LOEBlogger Margaret Scott had the opportunity to engage with the gears of federal government in two very different places this summer. Here are her reflections.
For ten weeks, with support from the Community Service Fellowship Program at the GSD, I worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, DC. Tucked away in the Office of Policy Development and Research is a unique office: the Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation.
IPI is largely responsible for HUD’s external engagement with a range of partners, from multilateral organizations (like UN-Habitat or the OECD), nationwide foundations (like Ford or Rockefeller), and foreign governments (like the Housing Ministry of Chile or Germany). These partnerships are used to inform and leverage policy at HUD through shared research on best practices, pilot projects, and policy innovations in housing and urban development. The flexibility and broad reach of IPI made it an exciting and fascinating place to be, particularly in bringing together my interests in international planning and urbanization with affordable housing and community development here in the US.
My time with IPI has been a layer of experiences, beginning first with a three week externship in January 2014 that ultimately led to a Heffernan International Travel Fellowship to attend the World Urban Forum 7 with HUD in April, and finally a 10 week summer fellowship from June to August. Over the course of the summer I worked on several different projects with IPI, including research and support for a Pay for Success grantmaking process with HUD and the Department of Justice, as well as the development of an Innovation of the Day database, hosted by HUD and set to unveil this fall. Contributing to a diverse set of projects allowed me to see the work of the office and HUD in several different stages and even to witness the transition to a new department secretary. The transition was an important reminder of the inherently political nature of housing at the federal level, bringing with it the promise of new ideas and commitments and the challenges of staff changes and missed opportunities. In spite of these challenges (and the short time frame), the opportunity to work with a wide range of forward-thinking offices and deeply committed individuals renewed my sense of possibility for innovation in how federal government is imagined, managed, and utilized to better serve our neighborhoods.
To end the summer, I spent two weeks working on a GSD-Joint Center for Housing Studies research project, in partnership with Mexico’s Housing Finance Agency, Infonavit. I spent time in Guadalajara, Mexico, interviewing housing developers, political representatives, architects, researchers, and bureaucrats, all in an attempt to understand the primary challenges (and opportunities) to creating denser and more livable cities. This is of particular importance in Mexico, where rapid and precarious urban sprawl has become a grave challenge to quality of life for citizens nationwide. These interviews helped to bolster an understanding of the local impact of federal policies, specifically new and emerging federal policies on urban development. The local perspectives provided a clearer picture of how densification and livability can best be addressed by all levels of government.
Whether from my desk in DC or in the suburbs of Guadalajara, I am very grateful for a summer spent exploring the profound ways in which urban planning and policy intersect with our lives every single day.