Every day in our communities, whether on our way to work, headed to school or out and about for fun, we pass through a network of roads and a built urban environment which has become the fabric defining New Jersey as a whole. In a state as densely populated as NJ, proper urban planning and development is paramount to the success of our communities, its people and what the future may hold. Still, we see communities across the entirety of the state that put necessary planning on the back burner. As our population grows—which it continues to do—thoughtful urban planning becomes even more crucial. New Jersey is growing, but the borders aren’t; in fact, a conscious effort has been made to reduce the impacts of modern society on the environment so, we should plan our cities in a way that takes that and much more into account.
Ideal planning includes safe and complete streets, walkways and bike paths, abundant transit, accessibility, interwoven with nature and parks and, of course, community involvement. In New Jersey, there is perhaps not an urban planner more committed to these ideas than Alexander Dougherty—a rising star in the field.
At just 34, Dougherty strongly supports what he refers to as “people-centered planning.” He emphasizes walkability, safe and complete streets, and community involvement in improving city layouts throughout his work as a professional planner. “It’s about reimagining the already existing communities.” His dedication to bettering communities is shown in Dover, NJ—a municipality that he has spearheaded recent development efforts in with improved public layouts, long term planning partnership with the OPA (Office of Planning Advocacy) and a community-driven hand-painted mural, which was unveiled earlier this year.
New Jersey Planning Officials
For his efforts in Dover, Dougherty was recognized by the New Jersey Planning Officials (NJPO). NJPO annually recognizes Planning Achievements encompassing various projects that showcase sound planning principles. In Addition, it acknowledges committed individuals whose planning efforts significantly enhance their community’s quality of life.
The awards ceremony took place in late September and Dougherty was officially awarded the Achievement in Planning Award by NJPO. For a planner working in a community that does not have a formal planning department and as young as him, this is a tremendously impressive achievement.
At the event, Dougherty was introduced by Jason Kasler. “I first met Alex when he was presenting in front of one of my boards,” says Kasler, “and I was impressed with his knowledge, his presentation and his advocacy for his client.” Kasler goes on to explain that Dougherty not only jumped at the opportunity to become involved with NJPO to teach, but that as far as nominations go, he swept the field. “We had over 20 nominations for our 10 awardees and half of them were for Alex… clearly he has impressed a lot more people than just me… it’s one thing to be a consultant for a town, it’s another when you become part of the community,” said Kasler before introducing Dougherty to the crowd.
While accepting the award, Dougherty revealed that much of his work for the community is done on his own time. “A lot of what I’m doing for Dover is taking place on my own time. Dover’s got a lot of great bones there, so there’s a lot that can be done,” he said. “I encourage you to go to Dover, there’s a lot going on and a lot of potential.”
Dougherty plans to continue his important work in Dover and with the reelection of former Mayor, James P. Dodd—a strong supporter of Dougherty’s efforts in the town—he has ambitious plans for 2024 and beyond. Dougherty stressed to me that every decision made in Dover will be for the full benefit of the community. Remember, it’s “people-centered planning,” and nothing else. This means improving transit accessibility, adding bike racks and bike lanes, redrawing public spaces, addressing environmental injustices, securing employment opportunities, reviewing the town’s zoning—using the land in a way that makes sense and adds to the vibrancy of the small compact town.
“Dover, once again, is on the forefront of redevelopment and Alex Dougherty is an extremely talented and passionate planner with tremendous potential that will lead the new growth of Dover,” says Mayor Dodd. “Our town has a lot to offer and there’s much more to this community that has been overlooked.”
Dougherty’s work in the private sector, through his very own Dougherty Planning & Development (DPD) also doesn’t go unnoticed. Through DPD, Dougherty is able to spread his expertise in land use and redevelopment as a city planner and consultant.
Because of his understanding of land use and case law, as Kasler mentioned during the award ceremony, Dougherty was also asked by the NJPO to teach community members sitting on various land use boards across the state the intricacies of the Municipal Land Use Law, how it works and what to look for when reviewing land use applications presented before their communities.. The five-hour mandatory course, which Dougherty volunteered his time to, covered zoning, engineering, variances and other land use-related topics commonly discussed at these hearings.
League of Municipalities
Dougherty has also made strides as a New Jersey urban planner through his work as a panelist at the League of Municipalities. Earlier this November, he spoke at the League, adding his name to the list as one of the youngest to do so. He was the only planner out of the three speakers focused on discussing the very important topic of resolution and decisions.
It’s clear Dougherty has certainly been blazing a trail across the state as an expert in the field of city planning and land use case law as his fellow panelists Amanda Wolfe of Post Polak and Clifford Gibbons—both land-use attorneys—are well known and highly respected in their field.
When talking with Dougherty, he explained to me that the idea of teaching and speaking as a professional planner never occurred to him as a possibility—he was unaware that the knowledge he possesses is so few and far between. For those who are fortunate enough to spend time around Dougherty, it becomes apparent he knows a great deal and properly more than he leads on; he is extremely passionate about the line of work he does and is determined to continue to learn and do more.
“That’s what makes the work so scarce in New Jersey. There’s not a lot of planners out here and there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Now Dougherty is eager to get into the world of education—specifically as the American Planning Association’s (APA-NJ) newly-appointed Professional Development Officer. The APA-NJ is a group that helps make communities better in New Jersey. They work to improve community planning, give power to citizens, and offer tools and help to handle the changes and growth happening in the area—something that Dougherty has already committed an entire career to. It’s a perfect fit.
This position centers around remaining current and operating alongside the best practices and trends. Additionally, he will lead the effort to support the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification maintenance. Dougherty’s ability to dissect planning policy and translate it into real-world results makes him an ideal candidate for this position—even at his young age. It is yet another example of his aptitude in the field. Dougherty understands the subject matter and its many corridors can be dry and layered in legal jargon that leads to confusion. However, his ability to break policy down into simpler terms and apply that to real-world results continues to see success.
Alexander Dougherty: More Than Just a Planner
At just 34, Alexander Dougherty’s dedication to walkability, safe streets, and community engagement has transformed Dover, NJ—and there’s still more in the works. His prestigious Achievement in Planning Award from the NJ Planning Officials recognizes his impact in a community without a formal planning department. Dougherty’s personal investment in Dover, supported by Mayor James P. Dodd, foresees ambitious plans centered on community benefit.
“Not only is he motivated but he’s also knowledgeable, creative, and extremely ambitious, and he understands the needs of our community,” says Dodd of Dougherty. “Working together and sharing the same vision of growth and success, I believe there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Through Dougherty Planning & Development, he empowers local communities statewide in land use and redevelopment while advising his clients on best practices for land use applications that bring more to a community besides a square box. His focus on revitalizing distressed areas aligns with his belief in people-centered cities, evident in his commitment to support systems vital for community prosperity and the planning profession. As a League of Municipalities panelist, Dougherty’s willingness to mentor young planners showcases his dedication to fortifying the profession, bridging the scarcity of planners in New Jersey, and propelling urban planning forward through his expertise and passion.
Alexander Dougherty is not just a planner, but a catalyst for change—a visionary reshaping New Jersey’s urban landscape, one community at a time, with a steadfast commitment to a future centered on its people. Dougherty once mentioned to me some of the best projects for a community are those not involving physical and permanent development but rather projects that reshape the public realm that get the community thinking and excited about the possibilities of what their built environment could be.
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.