2018 Speakers

Lynn Richards

Lynn Richards is President and CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism. Previously, Richards had a long and distinguished career at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), holding multiple leadership roles over 13 years including Acting Director and Policy Director in the Office of Sustainable Communities. She worked with dozens of state and local governments to implement placemaking approaches by developing policies, urban design strategies, and environmental solutions for vibrant, prosperous neighborhoods. Additionally, she produced groundbreaking research on water and land use strategies.

Before joining the EPA, Richards worked briefly in the private sector at a consulting firm. She lived and worked in the former Soviet Republics from 1988 to 1995, helping environmental groups increase their organizational and political effectiveness.

Richards was awarded a Loeb Fellowship in Advanced Environmental Studies at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in the 2012-2013 school year. She has a dual Masters in Environmental Science and Public Affairs from Indiana University.

Jamie Bennett

Jamie Bennett is the executive director of ArtPlace America, a partnership among private foundations, federal agencies, and financial institutions working to position arts and culture as a core sector of community planning and development, so that artists and arts organizations are regular collaborators in helping to build equitable, healthy, and sustainable futures.

To date, ArtPlace has invested over $100 million, which has gone to support 279 projects in communities of all sizes; six place-based organizations that have committed to permanently working in this cross-sector way; and deep investigations into the intersections of arts and culture with energy and the environment, housing, immigration, public health, public safety, and transportation.

Previously, Jamie was Chief of Staff and Director of Public Affairs at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he worked on the national rollouts of the “Our Town” grant program and of partnerships with the US Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development.

Before the NEA, Jamie was Chief of Staff at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, where he worked on partnerships with the NYC Departments for the Aging, of Education, and of Youth and Community Development.

Jamie has also provided strategic counsel at the Agnes Gund Foundation, served as chief of staff to the President of Columbia University, and worked in fundraising at The Museum of Modern Art, the New York Philharmonic, and Columbia College.

Steven Pedigo

Steven Pedigo is an expert in economic and urban development, city strategy and management, and placemaking. Steven has advised and collaborated with more than 50 cities, universities, developers, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies across the globe to build more creative, innovative, and inclusive communities.

Steven’s city clients include New York, Jerusalem, Vancouver, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Brisbane, the Yukon, Tulsa, Austin, Portland, Newark, San Diego-Tijuana, Miami, Sao Paulo, Monterrey, Mexico City, and many others. His corporate clients include BMW, Converse, Starwood Hotels, Philips, Cirque du Soleil, Audi, Pinewood Studios, Zappos, EDENS, Kraft, among others.

Currently, Steven is the director of the New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate Urban Lab and a clinical assistant professor of economic development at NYU. He is also the director of research and advising for the Creative Class Group, in addition to being an associate partner at Resonance Consultancy (Vancouver/NYC) and a senior advisor for Leland Consulting (Portland).

Earlier in his career, Steven served as vice president for the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), a national research organization founded by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter to encourage private-sector investment into U.S. distressed urban areas. Prior to ICIC, Steven was the vice president for business attraction and research for Greater Portland, Inc. He began his career as the director of research for the Greater Washington Initiative and Board of Trade.

Steven holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and graduate degrees from the H. John Heinz III School for Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Steven lives in South Orange, New Jersey with his partner Brian and their Boston Terrier, Oswald. Together, they are active in the Montrose Park Historic District, and Steven is the board chair of the South Orange Village Center Alliance.

Kaid Benfield

Kaid Benfield is one of the country’s leading voices for making cities, towns, and neighborhoods work better for both people and the environment. Kaid serves as senior counsel for environmental strategies at PlaceMakers LLC, a city and town planning consultancy working across the United States and Canada. He is based in Washington, DC.

Before joining PlaceMakers, Kaid served as a senior attorney and program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council for over 30 years, founding the organization’s sustainable communities program. And he teaches law, policy, and best practices for sustainable
communities at the George Washington University School of Law. Kaid’s latest book is People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, distributed by Island Press.

A longtime leader of the smart growth movement, Kaid co-founded LEED for Neighborhood Development, a national process for defining and certifying smart, green land development under the auspices of the US Green Building Council. Kaid is also a founder and board member of Smart Growth America, a nationwide coalition working on revitalizing cities, building better
neighborhoods, and stopping the spread of suburban sprawl.

