Where are you from, and why there?
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, and raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., by two academics who had jumped on the IT train while it was still a pile of parts and punch cards. Catholic school and college pulled me closer to the city and I discovered the many advantages of a diverse, world-class capital with small town neighborhoods.
Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?
Architecture, urban design, and, more essentially, behavioral environmental improvements that create opportunities for social learning and economic synergies. Working at the local level across the world to build physical context for the even exchange of ideas and culture that only come from personal interaction.
How did you get involved?
As a young adult in the 1980s, social justice as a school of thought was struggling in the face of an increasingly mobile and connected world. My world view turned from Deconstructivism to Post-structuralism to ‘let’s get something done and stop talking about abstractions.’ The need for practical substantive input into the world drew me to architecture and, eventually, to city planning.
What are the biggest challenges for the issue(s) today?
Ironically, common ground. Creating space to interact and experience “the other” requires the input and partial approval of a large number of competing stakeholders. With the reduction in trust of institutions we need to turn to leaders within each community to facilitate the conversation. Balancing the competition between the need for diversity and the desire for common ground manifests itself in property rights versus ‘NIMBYism’; school size versus business owners; black versus white; rich versus poor. The ability to return to a separate contained physical and intellectual space is the biggest impediment to creating diverse spaces.
Who are your most frequent allies in your field?
Mayors, County Commissioners, and inspired residents, plus a few smart designers. Professionals do not always make the best salespeople. Leadership on these issues needs to come from local residents and the elected officials or community leaders that they identify with. An awakened mayor is the best advocate for good development and has the most intimate understanding of how to bring the most stakeholders to the table to work out the details of a common space.
What drives you?
Progress and results. Experiencing the implementation of great shared spaces and meaningful social interaction in a space that I designed or advocated for is a truly wonderful feeling. Really, I do it all for selfish, feel-good endorphins.
What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?
A more inclusive built environment. One where you can’t turn your back on your neighbor and not know you did it. Well-designed infrastructure allows the best to rise; all who want to, to contribute; failures to fail; and the successful to remain conscious of their rewards.