We are pleased to welcome Justin Godard as a program associate on the National Leadership and Education team at Community Progress. Here’s what he has to say about coming on board:
How did you first become interested in the community development and urban planning fields?
I feel as though the story behind how I got into community development and urban planning begins with my first trip to New York City in high school. I remember the spontaneity, excitement, and sheer diversity of the city and immediately became fascinated. From that moment on I knew that I wanted to work in a career field where I helped to shape urban spaces. Initially, I thought Civil Engineering was the route for me but realized after a few physics courses that I just wasn’t passionate about it. A study area that did peak my interest however was Political Science. My time studying politics and political theories is definitely responsible for shaping my feelings on equity and social justice motivated efforts and outcomes. By chance, the political science department at my university allowed majors to take urban planning classes to satisfy a degree focus area. So with that I decided to register for a course on Urbanization and immediately I was drawn in. For me, the prospect of working in the community development and urban planning field was exciting in that it allowed me the best of both worlds in terms of my interests in social issues and urban spaces.
What sort of projects will you be working on at Community Progress? What are you most excited about?
My work here at Community Progress will center on ensuring that local governments and community organizations have the effective tools and knowledge to tackle vacant properties and blight as well as fostering active communities of leaders and practitioners involved in these issue areas. So this primarily will involve work on events such as the Community Progress Leadership Institute, peer exchanges between cities dealing with vacancy and decay, and research centered on broadening understanding in emerging areas of interest and need. Overall, I feel that there are two aspects of working here at Community Progress that excite me. One is having the opportunity to play a critical role in work seeking to help resolve abandonment and blight through methods that look to revitalize spaces wherever possible and are deeply supportive of communities and residents. The other is the prospect of working alongside and learning from a group of people who are just as committed and impassioned by these issues and goals as I am.
What is one urban revitalization project or initiative that you find inspiring?
An urban revitalization project which first inspired me early on in my exploration of urban planning/community development as a career field was the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) within the Roxbury/Dorchester community of Boston, Massachusetts. In the late 1980’s/early 1990s, this area of Boston exemplified many of the issues which Community Progress addresses today. Land values were severely depressed, much of the housing stock was either abandoned or poorly maintained, many buildings had become victim to arson, and the vacant lots left behind were unofficial waste dumping grounds for people from all over the city. As bleak as things were at the time, the residents themselves decided that enough was enough and organized DSNI as a means of effectively dealing with the community’s myriad of issues. The organization ultimately was able resolve many of the issues at hand and to satisfy community needs for things such as affordable home ownership opportunities, new investment, and rehabilitated public spaces. Ultimately, what inspired me the most about DSNI was the idea of a community coming together in a democratic manner to reclaim communal spaces and uplift the community they call home.