Tad Read '81 (photo from LinkedIn)

Tad Read ’81 (photo from LinkedIn)

The Boston Business Journal takes time to interview Tad Read, the new (well, interim) director of planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Tad (or, hopefully, the editors of the BBJ) – lets Williams College and Ephs everywhere down a little by beginning his story in Southern California (where he received a master’s degree a few years after graduating Williams) rather than with his liberal-arts education in Williamstown, where he majored in Spanish:

What got you started in planning, and how did you land at the BRA?
I got my start in Southern California, where I spent 18 years working on citywide plans and affordable housing development, mostly in Santa Monica. Living in Southern California, in a car-oriented culture, whetted my appetite for something a little more walkable, and I started thinking more about what good urbanism meant. That spurred me to think about this mid-career master’s program looking more into these placemaking issues, so I attended Harvard’s graduate school of design for a program in design studies. That led me to a job at the office of commonwealth development (what’s now called the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development), a state office in charge of smart growth policies for the state, and then the BRA.

Question: Would you characterize Williamstown or Williams College as a car-oriented culture in the late 1970s and early 1980s? For all the efforts to create/maintain Spring Street as the center of the community, surely it is today.

What’s your planning philosophy?
My own approach to planning is collaborative. I’m a strong believer that we think better collectively than we do individually. I’ve seen that over and over again. Our collective minds produce better results than our individual minds. The best ideas are not always coming from the people who speak the loudest. I’m a big believer in creating spaces for people who might not always speak out to speak out, because they might have some great ideas. I also think our role as planners is to help the public understand some of the challenges facing the city, so that we can be realistic going forward.

I doubt this is intentional, but here, Read echoes the language of critics of central-planners engaged in “redevelopment” as an activity. This includes both free-market critics, who are dubious that a government agency is likely to have the requisite information to make good decisions, and liberal critics, who believe that the dynamic of political power have historically, and will prospectively, slant “redevelopment” decisions in favor of the wealthy and influential and against poor residents and small business owners who see their neighborhoods classified as “blight” and redeveloped. (Those arrayed against the inevitable “redevelopment” disaster at issue in the Supreme Court’s decision a decade ago in the Kelo case in New London, Connecticut, include both.

Read wisely dodges the question of whether he “want[s] the job permanently”:

My focus is doing the best job I can every day, whatever the duration of this period is. The pace is even more demanding than I thought, but it’s also more manageable than I thought, and the reason is I find it really interesting. Kairos had a background in urban design, and had been trained in urban design and architecture. I’m trained as a planner. I have training in urban design, but I think I’m probably more inclined to defer to the judgment of the urban design team at the BRA.

According to the BBJ, there will be a nationwide search for a new planning director. Here’s hoping that Read is in the running and is successful — and that next time he’s interviewed, Read will tie in his experiences at Williams.

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