Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development: Who Is Harriet Tregoning?
Harriet Tregoning was named principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD), an agency within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on April 13, 2015.
Tregoning was born in 1960 in Chicago, Illinois, to Arthur and Sumako Hiken. Her father, who was a U.S. sailor serving in occupied Japan when he met her mother, died when Tregoning was only two years old. Her mother moved young Harriet, along with younger brother Alan, to St. Louis, Missouri. Living three blocks from a public library—where Harriet “all but lived”—turned her into a voracious reader. Proficient in math as well, she began taking classes at Washington University while still a senior in high school. In 1981, she earned her undergraduate degree in engineering and public policy, and soon was taking classes in law school, which is where she met banker Michael Tregoning, whom she married within a year.
Harriet’s first job out of school was with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where her initial work was on Superfund Policy. Following her husband from California to Texas or wherever his work took him, Tregoning hopscotched from one EPA branch office to another, continuing her Superfund work on the move. After the couple separated in the early 1990s, she settled in Washington, D.C., to head the EPA’s waste-policy division. She stayed at the agency for 17 years, working her way up to the directorship of its Development, Community and Environment division.
In 1994, Tregoning’s participation in President Bill Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development (CSD) inspired her to help assemble the Smart Growth Network, a collection of groups developing a movement devoted to community assistance and improvement. Tregoning went on to chair the CSD and helped found the advocacy organization, Smart Growth America, in 2000.
Tregoning’s departure from EPA soon led to her arrival at the doorstep of Maryland state government, where she worked with Governor Parris Glendening as his secretary of planning, and as director of the Governors' Institute on Community Design. After Glendening left office, she joined him in co-founding the Smart Growth Leadership Institute, for which she served as executive director.
In 2007, Tergoning headed to Washington, D.C., where she worked for seven years as director of the District of Columbia Office of Planning. In that post, she devoted herself to revitalizing the city, which included a passionate focus on making it more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. Not all residents cared for her efforts, with many finding her goals threatening to the status quo. “The thing people sometimes forget about Harriet is, she's viewed as a hero in the smart-growth movement, but a lot of D.C. residents really didn't like her,” The Washington Post’s then-land-use reporter told The Atlantic in 2015. Tergoning’s role in the rewriting of the city’s zoning code—for the first time in 50 years—was allegedly viewed by some as arrogant and high-handed. The Washingtonian described her as “a street fighter who often finds herself between warring forces.”
In February 2014, Tergoning left her D.C. planning job to join the Obama Administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she took charge of its Office of Economic Resilience (OER). Her appointment as director of the agency came in conjunction with launch of OER as a rebranding of HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. At OER, Tergoning helped launch the National Disaster Resilience Competition, a $1-billion program that invited applicants to propose recovery projects in order to qualify for disaster-relief funds.
As chief of CPD, Tergoning manages an annual budget of roughly $6 billion and oversees more than 40 field offices across the nation. She has said that her main focus in the job is to tackle homelessness in the U.S.
Tergoning adapts her vision for the nation’s cities to her own life, frequently traveling on her foldable bike, all the while awaiting the day when someone finally invents a folding bike helmet.
She is married to Geoffrey Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America. The couple produces Bee-Land Honey, generated from the bees they keep at Anderson’s childhood home in D.C.’s Brookland.
To Learn More:
What Harriet Tregoning Meant to Washington (by Jonathan O'Connell, Washington Post)
Meet Obama’s Chief Resilience Officer (by Laurie Mazur, Grist)
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