Chris Ryer (MCP ’86) will be the new Director of the Baltimore City Department of Planning, the Baltimore Mayor’s Office announced Tuesday.
Chris returns to the department on February 11 after serving 12 years as Executive Director of the Southeast Community Development Corporation (CDC), an organization dedicated to the vitality and growth of neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore. Prior to joining the Southeast CDC, he worked several stints for city planning department, including 10 years as Community Planner and four years as Deputy Director. He began his career as an intern for the department over 30 years ago.
"Chris Ryer brings extensive and tested experience to his new role as Planning Director,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh in a statement. “He knows our city intimately and has established a long career working with community and neighborhood organizations and renewal efforts.”
The Department of Planning oversees all areas of city land use, including community planning, architectural and historic preservation and sustainable development. “I want to stimulate investment in Baltimore’s neighborhoods,” Ryer says. “I want to improve the quality of life, particularly in the affordable neighborhoods.”
Ryer studied at UMD’s Community Planning Program while it was located in Baltimore as part of the School of Social Work, before being absorbed by the School of Architecture in 1988. He credits the “radical” approach to community planning taught by professors—like Dr. Howell (Howie) Baum—who were “more focused on social capital and the organic nature of neighborhoods rather than physical planning,” as instrumental in laying the foundation for his career. Studying in the city also gave Ryer the opportunity to live in a Baltimore neighborhood where he became deeply involved with the community. “That changed me as much as the school did,” he says. Ryer hopes to reinvigorate the relationship between the school and the city during his tenure as Director, perhaps by establishing relationships with city planning studios, architectural studios and landscape architectural studios, or even by creating a joint partnership with Morgan State University.
“We are thrilled to hear of Chris’ appointment as Baltimore’s next Director for Planning,” says Dr. Don Linebaugh, Interim Dean at the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, “and are looking forward to new and continued opportunities for working with the city at this critical time.”
Baum, now Professor Emeritus of Urban Studies and Planning, says Ryer’s breadth of experience is a great match for the Office of Planning, which has historically been a visionary office for improving the lives of Baltimore residents. He also notes that, as Deputy Director, “Chris… learned how to work with communities and learned what the needs are of low income communities and those who were dependent on city government for help.”
Baum added that Ryer is an adept leader skilled at organizing groups of people to identify problems and cooperate to solve them. “And the other thing is, intuitively, he has a sense of social justice. He’s not doctrinaire about it, but he’s committed to it. It’s good for the city.”
-By Dan Novak