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March is Women’s History Month. Throughout the month we’ll be profiling D.C. based women you should know. Amy Morse, the founder of Ideas Club, is heading the project. Today she profiles Harriet Tregoning. -ed.

You might pass Harriet while biking to work in the morning. If you do, you should give her a high five. This pioneering lady pedals daily, and has enabled D.C.’s bike culture to flourish. As Director of the Office of Planning, Harriet rewrote the city’s zoning code for the first time in 50 years, secured Capital Bikeshare in D.C. and led the multi-agency team that introduced the Sustainable DC Plan (wtf, hands-down one of the most comprehensive indicator systems designed to measure and track progress – great for those of us who breathe air, drink water, and envision a sustainable future). Harriet earned the title “futurist-in-chief” for a reason. Before leaving D.C. government for a post in the Obama Administration, she had coffee with Scott Kratz – picture a less insidious scene with the Godfather and consigliore. She pitched him on leading an initiative for an elevated parkway in D.C. (think of the High Line or these other elevated parkways) to connect the communities on either side of the Anacostia. She made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and today Scott, after over 400 community meetings, is pioneering the 11th Street Bridge Park project (City Lab’s telling of the magical moment here).

She has an actionable eye for detail. How well trafficked are the retail spaces? Do mixed development spaces allow for more human interaction and economic activity? How can we enhance community, quality of place and prepare for climate change? Her informed questions, dynamic leadership, and perseverance have protected and enhanced the bikeability and walkability of D.C., and now inform development policies around the country.

Harriet fell in love with D.C. as a young woman, and after brief affairs with Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Singapore, Cambridge, Baltimore, she returned to the District. Her educational background as an engineer, combined with her personal passion for clean air and safe water for communities, led her to the EPA. However, she believed that EPA’s work to curb pollution was undercut by the prevalence of vehicles, the paving of watersheds, and the abandonment of former industrial sites in cities. Harriet grew up in the burbs and lamented the hundreds of square miles converted from farms and forests, to interstates and arterials, to strip malls and parking lots. The development was literally syphoning the life, vitality, economy (and tax base) out of cities – leaving them hollowed out and struggling. She was granted a very unique opportunity from EPA to build a diverse team and start her “Smart Growth” concept in Maryland. Before serving in D.C. government, she was Maryland’s Secretary of Planning as well as the nation’s first state-level Cabinet Secretary for Smart Growth.

As a member of the Obama Administration, she advises cities around the country at HUD’s Community Planning and Development Office. She also contributes to Greater Greater Washington’s blog on urban planning.

She loves her work and is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people and the communities that they love.

Women Who Inspire Harriet

Rachel Carson was a scientist and writer whose public service career was spent primarily in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She wrote pamphlets on conservation and natural resources and edited scientific articles, but in her free time she wrote beautiful and lyric articles and books, including a a pair of books that many consider a sort of biography of the ocean, The Sea Around Us, which was followed by The Edge of the Sea. These books made Carson famous as a naturalist and popular science writer.

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She wrote several other works designed to teach people about the miraculous beauty of the living world, including The Sense of Wonder, (1956) and Our Ever-Changing Shore (1957), but she also became increasingly disturbed by the proliferation of synthetic chemical and pesticide use after World War II. Carson sharply changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of pesticide misuse. In her most famous work, Silent Spring (1962), she challenged the complacency and practice of agricultural scientists and the indifference of the government and called for a change in the way our species viewed the natural world.

Jane Jacobs, who was a keen observer of cities and city neighborhoods, was also an activist and a writer who condemned the practice of urban renewal and the bulldozing of vital neighborhoods in the name of “blight removal,” in favor of community-based approaches to planning. Her seminal work was published in 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and it became one of the most influential books about the inner workings of cities and the secret vitality of even the poorest neighborhoods. She made her home first in NYC’s Greenwich Village, and later in Toronto. Her efforts to stop downtown expressways and protect local neighborhoods inspired community-based advocacy and generations of urbanists, planners and activists.

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Jacobs had no professional training in the field of city planning, but relied instead on her close observations and common sense to understand why certain places worked, and what can be done to make things better in places that did not. For decades now, she has given those fascinated with cities a magic urban decoder ring that has helped make sense of both cities and suburbs.

Learn More

Greater Greater Washington – local blog which informs, explains, offers opportunities to get more involved. If you hooked, you can write, edit, or otherwise volunteer for the organization. Great for recent grads looking to make a start in planning, design, development, public policy or advocacy.

Smart Growth America – a national land use non-profit, based in D.C.

Coalition for Smarter Growth – closely follows development, transportation, land use, zoning, and housing policy in DC, and the MD and Virginia suburbs. They don’t just inform, but they canvas, do issue campaigns, testify at public hearings, weigh in on zoning cases, recommend policy, regulatory and legislative improvements designed to help make sure everyone who wants to live in our Region has the housing and transportation options that allow them to do so.

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