UE Co-Founder Begins New Adventure, Studio Builds Upon Legacy

November 3, 2021   /   Studio News

In 2015, Katie Coyne joined Asakura Robinson as an ambitious intern bringing dedication, critical thinking and a holistic approach to the work that she was eager to be a part of. Now, six years later, she is leaving the firm as a Principal and Urban Ecology studio lead to take those same ambitions to her next exciting opportunity as the City of Austin’s Environmental Officer and Assistant Director of the Watershed Protection Department over Planning, Monitoring, and Compliance branch of divisions!

“My time at Asakura Robinson has been formative for me as a practitioner,” Katie said. “I was given trust and agency to guide an innovative vision for myself and a practice at the firm that has received local and national recognition. I could not have achieved all I have in the past six and a half years without the collaborative and supportive environment cultivated by leaders and staff alike at Asakura Robinson.”

Through her time at AR, Katie distinguished herself as an innovative and visionary leader in the fields of urban ecology, resilience, sustainability, and social equity. Her work spans planning and design disciplines and incorporates resilient design, landscape ecology, health, climate science, systems thinking, equity-driven process, and other bodies of knowledge with project work on parks, conservation areas, urban landscapes, neighborhood and small area plans, and green infrastructure design. Katie’s combination of education and experience in ecology, planning, and design translates to a deep understanding of how economic, cultural, social, and ecological goals must be balanced across scales for a resilient and equitable future.

Katie has been a part of many impactful, transdisciplinary projects – the recent Precinct 2 Parks and Trails Plan, Vision Galveston, Green Galveston, the Healthy Places Toolkit, and the Pasadena Healthy Parks Plan, to name a few. She also championed the Montrose Livable Centers Study, which foregrounded the role of the LGBTQIA+ community in the history and future of this transformative Houston neighborhood.

Katie worked closely with Managing Principal Alex Miller on several award-winning projects including Resilient Houston, a plan that aimed to address tough urban problems at the intersection of flooding, housing, quality of life, and climate trauma.

“Katie is truly a visionary,” Alex said. “She understands that the connections between economic, ecological, and social forces shape the resilience of a community – and her work digs deeply into what this means for residents, especially residents and communities who have historically been underserved.”

Katie has without a doubt helped shape the growth of Asakura Robinson in a positive direction during her time here.

“As a Founding Principal of the firm where Katie has been employed for over 6 years, I witnessed first-hand her professional excellence within the design and planning fields as well as her tireless advocacy for equality, equity and fairness for all facets of diversity, inclusive of women, minorities and all sexual orientations, through her professional work and beyond,” Margaret Robinson said.

Her passion is not only recognized within the firm, but also applauded by her field as a whole. In 2019, Katie won the Austin Under 40 Award in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction category; was recognized by the Austin Business Journal as one of the top 25 women leaders in Austin; and, in 2020 won the Central Texas Planner of the Year Award. Katie’s service to the community has included positions as Co-Chair of Austin’s Climate Equity Plan, Vice Chair on both the City of Austin Environmental Commission and Joint Sustainability Committee, Board of Directors for The Trail Foundation and Austin Outside, and formerly, Board Member with Equality Texas.

The record of Katie’s accomplishments demonstrates her leadership abilities to deliver projects and initiatives with substantial, real-world benefits. She already collaborates with many City of Austin staff and community members and possesses a clear vision to lead the Department’s strategic planning and regulatory activities. We look forward to seeing everything Katie can do to impact the City and its residents!

As Katie departs, several AR colleagues who have worked with her throughout the years will be leading the Urban Ecology charge going forward.

Kari Spiegelhalter, a Senior Urban Ecological Designer in our Austin office, has a passion for enhancing urban ecosystems, raising public health awareness, and promoting environmental justice. She worked alongside Katie on impactful projects such as Austin FC Sustainable Design and Healthy Places Toolkit and looks forward to new opportunities through future studio projects.

“I am so excited to build upon the strong foundation Katie has built for our Urban Ecology Studio and to help the firm grow in its mission to create places that support both people and the environment,” Kari said.

Michelle Bright, SITES AP is a Senior Designer with a 15-year background in urban conservation. She’s seen firsthand how her projects can shape communities and become lasting legacies of health and wellbeing in our cities. Michelle has been integral in our work on projects such as Green Galveston, Houston Conservation Moonshot, and the Precinct 2 Parks and Trails Plan.

“I have admired Katie’s passion and work for years now, and it has been such a pleasure to work with her at AR. She will do so much good for Austin,” Michelle said. “Our studio benefited greatly from her presence, and we will continue to provide our clients and our colleagues with top value, ensuring communities, ecosystems, individuals, and economies are resilient for years to come.”

Daví de la Cruz, Associate Designer and Planner, is working with Michelle on Precinct 2, as well as the Behavioral Study for Raincatcher Pilot Program. His passion centers on public engagement and successful partnerships between multiple sectors from grassroots groups to private developers.

“It’s been a pleasure working alongside and absorbing so much from Katie in my time at AR,” Daví said. “I appreciate her role in establishing the Urban Ecology Studio ethic; advancing radical empathy in not only our work with communities, whether they are people or the flora and fauna around us, or in our internal teams through the mentorship provided. So grateful to have crossed paths and look forward to crossing paths in future multi-disciplinary work.”


Please reach out to Kari, Michelle, or Daví to learn more about AR’s Urban Ecology Studio and discover ways we can work together to enhance our environment.

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