Cities.


Check out some of Zack’s Favorite Books:


Written by Aleah Qureshi, Bonner Alumna at Wofford College '18

Read his job profile here.

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