Celebrating a Legacy of Urban Planning

Margaret Wallace Brown's decades-long public service honored with City of Houston proclamation

by Nicholas Nguyen • March 7, 2024

On February 6, 2024, the City of Houston proclaimed a day in honor of Margaret Wallace Brown's (B.S.' 83) service to the City and her retirement as the Department of Planning and Development director. Upon learning of Brown's plan to retire, the department staff took action to commemorate her many achievements, years of service, and leadership.

Brown, an alumna of the University of Houston Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design, received the UH Architecture and Design Alumni Association's Distinguished Alumni Award in 2022. Reminiscing on her time as a student, she remembered choosing an urban history class that impacted her career path.

"I was more interested in how people used buildings than in the design of buildings themselves," she recalled. "My passion for community and 'the big picture' was clear. I knew my future would be in building strong cities."

After graduating and working in the private sector for a few years, she took a job with the City of Houston Planning Department in 1986, where she put her community-building passion into practice.

"Thirty-eight years later, I am still putting the lessons learned at the University of Houston to work – bringing together the principles of good urban design and community collaboration to improve Houston's built environment," shared Brown.

Over the years, Brown has worked on several projects she is proud to have seen impact Houston. One initiative, "Vision Zero," is the City's commitment to ending traffic deaths and related injuries by 2030. In the last two years, they have seen a reduction in those numbers.

above: BROWN WITH MAYOR JOHN WHITMIRE AND vice mayor pro tem amy peck at city hall

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"I love this city and have been proud to serve Houstonians in such an important position. I want to be remembered as someone who improved the development rules to create a better built environment for all Houstonians."

Brown also cherished how the department's work improves Houston with lasting benefits. For example, under her direction, the department initiated the "Walkable Places and Transit-Oriented Development" rules, boosting walkability in Houston's urban core. In 2023, the department introduced the "Livable Places" initiative to create a wider variety of homes to serve the needs of all Houstonians.

A week before receiving her very own day from the City of Houston, the Office of the United States Secretary of Defense and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Organization recognized Brown's leadership with a Patriotic Employer proclamation. The award was a surprise to her, a result of how she supported two staff members' extended military leave in the National Guard and Reserve Force and how she encouraged them during training and deployments. While Brown received this recognition, she attributes this award to her entire team, who filled in gaps to support the team while both staff were on leave.

Reflecting on the day she received her City of Houston Proclamation, Brown felt humbled and proud. She will never forget how the department staff and her family showed up for her.

"I love this city and have been proud to serve Houstonians in such an important position," remarked Brown. "I want to be remembered as someone who improved the development rules to create a better built environment for all Houstonians. I believe I have done that."

For students or anyone who wishes to enter public service, she says that it can be challenging but incredibly rewarding—the changes she has helped implement in communities are proof of that.


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