The Ford Foundation today announced the appointment of Don Chen as director of Metropolitan Opportunity, which leads the foundation’s work on equitable urban development in the U.S. and developing world.
Chen is a global thought leader on transforming cities and metropolitan regions to be more just, inclusive and environmentally sustainable. He has reimagined urban landscapes to advance economic opportunity, quality of life and the challenges associated with environmental justice and climate change. Notably, Chen has led the creation of three influential initiatives since joining the foundation—Promoting Metropolitan Land Use Innovation, Connecting People to Opportunity, and Just Cities. He oversaw the implementation of the first two initiatives in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Twin Cities, and Detroit, while the latter—Just Cities—launched in 2013 in developing countries, such as Brazil and South Africa, that are facing rapid and unequal urbanization.
Chen joined the foundation in 2008 as a program officer and has been acting director since July. Previously, he was the founder and CEO of Smart Growth America, a national coalition of over 100 organizations from a wide variety of fields—environmental advocacy, housing, community development, social justice, and transportation—seeking to improve urban development policies and practices to foster more equitable, environmentally sound, and economically robust communities. While at SGA, Chen conceived and launched Transportation for America and the anti-blight National Vacant Properties Campaign.
The Ford Foundation has worked to help revitalize urban areas for more than half a century.
“We prize Don’s leadership and the collaborations he leads with colleagues from all corners of the globe and all walks of life,” said Xavier de Souza Briggs, vice president of the Ford Foundation’s Economic Opportunity and Assets program. “Don is a relentlessly positive, intellectually curious and generous spirit—a real force and role model in the field.”
Chen is a prolific author on a range of subjects. His books include the co-authored Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change (2007) and Once There Were Greenfields: How Urban Sprawl is Undermining America’s Environment, Economy and Social Fabric (1999). He has also written numerous articles for Environmental Action Magazine, Transportation Research Record, Scientific American, and other publications.
Chen graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and he holds a master’s from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Chen has also served on the boards of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, West Harlem Environmental Action, the Environmental Leadership Program and Grist Magazine.
“I look forward to working with colleagues and partners to support thoughtful and creative ways to foster inclusive economic growth, sustainability, and social equity in cities and regions across the world,” Chen said.
Chen begins his new position in January, 2015.