Alumni Profile: Eric Shaw (MUP ’00)


Name: Eric Shaw

Hometown: Richmond California

Current City: Washington DC

What was your work experience/background before coming to the GSD?

I went straight from undergrad to grad school. At UCLA I was a major in International Development Studies with a minor in Policy Studies. At UCLA I was particularly interested in underrepresented groups and took planning course such as Women in the City, Planning for Minority Communities, and Queer Los Angeles.

Why did you decide to pursue planning as a career?

I originally wanted to go into politics. I was encouraged by my mentor Michael Dukakis to pursue a degree that better connected to public service, rather than a degree in law or business.

What made you decide to come to the GSD?

I went to GSD because I knew the power of a Harvard degree. While attending GSD I learned the power of a design education to think about the physical form when planning and to represent information visually and to a variety of audiences.

What is your current position?

I was appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser as the Director of the DC Office of Planning in January of this year (2015)

What areas in planning interest you the most?

Jerold Kayden said that is was a blessing and a curse to live in the city where you work. I consider it more a blessing to understand how cities work and understand the impact of your ideas on how people live. I also love working with communities on coming to consensus on urban planning and development and giving them the tools to be agents of change in their own community. I also love spatial analysis and program development.

Can you summarize the path you have taken since graduation that has led to your current position and how the GSD prepared you for it?

I have taken a varied path which has allowed me to work in a number of different fields, cities, and with a number of different communities. After GSD, I was a Mayor’s Fellow with the DC government working on large scale economic development projects. After DC I worked in Miami for a community design center run by a local think tank that was investing in the redevelopment of Miami’s poorest neighborhood. I then worked in San Jose for a mayor’s redevelopment initiative and then for a community foundation on investing in equitable planning efforts. I worked on Katrina recovery as the Director of Community Planning for the hurricane recovery authority and the Vice President of Foundation for Louisiana. Most recently I was the Director of Community and Economic Development for Salt Lake City.

I think the GSD prepared me to be able to go into a place and quickly analyze its physical and programmatic character. This analysis is crucial when working in new communities. Also I am always ready to discuss my ideas to an audience, something I mastered through desk crits and final reviews.

What experiences at Harvard do you look back on as having been most helpful in your career (these can be seen broadly as courses, student activities, events, etc)?

I loved the diversity of thought and experience of the student body at GSD. Everyone was able to talk on a topic in an informed manner and from a unique perspective. Also I think studio courses were the best thing for me. I loved exploring different places in different times and collaborating with a team to address planning problems.

What advice do you have for new planners?

I would tell new planners to let your ideas evolve as you learn. If you come in with one steadfast notion of “right” and “wrong” you will never get the most out of your education