APA-MA Spotlight Series

Name:                      Madhu Dutta-Koehler.

Position:                  Director of City Planning and Urban Affairs Program, Boston University

Hometown:              Boston, MA, and Place of Birth: New Delhi, India

Favorite Places:      Copley Plaza, Boston and the Spanish Steps in Rome

What made you choose a career in planning? I had previous training in architecture but felt the built environment needed to be more understood. How cities are planned, places are accessed, and the overall larger picture needed to be central to understanding. I also wanted to know the larger part of the built environment, rather than individual components of it.

Why did you decide to pursue planning in MA? When I came here from India twenty-six years ago, I wanted to pursue my degree in MIT’s planning program. It was the top program at the time and I knew that was what I ultimately wanted to push myself toward. I quickly fell in love with Boston, feeling truly at home here. I loved the city, the connections and the people. I knew I wanted to invest my time and energy here.

What projects/initiatives are you currently working on as a planner? I am currently working with the Initiative on Cities to create a Metro-Bridge Planning Studio to hire current planning students to gain field experience and to witness how planning takes place in the field before graduation. Boston University is currently partnering with the City of New Bedford on this project.

I am also working in collaboration with the Boston Public Library and the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center to understand equity and lack thereof of green spaces throughout the city of Boston. We are also researching the impact of autonomous vehicles and how they could potentially solve the last-mile problem. The final initiative I am working on is comprehending green equity throughout the city of Boston in relation to density, and how it connects back to heat island effect. The title is “Parks for All: How City Parks Address Inequity,” and is yet another partnership with the Boston Public Library.

Are you a member of the APA and if so, do you like being a member? Yes, I am a member. I like being a member of the APA and being exposed to everything the APA has to offer. I believe it is very robust institution that creates professional opportunities and connections for national planners. I always support bridging academia and practice, which I also believe the APA works to do as well.

What do you think of the Imagine Boston 2030 Plan Mayor Walsh has underway? There has been an immense amount of progress made with this plan. Such a plan is very necessary at this time, and a lot of awareness for planning is being generated that did not exist before. It is impossible to provide solutions for everything, but Imagine Boston 2030 is very comprehensive in tackling climate change and preparing for its effects on the built environment. The City of Boston has done a good job in answering a lot of problems with this plan, but there is a very sharp timeline. That is one of my biggest challenges with it. It became caught up in immediate problems, with lack of focus on long-term issues; it ultimately could not look further into the future, answering questions such as: What could a smart-city look like? How does that affect climate and transportation?

Do you have any favorite websites or blogs that you would like to share?

Urban Land Institute: https://uli.org/

Imagine Boston 2030: https://imagine.boston.gov/, https://imagine.boston.gov/blog/ib2030-recap-forums-on-the-future-discussion-series/

Initiative on Cities: https://www.bu.edu/ioc/

New Research Project – Green Equity and Climate Impacts: https://www.bu.edu/met/2018/09/19/city-planning-urban-affairs-director-champions-parks-for-all-at-boston-public-library/




As they say, behind every great city is a great planner.

Well, maybe they don’t say that now. But APA-MA is ready to get the momentum going!

In APA-MA’s Spotlight Series, we’ll be chatting with planners across the Commonwealth about their communities, their newest projects, and their career paths. For our first installment of this new series, I chatted with Andrew Shapiro, AICP, Director of Economic Development for the City of Lowell.

Andrew’s passion for Lowell was immediately evident, and he has much to be proud of. Lowell is a city on the move, led by a diverse entrepreneur base eager to show the state what Lowell can do.

Basic Information

Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland

Lives In: Newburyport

Current Title: Director of Economic Development, City of Lowell


What was it that made you decide to pursue a degree in planning?

After spending five years working in federal government relations in DC, it was time for a career switch. The love I have for cities and the way they change – and the persuasion of a good friend – resulted in me taking the leap.

What brought you to Lowell?

My last position was as an economic development planner in Salem, another Massachusetts Gateway City. I wanted to bring the experience I gained in Salem to a larger Gateway City with a similarly rich history. I took this role on in November 2017.

What’s one project you’re really excited about?

I’ve been working on the revitalization of a downtown park called Kerouac Park, named for the famed author who was born and raised in Lowell. The park is located on Bridge Street at the foot of the Cox Bridge – one of the gateways into the City. We applied to the MassDevelopment Commonwealth Places Program, through which we were able to crowd-fund close to $30,000, and receive a match of $25,000. The revitalization will include a retail business incubator housed in a shipping container. It will also feature new landscaping, a performance stage, and games and activities such as ping pong tables, chessboards, mini-libraries. The goal is to unveil all of these upgrades by the spring of 2019.

What do you wish people knew about Lowell?

Lowell is tremendously diverse. It has the second largest population of Cambodian residents in the United States outside of Long Beach, California. Cambodian residents comprise almost 13% of Lowell’s population. There is also a significant Latino population, comprising about 17% of the population. This diversity translates into the business community, where we have strong immigrant entrepreneurs and business owners. Lowell is very much a community of makers, innovators and artists, which is evident from our various makerspaces and collaborative work environments spread throughout the City.

Why did you decide to join APA-MA? What do you like about it?

I’ve been an APA member since I was in graduate school and have maintained membership since then. It’s been great to be a part of our local chapter and share ideas, network, and learn about the great work others are doing in communities throughout the state.

Do you have any advice for young planners?

Be willing to intern or work in various settings. Try local and state government, private sector and quasi-public agencies. Give yourself as broad a spectrum of opportunities as you can to learn about the various facets of planning.

Do you have any favorite websites or tools related to planning that you’d like to share?

As a data nerd, I’m a fan of DataUSA.io, which is a terrific website where you can visualize demographics at the municipal and regional levels. I also frequent Boston Bisnow, bisnow.com, which covers mostly commercial real estate and development, and has a site dedicated specifically to Boston and its surrounding suburbs.

What are a few of your favorite places?

Burlington, Vermont and Quebec City, Quebec both have very well-thought-out planning. Quebec City in particular has incredible public art, is extremely walkable, and provides great wayfinding. In Burlington, I was impressed with the robust business community – there were a number of enticing restaurants and breweries, as well as independent businesses. As a Bethesda native, I’m also a sucker for my pseudo-hometown of Washington D.C.

Would you or someone you know like to be featured in our Spotlight Series? Contact communications@apa-ma.org.