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Movers and shapers

Rebecca Lave’s ’93 first “real” job remains her favorite. She was a graduate student when she joined a team of urban planners writing an ambitious master plan for Boston’s beloved Charles River Basin recreational area. The plan would guide future development of new parks and greenways, roads, trails, and public facilities.

Her job was to rally community support for the enormous project. There was a catch.

“There were all these groups and they really, really hated each other,” she says.

The joggers feuded with the bicyclists. The sail boaters and power boaters despised each other. The project involved four municipalities (including Boston) and 50 community groups, and their battles over rival agendas threatened to unravel the entire project.

Lave, who was in the final year of a master’s program in city planning at MIT after majoring in art history and political science at Reed, immediately leaped into the action.

The job perfectly fit her indefatigably upbeat personality. She moved from group to group finding common ground, using humor to build trust and understanding. She eventually convinced bitter rivals not only to sit down together but also to work on common goals.

“As much as I’ve always liked the planning and policy aspect of my job, the part of my job that has the most lasting impact is when I can get people to talk to each other and deal,” she says. “That is what gives them the foundation to work in the future.”

Since the Charles River project, Lave has relocated to the West Coast and worked as a planner at a consulting firm in Berkeley called Design, Community, and Environment. There she worked on complex public projects, including the redevelopment of the Presidio military base in San Francisco and a revamping of public transportation to Yosemite National Park. She’s currently studying for a Ph.D. at UC–Berkeley in geography.

“I have this deeply corny but strongly held belief about the value of a grassroots democracy,” Lave says. “And having a job where you can make that work is wonderful.”

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