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Rick Abelson

Global Director, Urban Environments & Sports

Joined CH2M
May 2009

Rick is renowned for creating competitive, smart city solutions that are helping people achieve better lives around the world.

An original thinker and industry icon, he is breaking new ground in developing large scale, renewable energy-based master plans, ecological industrial parks, destination attractions, mixed-use town centers, urban infill and sustainable new communities – each time delivering a unique and culturally significant sense of place with a huge value proposition.

As Global Director for CH2M’s Urban Environments & Sports, Rick makes sure that our multidisciplinary competitive tools, systems, creative people and quality positively influence and inspire every community we serve. He also deeply values the role he plays in leading and mentoring our master planners and urban designers sharing, “I encourage our younger, most talented planners to take the reins on significant global projects, reassuring them there is a safety net for reaching out and testing their ideas. I love encouraging and guiding them through projects and watching them succeed. Their pride becomes my pride.”

Having planned an estimated USD$68 billion in new projects worldwide – as both a client and consultant – Rick brings a unique perspective to projects. He says master planning begins with understanding empathy and realizing that people generally strive to lead uncomplicated lives.

“I enjoy travelling and meeting with our clients in their home countries and living their lives for a while. I am passionate about perfecting how empathy works to solve complex issues, without bias.” Which is one reason why our clients love working with Rick.

But there are many others. To ensure we genuinely understand – and achieve – our clients' visions and dreams, Rick begins each project with a multi-day partnering workshop centered on ‘Postcards of the Future.’ After handing out specially designed postcards, he asks participants to write down their vision of the property 20 years from now. ‘What do you see?’ These aspirations become part of the overall master plan vision and form the basis for its guiding planning principles. Rick’s clients often say this solidified our partnership and was a favorite part of their overall experience.

It’s no wonder then that Rick’s projects have become the catalyst for civic revitalization the world over. In India, for example, when our client faced active opposition to relocating several village settlements, he convinced them to leave the settlements in place. This created the opportunity to cluster adjacent, new and better infill housing – strengthening community building, rather than destroying it. This was something that was unanticipated and changed the whole dynamic of the master plan strategy for an entire region.

When asked why he chose CH2M, he shares: “CH2M is unique because it truly empowers our regions to be accountable for their own success and thereby, the entire enterprise.” He appreciates the firm’s generally flat organizational structure ,which enables every person to call upon anyone for almost any matter. “Inquiry, curiosity and sharing is part of our DNA,” he reflects.

“But above all else, CH2M encourages us to be unafraid to think differently to steer us in new directions. This drives my passion to help master plan, engineer and build the world’s next great communities, not only for the 21st Century but the 22nd as well.”

Reflective of his commitment to leave the world a better place, Rick is an active member of several leading urban development organizations and frequently speaks and participates at national conferences. We hope you’ll check out his most recent discussion on the challenges and opportunities of urbanization, where he highlights key strategies for helping cities in developing countries strengthen governance, improve infrastructure and provide an equitable delivery of services to create “cities of opportunity.”