Somerville Planning Director and Harvard University Lecturer for Planning and Design George Proakis Named New Head of OSPCD;
Somerville Senior Planner Sarah Lewis and Recent National Board Member of the Congress for the New Urbanism Named New Planning Director
SOMERVILLE— After a decades-long distinguished career in community planning and economic development, including seven years at the helm of the City’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (OSPCD), Michael Glavin has announced his retirement. Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone has named the City’s current nationally respected Director of Planning George Proakis the new Executive Director of OSPCD. Mayor Curtatone also announced that current Somerville Senior Planner Sarah Lewis, who led numerous community-based urban planning and design projects nationally before joining the City staff in 2016, will be the new Director of Planning. The transition will take place in late November.
An alum of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with degrees in architecture and urban and environmental studies, Glavin’s career began with an internship with the city of Cohoes, NY, where he rose through the ranks to run the Planning and Development Department and led successful housing and downtown revitalization efforts. After returning to his hometown of Boston, his notable career included serving as Boston Redevelopment Authority Deputy Director for Institutional Development as well as Director of Community Development for the City of Chelsea. A passionate supporter of affordable housing, his extensive economic development experience also extended to community reinvestment work for Bank of America, FleetBoston Financial, and BankBoston, where he ensured and guided meaningful investments in low-income communities.
Glavin assumed the directorship of OSPCD in 2011 at the start of a period of substantial growth in Somerville. During his tenure, among many achievements, he worked in concert with Mayor Curtatone to realize the first phase of the community’s ambitious goals set forth in SomerVision, the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan. In pursuit of the plan’s core goals for job creation, housing, open space, and more, he provided steady leadership as the department advanced complex and transformational projects including Assembly Row, Union Square, the Green Line Expansion, zoning overhaul, and more. In doing so, he introduced strategic staff additions, departmental reorganization, and long-range planning initiatives that enabled the department’s continued progress, including new staff in the areas of parks, open space, urban forestry, bicycle infrastructure, and economic development, as well as the development of neighborhood plans, long-range open space and field master plans, and the recent establishment of the Office of Housing Stability.
“It has been an honor for me, and a tremendous benefit to our city, to have a talent of Michael’s stature steering OSPCD’s efforts so thoughtfully and deftly these past seven years,” said Mayor Curtatone. “He may have served mainly out of the public eye, but the evidence of his outstanding, results-driven leadership can be seen across this city. In the greatest possible example of what it means to be a true public servant, he guided OSPCD staff during a period of unprecedented progress in realizing our community’s shared goals. Whether in the historic increase in the production of affordable inclusionary housing, the greatest increase in our commercial tax base since the 1920s, the substantial increase in job creation, or other critical growth called for in SomerVision, he has driven his team’s extraordinary efforts to advance our community’s vision for this city. He leaves for the next phase of his life with my deepest respect and is deserving of our community’s sincere gratitude.”
“It’s been a great privilege to work under a Mayor with such tremendous vision and understanding of the community’s needs and potential, as well as the ability to inspire the best in all of us,” said Glavin. “I also appreciate the opportunity I’ve had here to work with so many colleagues in city government dedicated to the needs of the community.”
Glavin will be succeeded as Director of OSPCD by the city’s current Director of Planning George Proakis, who is a nationally respected and award-winning planner with 16 years of public sector planning experience. Proakis brought a wide breadth of experience to the City when he joined the staff in 2010. Previously, over his seven years as Associate Planner, Chief Planner, and then Planning and Permitting Director for the City of Lowell, he led groundbreaking work that balanced conservation and historic preservation with needed investment and strategic development in the urban core. In Lowell, he also oversaw many of the key areas contained within OSPCD in Somerville, including plan review, conservation, transportation, community development block grants, finance and administration, long-term planning, and urban design.
In Somerville, Proakis worked side-by-side with Mayor Curtatone and other departments to usher in a new era of community-based planning. The City’s SomerVision, Somerville by Design, Neighborhood Planning, and Station Area Planning initiatives are a direct result of his ability to attract top talent, inspire creative and community-driven approaches, and deliver responsive results that weave together state-of-the-art practices and technical requirements with community goals. He also led his staff in ongoing and ground-breaking work to establish a new zoning code for Somerville through intensive community process. His accomplishments and leading-edge efforts led to his recent recruitment to serve as a Lecturer for Planning and Design at Harvard University and as a member of the Board of the prestigious Boston Society of Architects.
“George is a world-class talent that could easily be working for any major city in the U.S., but he has made a commitment to this city because he believes in our human-centered vision. We are fortunate to have such an expert in the field ready to continue his service in a new role as OSPCD Executive Director,” said Mayor Curtatone. “George brings not only intricate technical knowledge and documented success, George is a humanist. He is keenly keyed into the human impacts of planning and design and believes deeply in community process, which makes him the right director not for just any city, but especially for our city.”
“My confidence in George has given me great comfort knowing OSPCD will be in the hands of someone so qualified and capable and as alert to community needs,” said Glavin. “I have no doubt that he will build on OSPCD’s current efforts and work with Mayor Curtatone and the community to take the department’s work to a new level.”
Proakis will be succeeded as Director of Planning by current Somerville Senior Planner Sarah Lewis, who has worked with municipalities nationwide on community-based planning, land use, and zoning. She has not only led numerous intensive community engagement processes but has taught other planners how to do so at both the highly regarded National Charrette Institute and the University of Maryland. Her previous work includes projects for Ayers Saint Gross, Torti Gallas and Partners, and work alongside her mentor, internationally renowned new urbanist Dhiru Thadani.
In Somerville, alongside the Planning Department team, Lewis has facilitated progress on the largest transformation development areas in the city including taking the lead in moving community goals for Boynton Yards from a Neighborhood Plan with significant infrastructure challenges to a live project with its first two buildings permitted and moving forward. She also facilitated the Xmbly project in the outer area of Assembly Row, including 1 million square feet of office space and 500 new housing units including 100 affordable units. She played a key role with her colleagues in working with constituents on the Zoning Overhaul drafts to bring forward a version that intricately incorporates extensive community input.
“Sarah has played a critical role on a daily level in ensuring that when a project comes in that it’s consistent with our neighborhood vision. She has skillfully maintained high standards for improving design proposals from developers and working collaboratively to adjust plans as needed to address both community input and planning best practices. Meanwhile, her experience and commitment to in-depth public process is a perfect fit for Somerville. This combined with her deep knowledge of urban design, placemaking, architecture, and zoning will be critical in moving the Planning Department forward,” said Proakis.
“OSPCD takes on a substantial realm of issues from the design of a streetscape to the delivery of an affordable housing project to the preservation of our neighborhoods to the ease with which a resident can add a dormer to their home and their neighbors can be informed of it,” said Mayor Curtatone. “It is critical that the department’s staff have the insight, experience, and community-minded ethos that will make each of these things better for the community and the city as a whole. That’s why we always seek the best staff whether internally or externally. In this case, the best were present among our current team. Somerville will be well served by this new leadership within OSPCD.”