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Tuesday
Aug032010

EYE ON ALUMNI

Mitchell Silver, B. Arch '87

President, American Planning Association

There’s a story that Mitchell Silver, B. Arch ’87, tells about a class he took at Pratt. 

A professor made everyone re-do the sketches for a building at least 50 times. In the end, each student had to choose a favorite from his or her designs. 

Silver picked his 34th.

“What would have happened if you had stopped at your 33rd design?” asked the professor.

“That has haunted me my entire career,” says Silver. “Every time I’m stuck on a project I say ‘Is this number 33?’ Could I work harder and do better?”

It may be this question—and answer—that has led to Silver’s many successes.

Most recently he was elected president of the American Planning Association, the prestigious 43-thousand-member organization of urban and regional planners.

Silver says he plans to use the position “to let everyone know that planning offers value to cities, our economy, and our quality of life.”

Silver did not begin his career with this much pride in planning. When he graduated from Pratt, he could not find an architecture job. “I was devastated. But I had to pay student loans and go on with life.”

However, he found he could incorporate the architecture skills learned at Pratt into the planning field.

In his current job as director of planning for Raleigh, North Carolina, he finds “I use a lot of the concepts of design, construction and development I learned at Pratt, to work with architects.”

Silver has held this job since 2005. Prior to that, Silver was deputy planning director in Washington, D.C. Before that, he worked in New York. Among the projects of which he is proudest are Harlem-on-the-River, which created community access to the waterfront at Harlem Piers, and the revitalization of Jamaica Center in Queens.

Silver also co-authored Local Planning: Contemporary Principles, the primary textbook for the profession’s main licensing exam.

Silver arrived at Pratt through a Higher Education Opportunity Program, having dropped out of high school when his mother passed away, then earned his GED.

“At Pratt,” he says “I flourished. I was the student government president. I was a resident advisor. I met my wife, Mary Singleterry, B.F.A. ‘89. “

And then there was the life lesson he received from his professor who asked: “What would have happened if you stopped trying at design number 33.”

“I always know there is a perfect solution if I just keep pushing and pushing,” he says. “What a gift to give a student.”

Photo by Diana Pau

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