Harriet Tregoning Reflects on “Nerdy, But So Gratifying” D.C. Planning Work
Harriet Tregoning recently took her husband to the corner of 10th and I streets NW for a good time. It might not have been everyone's idea of fun, but Tregoning and her husband are both planners—she leads D.C.'s Office of Planning; he heads Smart Growth America—and she got a thrill from a humble street corner, given that the corner didn't exist until recently, when the CityCenterDC project extended 10th Street and reconnected the grid.
"Those things are nerdy, but so gratifying," she says. "And I’ll be conscious of that anytime I go down any of those streets."
But soon she'll be relinquishing any control she has over D.C.'s street grid. Tregoning announced this morning that she'll be leaving city government later this month. On Feb. 24, she'll start a new job at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as the Director of Sustainable Housing and Communities.
"I’m very excited to be going over there to work on some of the issues that have been so important in the city," she says. Her domain will include housing affordability, income inequality, climate change and resiliency, and sustainability in transportation.
According to the HUD website, "The mission of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities is to create strong, sustainable communities by connecting housing to jobs, fostering local innovation, and helping to build a clean energy economy."
Tregoning says her work at the Office of Planning "has been a wonderful job," but thinks the city will benefit from a change in personnel. "Eight years is a long time to be in a job like this," she says. "The ongoing dialogue in a city benefits from having fresh faces, fresh voices to engage and re-engage with people."
The Office of Planning has been engaged in two particularly large efforts: one to reform the Height Act and allow taller buildings in the District, and one to rewrite the city's half-century-old zoning code. Congress is now considering the former measure, while the latter is in the hands of the Zoning Commission, meaning that Tregoning can step aside having done most of the heavy lifting.
"I don’t know who’s going step in," Tregoning says of her eventual replacement, "but we’ve got some very capable deputies here." She notes that recruitment of new officials can be difficult in an election year.
Originally appointed by former Mayor Adrian Fenty, Tregoning was also in the running for a job as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's planning director. She says that as far as she's aware, she was still in contention for that job when she got the HUD offer. "I assume I was still in the running, but I was pressed hard to make a decision, and I made one," she says.
The HUD role will allow Tregoning to take her ideas about smart growth, sustainable development, and multi-modal transportation to the national stage. But she feels she's left the District in a better place.
"There continues to be a lot of work left to be done there," she says. "I’m happy that we’ve started a dialogue about future growth in the city, but that’s a dialogue that’ll need to roll on for a while."
Photo by Darrow Montgomery