Harriet Tregoning, who’s one of the smartest and most capable Smart Growth advocates in the United States, just took command of Washington, D.C.’s Office of Planning, among the most visible planning jobs in the country. And as the better half of the uniquely well-positioned leading couple of Smart Growth — her husband of 17 months is Geoffrey Anderson, the director of the EPA’s development, community and environment division — Harriet brings her brain and moxie to positioning the nation’s capital to prosper in the 21st century.
I first met Harriet in Toronto 10 years ago, during one of the early meetings of the Congress for the New Urbanism. She sat in the row ahead of me on a bus tour of Toronto’s New Urbanist developments. When I started talking about Michigan’s sprawling patterns of development in the late 1990s, she leaned around the seat and asked about the new group she’d heard about that had just gotten started in Michigan. “The Michigan Land Use Institute,” she said. “You’ve heard about them?”
I introduced myself as the Institute’s founder and executive director. She said she directed the EPA’s Smart Growth program, which started at the urging of Al Gore and Carol Browning, the EPA Administrator. We spent the next few hours engaged in animated conversation about Washington, the Clinton administration, and the potential for Smart Growth to become a new organizing principle for the nation’s economy. I found her much more knowledgeable than myself, so articulate, and possessing a surprising amount of idealism. She was fun to be around, and as I learned over the years Harriet just inspired confidence and attracted friends.
I’ve crossed Harriet’s path in many states since then, at Smart Growth national organizing meetings in San Francisco, Idaho, Chicago, and during a 3-day gathering in Seaside, Florida hosted by Maryland Governor Parris Glendening. I met with her and her staff at the EPA, where I also met Geoff, who was one of Harriet’s aides at the time. I learned last year that they’d wed in 2005 and I thought that makes sense. She’s a tiny woman, quick-witted and not all shy. He’s a big guy, earnest in his professional manner, committed to his division and its mission. He’s also a funny man who knows how to tell a joke, likes to laugh and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
Harriet’s big break came in 2000 when she was hired by Governor Glendening to serve as the Secretary of Planning. When Glendening’s two terms ended, Harriet joined the former governor in starting the Washington-based Governors’ Institute on Community Design and the Smart Growth Leadership Institute, where she served as executive director. She was awarded a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University in 2003 and 2004, where she studied real estate development, game theory, affordable housing, and drawing.
What’s cool about the Smart Growth movement is how some of its leading figures are moving into positions of prominence around the nation. Robert Liberty, who served as the executive director of 1000 Friends of Oregon, is now an elected member of the Portland Metro Council. David Cieslewicz, who helped found 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, is the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. Elaine Clegg, the co-director of Idaho Smart Growth, is the president of the Boise City Council. Here at home, Chris Bzdok, an environmental and land use attorney with Olson, Bzdok, and Howard, the Michigan Land Use Institute’s general counsel, is an elected member of the Traverse City city council.
Throughout her influential career Harriet has advocated for the public policy steps that are producing the American Mode Shift. Her definition of what that looks like in Washington, where she’s owned a home for nearly two decades, looks a lot like my own. The Washington Business Journal put it this way:
“As the District’s new director of the Office of Planning, Tregoning hopes to carry out her vision of D.C. as a transit-based, walkable community with plenty of retail. A place, she says, where middle-income people can afford not only to live — but also to have enough spending money left over every month to prime the city’s economy. ‘The District needs to reframe itself as a sustainable, green city,’ she says. ‘We need to have the kind of growth and development in our city and region that benefits the environment, enhances our economy, makes it stronger and more robust and engages more of our city in the economy and in civic life. We want to be a place where quality of life and community is so attractive that everybody wants to be here.'”