Every smart growther has a horror story ofwhat things were like before they found The Way. For Tregoning, it was growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Mo., where she lived within walking distance of her school—but still had to drive, since she and it were separated by a highway.
Her latter-day car complex notwithstanding, Tregoning—born Harriet Hiken—got one as soon as she was old enough to drive. Her father had died when she was two years old; her Japanese mother didn’t speak English very well, but still scored a deal. “My mother bought a used Chevette off a Cadillac dealer’s lot by bargaining for eight hours, basically saying that the Chevette devalued every other car just by being on the lot,” Tregoning says. She thought it was a gift, but her mother made her pay back the money when she moved across town to attend Washington University, where she started taking classes before even finishing high school.
Tregoning was that kind of kid—the one that read every book in the local library, did her undergraduate degree in engineering just because she was good at math, and took law school classes for fun after she finished college in 1981 at the age of 20. There, she met Michael Tregoning, whom she married within a year, before leaving St. Louis forever. His banking job took them to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Singapore, and three separate times to Dallas, all while she was working on Superfund policy for the EPA in different regional offices. (They didn’t last. He’s now the chief financial officer of an oil company.)
Tregoning originally moved to Columbia Heights for love, too—into an apartment at 14th Street and Park Road NW, where she only stayed for a few months before buying a place in Capitol Hill. “He was an artist,” she says, by way of explanation. “It wasn’t working out.” She and Anderson traded up in 2005, for a too-big, $1.1 million rowhouse in Adams Morgan. Five years later, they downsized to a condo back in Columbia Heights; she now uses the neighborhood as a shining example of well-planned revitalization every chance she gets.
The smart growth power couple is almost a liveable, walkable caricature: They’re a frequent sight parading their massive Chow Chows around the block. Their place is elegantly appointed, but not flashy. Their book club includes a senior vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, an urban design expert at the National Capital Planning Commission, and the Washington Post’s chief environmental reporter (they read a lot of historical non-fiction, apparently).
Tregoning is a conspicuous commuter. On winter mornings, she’ll stuff her long, gentle curls under a beret, cram a helmet on top, envelop herself in a loose, puffy jacket, hoist on a small black backpack, and hop on her teal green folding bicycle (unless she rides her husband’s orange one), high-heeled wedges and all. The folder—a Brompton—can be thrown into a cab if she needs to get across town quickly, and is a dead giveaway that she’s inside whatever building it’s parked outside of. It’s also the avatar for her sparse Twitter feed.
The couple has an active social life, but Tregoning still feels somehow distant—one friend described her as “opaque,” another as “intense.” She has a way of smiling without actually looking happy. I wonder, riding bikes home with Tregoning after an evening event, whether she’d ever had kids.
“Well…” Tregoning hesitates, before explaining that she’d married Anderson late in life. “Also, I never had any reason to believe I’d do a good job,” she goes on. “I had a pretty fraught relationship with my mom. And if I did the things she did, I’d kill myself. If I had a daughter like me, I’d kill myself.”