URP Alumni Spotlight: Josh Vertalka
Where has your MSU degree taken you?
Where did your MSU Urban & Regional Planning degree take you?
It's taken me everywhere - both professionally and personally. My first stop with my degree was to get another degree. I really couldn't help myself with this one as I was just too passionate and curious about my urban planning focus. So, I decided to pursue a Doctorate in Geography with a focus on Urban Planning and Technology.
My second stop took me to the high deserts of Albuquerque in the Southwest. Here, I connected with a machine learning and data science startup as their Chief Data Scientist. I used my planning degree, data, and technology background to help organizations tackle some hard problems. Some projects included using machine learning to better understand the urban patterns and impacts of social determinants of health in cities across the US. Other projects involved implementing statistical approaches to identify optimal locations for electrical vehicle charging stations. Even using advanced natural language processing to summarize verbose natural disaster reports into more digestible and actionable snippets of text for local communities. My role also allowed me to actively help build the organization into an Inc. 500 company in 2019 and one of the most innovative companies by Fast Company.
My third stop brought me back home to Michigan where I found an exciting team of data scientists at Accident Fund Group in Lansing. Here we are using a spectrum of data science approaches and machine learning techniques to better understand insurance risk. You might be thinking that doesn't sound like urban planning, but urban planning is heavily involved! Insurance risk varies across a country, county, or even city. Having an understanding of traffic patterns, land use, and urban economics helps me dissect risk more carefully and helps make our customers safer.
My latest stop is starting my own business called Lucid Spaces. Our focus is on helping organizations understand, implement, research, and scale data science, machine learning, and AI so that they can better predict the next disease outbreak, respond quicker to disasters, maximize their return on investments, and ultimately make better organizational decisions - truly making the art of the possible into an impactful reality. We do this for all sorts of different domains some including healthcare, automotive, local governments, and state governments. You can check out more here: https://lucidspaces.io/
What is your career highlight?
I've enjoyed many great moments in my career, but I think the best moments come when I share my experiences and knowledge with the world. So, whether its presenting at a conference, at a tech council, or even in front of the National Academy of Engineers
I find these moments to be filled with imagination and inspiration that often lead to collaboration.
What does the future of the planning profession hold?
I never pretend to be prophet but if I had to guess I'd suspect that the planning professional will continue to further utilize technology, machine learning - including AI, and data in a way that help relieve some of the major stressors that currently plague many of our cities. I also think that the once forgotten urban cores will see a continued revitalization as people begin to focus on the city as a venue for community development. Therefore, I think we'll see more outside activism in the urban planning process.