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Martin School Alum Follows Her Passion for Neighborhood Revitalization to Harvard

Jeana Dunlap (MPA ’06) was recently selected to be a Harvard Loeb Fellow. We are thrilled to hear of her accomplishments! We caught up with her to discuss her passion for public service as she embarks on this new chapter. Currently, Jeana is the Director of Redevelopment Strategies for Louisville Metro, the consolidated metropolitan government for Kentucky’s largest city. “I focused on cross-functional coordination between agencies within Louisville Metro Government and collaboration with private for-profit and community-based organizations to ensure visible, tangible results at the neighborhood level,” she says.

She’s a pioneer in this role—the office was created in 2016 when the city was awarded a $29.5 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Implementation Grant to redevelop the Beecher Terrace public housing complex, which historically has faced many challenges. “Overall, the plan involves leveraging public dollars into more than $200 million of mixed-income, mixed-use development at the site through the public housing authority. My specific charge from Mayor Greg Fischer was to facilitate an additional $400 million of investment throughout the greater Russell neighborhood which includes Beecher Terrace.”

Dunlap’s been rewarded for her hard work through seeing tangible results. Although her work focuses on improving quality of life through the built environment, she also is an educator. “The work is challenging, primarily due to pervasive misperceptions about disinvested communities and the people that live there,” she notes, citing “the history of redlining practices” as an example, referring to discriminatory lending practices used by banks in the past to deny minorities access to financial instruments, such as mortgages, based on where they lived.

Neighborhood revitalization is a long-standing passion for Jeana. After she finished her degree at the Martin School, she joined Louisville Metro’s Department of Housing & Community Development. Describing this time, she says, “To my delight, this role including managing the Louisville-Jefferson County Landbank Authority, the Urban Renewal Commission and the Vacant Property Review Commission. I received a crash course in public real-estate policy.  I grew to understand the impact of real-estate market failures and appreciate the potential for using public policy as a tool for neighborhood revitalization. I’ve been hooked ever since!”

The Loeb Fellowship has been awarded by the Harvard Graduate School of Design since the 1960’s. As Dunlap explains, “Each cohort is selected based on their accomplishments and their potential to make the world a better place through the built environment.” In her 2019 cohort, Jeana will be joining eight other mid-career professionals from around the world in an immersive, self-directed learning environment—they will study at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, live together, and travel together. “I expect to use this time to reflect on my career and create a blueprint for the future. I’m most excited about connecting with world-renown researchers and innovators in the areas of social mobility, digital inclusion and equitable economic development,” she says.

Our MPA program provided a foundation for the exciting work she has done and will continue to do in the public sector. “I would not be where I am today without the Martin School. My studies in public policy help me think more critically about how social outcomes are interconnected with policy decisions.” Current students, take note! If Jeana were to go back in time to give herself advice, she would focus more on public finance — “While it is important to design programs that function efficiently, at the end of the day, it is our ability to finance great programs and projects that stands between the status quo and better quality of life. Ultimately, my research agenda going forward will focus on finding new ways to finance community inspired design.”

Even in her spare time, Jeana stays busy—"I love music and traveling around the region to catch concerts while taking in the local scene. I also crochet and cast zodiac charts for newborn babies. Other than that, I take time to practice ‘bourbonism’ in all its forms.” Spoken like a true Kentuckian!