Harvard Portrait: Ann Forsyth

Ann Forsyth

“After walking to work my whole life, I’ve become this new, middle-aged cyclist,” says Graduate School of Design professor Ann Forsyth. Raised on a farm in Australia, she has built a career on making sprawling urban areas healthier: improving walkability, green space, food sources, and affordable housing. The author of Reforming Suburbia and Designing Small Parks says there has been “a snobbiness about the suburbs, a perception among designers that they are full of affluent people who can be left to their own devices.” But growth of the burbs and their immigrant populations means “there are often more poor children there now than in the core cities,” making Forsyth’s work even more relevant. This spring, she’ll lead GSD students in a hands-on project to help redevelop downtown Malden, a working-class city north of Boston. She is also working with Harvard’s business and law schools to improve other struggling communities. Forsyth left the farm for college in Sydney, marrying her talents in science and art in an architecture degree. Desiring broader societal impact, she switched to urban planning, earning a master’s at UCLA and a doctorate from Cornell, where she was a professor before joining the GSD last May. She has also taught at the University of Minnesota and UMass Amherst, among other places, moving homes about 28 times in three decades. Now she has settled in Arlington, near the bike path into Cambridge. “Making more sustainable and healthy communities is a matter of balance—helping people make choices that help the wider community in the longer term,” she says. “As a researcher, I not only talk the talk, I ride the ride.”

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