Kaid was recently voted one of the “the 100 most influential urbanists” worldwide on the leading city planning website, Planetizen.com, and previously was named one of “the most influential people in sustainable planning and development” by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and “one of the top 100 city innovators worldwide” by the website Future Cities.

Kaid is a prolific writer whose portfolio spans several books and frequent articles for PlaceShakers and Newsmakers, The Huffington Post, Smart Cities Dive, Public Square, CityLab, and NRDC websites.

Sunil Yapa

Sunil Yapa is the author of Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Lee Boudreaux Books, 2016), a finalist for the 2017 PEN/Faulkner award, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. It was also named one of the best books of 2016 by Amazon, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, Bustle, and others. Yapa’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in American Short Fiction, Guernica, O Magazine, Poets & Writers, The Margins, Hyphen, Slice, LitHub and others. He is the recipient of the 2010 Asian American Short Story Award, sponsored by Hyphen Magazine and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in New York, and has received scholarships to The New York State Summer Writers’ Institute, The Norman Mailer Writers’ Center in Provincetown and The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

An accomplished speaker, Yapa has appeared on public radio and national television, including NPR’s Morning Edition, public radio in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Australia; in 2016 he was a guest on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers.  He also spoken about his novel, and its themes of protest, empathy, and hope all over the world, including Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, and more than 100 events in the US.

Germane Barnes

Barnes’ research and design practice investigates the connection between architecture and identity, examining architecture’s social and political agency through historical research and design speculation. Learning from historical data and perspectives from within architecture as well as cultural and ethnic studies, he examines how the built environment influences the social and cultural experience.

Born in Chicago, IL Germane Barnes received a Bachelor’s of Science in Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Architecture from Woodbury University where he was awarded the Thesis Prize for his project Symbiotic Territories: Architectural Investigations of Race, Identity, and Community. He believes strongly in design as a process, and approaches each condition imposed on a project as an opportunity rather than a constraint. Architecture presents opportunities for transformation – materially, conceptually and sociologically.

Currently he is the designer in residence for the Opa Locka Community Development Corporation and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Miami. He has previously taught graduate seminars, and workshops at Woodbury University. His design and research contributions have been published and exhibited in several international publications and institutions. Most notably, The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, The Swiss Institute, DesignMIAMI/ and Curbed.com, where he was named a member of the 2015 Class of Young Guns, under-the-radar professionals who are busy challenging the status quo in the design industry.

Emi Kiyota

As an environmental gerontologist and Atlantic Fellow at the Global Brain Health Institute in the UCSF medical school, Dr. Emi Kiyota focuses on improving both the built environment and the organizational culture of long-term and community-based care for elders. Inspired by living in a nursing home during her graduate studies, Kiyota has become an expert on age-friendly housing, hospitals, and clinical care centers in the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa and frequently speaks on these issues at international gatherings. In 2010, she founded Ibasho, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities that value their elders, embodying the Japanese concept of “a place where one feels at home being oneself.” Through her work, she continues working to create a shared future for elders internationally in which aging is something not to fear but to enjoy as a valued community member. Her vision is to provide elders with a range of opportunities to contribute to the whole community. She is a founder and CEO of Ibasho, as well as serving on the board of directors of Global Aging Network. She was awarded a Loeb Fellowship at the Graduate School of Design in Harvard University in 2017, and a Rockefeller Bellagio residency fellowship in 2011.

Eric Avner

Eric Avner is convinced philanthropy can do more to build cities. As Vice President of The Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation since April, 2008, he directs the Foundation’s community development grantmaking, focusing on Cincinnati’s distinctive urban neighborhoods, a talented regional workforce, and a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation.  Eric also founded and is CEO of People’s Liberty (peoplesliberty.org), the Foundation’s 8,000sf philanthropic lab that explores a new future for foundations interested in investing in place by investing in people.

Previously, Eric advised Cincinnati’s top CEOs on economic development issues as Associate Director of the Cincinnati Business Committee; launched Soapboxmedia.com, a weekly magazine focused on the region’s economic and physical transformation; and led efforts to convert an abandoned railroad bridge across the Ohio River into an award-winning linear pedestrian park, the “Purple People Bridge.” 

