Harold Foster, longtime DC and Prince George's planner, dies
Harold Foster, a fixture in Washington planning, died on September 4 following complications from hip replacement surgery. He was 62.
Foster worked for the Prince George's planning department for the last 18 years. Before that, he worked in transit planning for the DC government for more than 20 years. He was involved in promoting a streetcar vision for the District all the way back in 1988.
Harold was one of the first planners I met after starting the blog. He asked some very insightful questions at a conference I attended. He maintained an email list to which he forwarded interesting articles (sometimes including ones from Greater Greater Washington), and often added some of his own perspective from decades of working on transportation policy in the Washington area.
He gave me an invaluable historical perspective on many issues, including streetcar debates, whether DC should take over local bus routes from WMATA, development at Walter Reed, and divisions among the way African-Americans in DC view the Washington Redskins given the team's history of racial discrimination. I'll miss being able to ask him for his views on important issues of the day.
Foster grew up in DC and attended Peabody Elementary, Paul Junior High, and Calvin Coolidge High School. He graduated summa cum laude from Syracuse University in 1973 and got his Masters in Urban Development from Cornell in 1975. He is survived by his wife, Teresita, his mother, Dorothy Foster, his sister, and an extended family in both the DC area and in his wife's home of Peru.
Eric Foster, Harold's boss at the Prince George's planning department since 1994, remarked at the memorial service:
I met Harold at his interview. It was supposed to be a 45 minute interview, and we ask each applicant the same questions. I don't remember if Harold's was 45 minutes, but it probably had the longest answers I can recall in my 26 years at Park and Planning.Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, wrote:
Looking back, he had a lot to say and
— without either of us knowing it at the time — he was telling me all about Harold. Not just Harold the transportation planner, but Harold the community conscience, Harold the world citizen, Harold the public policy guy (notice I don't use the word "wonk") and finally, Harold the visionary.
That's because Harold put the whole package together. Sure, he was well read (it will be another week before we finish moving stuff out of his office). But his vision and public policy side was very much informed by Harold the community conscience and Harold the world citizen.
In coming to Prince George's County, Harold entered an environment of transition and aspirations. Here, in his later life, Harold saw that sometimes the transitions were not going in the direction of the aspirations. So, enter Harold the reality checker.
Now, we have our own language in the planning field. Today, we talk about transit-oriented development and walkability and mixed use and shared parking and sustainability.
— who was known to refer to himself as "Dorothy Foster's son" — the litmus test for all this good stuff was basically reduced to Mom's neighborhood. Can Mom go to the store, the bank, the movies, the salon, maybe even a job — all in the same neighborhood she lives in, for her lifetime? That was his vision for the community. His life's work was identifying and moving forward the thousand and one moving parts that make that vision work.
Dorothy, a mom never knows how far her influence will extend.
Harold had encyclopedic knowledge in our region's land use and transportation planning history. But what stood out beyond his vast knowledge and experience of years as a professional planner, was his passion. He was passionate about how all our plans and schemes would affect low income and working folk.Action Committee for Transit President Tina Slater said:
He cared deeply that our plans and policies considered, addressed and protected those who didn't have many advantages or privileges in this society. I will always think of Harold as I work to ensure that the policies and plans I hope to shape will mean that those with less will have more opportunity when I am done.
Harold was a fixture of the Transportation Planning Board's (TPB) Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC). His wisdom, insight, and sense of humor were appreciated by all. Always on top of transportation issues, CAC members could count on Harold to provide timely e-mails with links to informative articles, always prefaced with his wry and pithy wit! On complicated topics and discussion, the CAC could rely on Harold to provide a context and the history of a topicAny resident of DC or Prince George's County will feel the effects of his work when they ride a DC streetcar or the Maryland Purple Line in the future, or use today one of the bus services or pedestrian connections he helped push for. Thanks for your service, Harold.
— he served as the CAC's "institutional memory."
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