Erum Afsar

Top 40 Under 40 2012

Photography Pedersen

Age: 39

Job Title: Transportation Engineer, City of Edmonton

Why She’s Top 40: She’s reengineering Edmonton from the ground up, planning the LRT expansion with an ear to communities.

Key To Success¬†“If I feel like something needs to be changed, I hate being the person saying, ‘Well, someone needs to look at that.'”

The job title on Erum Afsar’s office door says “Builder, Creator, Tree Shaker.” Being in charge of how a city’s public transit should operate, the “builder” and “creator” parts are obvious enough. But, for her, “tree shaker” is how she thrives.

“I question things and try to stir up trouble in the best way possible,” says Afsar. For example, she stirred things up to successfully set up daycare facilities for herself and other civic employees in City Hall and Century Place, and, eventually, wants the services for every parent employed by the City of Edmonton.

But sometimes it’s Afsar’s tree that’s being shaken.

When the community expressed concerns about a plan for a future LRT station in the Quarters area, Afsar, as part of the downtown LRT planning team, invited community members to place miniature tracks on a map of the area to show how it would better serve them. “It was like puzzle pieces,” she says. “In the end, we wound up with an even better plan than we had before.”

Whether it’s the Chinese community or other young professionals, community is her bottom line. After moving to Edmonton from Calgary two years ago, she joined the City’s under-40s taskforce, NextGen, working in a strategy and operations role, not just to serve her professional career but to encourage her peers to do the same. Afsar recognizes that “going to council meetings isn’t sexy” for youth, but is confident that she can communicate to them the obvious benefits of community investment.

She’s become so involved with Edmonton because of the immediate bond she felt when she arrived. When you’re an outsider in other cities, she says, “people keep you at arms’ length and you have to earn your way in. But in Edmonton, when you come here with a great idea, you’re immediately embraced.”

When Afsar pictures the city in 10 years, she sees a lot of potential; it will become a more vibrant metropolis. But, more than anything, she’s excited to see the end result of ideas that launched off her desk. “One day,” she says, “I’ll be riding on the LRT with my kids telling them how mommy helped build this.”

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