Eric attended McGill (Montreal) and Cornell Universities and he serves on the boards of Philanthropy Ohio, Cincinnati Development Fund, Catalytic Development Funding Corp. of Northern Kentucky, and ArtWorks Cincinnati.

Kevin Wright

Kevin is a leader in community development, economic and real estate development finance, planning, and placemaking.

Kevin’s work as Executive Director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) from 2011-2018 received local honors and was featured in national publications such as The Huffington Post. It was there where he used his diverse background in storytelling and community planning to help a struggling organization develop a new brand and mission and grow from a staff of one contracted employee to seven full-time employees and several interns. Additionally, he grew the foundation’s budget ten-fold and developed a more sustainable and diverse revenue stream. Kevin has led teams in the creation and implementation of dozens of projects ranging from small creative placemaking activities to multi-million dollar real estate deals. These projects have included several public and private partners and a diverse set of public financing tools such as Tax Increment Financing, public loans/grants, and Historic Tax Credits.

Kevin earned a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Missouri State University and received a Master’s Degree in Community Planning from the University of Cincinnati with a specialization in urban real estate and neighborhood development. Kevin serves locally on the Board of The Community Development Corporations Association of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati Neighborhood Business Districts United, is a member of the Urban Land Institute and was recently named to the 40 under 40 list by The Cincinnati Business Courier.

Devon Turner

Devon Turner is Executive Director of Grow Dat Youth Farm in New Orleans. A native of Plaquemines Parish in southeastern Louisiana, Devon’s career has been focused on supporting and advocating for young men and women, first as an educator, teaching about social justice issues at the nexus of race, gender, justice, and violence. She was then instrumental in the creation of New York City’s first community-based school for justice system-involved youth. She most recently served New Orleans youth by developing young leadership opportunities at Liberty’s Kitchen as well as connecting them to a host of resources throughout the city.

Emily Sladek

Emily joined the Democracy Collaborative in November 2015 as Research Assistant to Steve Dubb working on the Community Wealth Building program. With a background in research and evaluation for academic bridge programs (Department of Education TRiO) as well as the Gateways for Incarcerated Youth (Gateways) program, which provides education pathways to youth in the juvenile justice system, Emily collaborates with communities to collect culturally relevant data that strengthens organizational and policy development. Most recently, she interned with the Peace Economy Transitions program at the Institute of Policy Studies identifying best practices to convert the defense industry to more community-determined economic models.

While originally from Iowa, Emily spent several years in the Pacific Northwest, earning both a Bachelors and a Masters from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. She thrived in Evergreen’s interdisciplinary, collaborative learning environment where she studied physics, popular education, juvenile justice, and the history of the labor, civil rights, and free-trade movements.

Emily’s Masters in Public Administration concentrated on public policy and nonprofit administration. Serving as program manager, she completed an evaluation plan and longitudinal survey for Gateways. With her in-depth knowledge of state, higher education, and community-based institutions, she was able to develop memos of understanding for data collection that would strengthen agency partnerships and learning outcomes for college students and incarcerated youth.

Marc Stern

Marc J. Stern is a Professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech. His research and teaching focus on the human dimensions of natural resource management and environmental communications. His recent book, published by the Oxford University Press, entitled Social Science Theory for Environmental Sustainability: A Practical Guide, is intended to make social science theory accessible and usable by people in the thick of complex and important challenges.

Isabel Thornton

Isabel Thornton is the Executive Director of Restoration Housing, which she founded in 2014 out of a passion for historic preservation, community reinvestment, and affordable housing. She received a BA in Architectural History from the University of Virginia and an MHP and MPL in Historic Preservation and Urban Planning from the University of Southern California.

Restoration Housing is a unique nonprofit in its utilization of historic tax credits in order to off-set the extreme construction costs of their projects. The organization focuses predominantly in the Roanoke area and within the city’s older, and often most-neglected neighborhoods and houses. Their mission is to both address the needs of limited income families and to strengthen the community by reducing blight and vacancy. 

Thornton lives in Botetourt County with her husband and two children. In addition to her nonprofit, she serves on the Housing Stability Committee for Family Promise of Greater Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Interagency Council on Homelessness. She is also a board member with the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy, Carilion Medical Center, and the Roanoke Women’s Foundation.