Martha Frish Okabe

Martha Frish Okabe is an urban planner, educator, and writer, and a member of the advisory board of the Center for the Living City. She has worked in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. As a member of the Chicago's Friends of Downtown Board of Directors, she instituted the city's inaugural participation in the global Jane's Walk event and managed the growth of this successful public event for five years.

Okabe has been an instructor in the historic preservation program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 2000. As lead author, she will be publishing "Heritage as an Element of the Scenescape" in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Public Heritage Theory and Method with Daniel Silver of the University of Toronto and Terry Nichols Clark of the University of Chicago.

As a consultant, Okabe has worked with Landmarks Illinois on future strategic planning efforts for a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the rich artistic legacy of the city of Park Ridge. For the City of Chicago Departments of Planning and Cultural Affairs, she prepared a "kit of parts," a set of analytical tools to use in the agencies' approach to ensuring the future of the Fine Arts Building, a major Loop cultural facility. She served as senior program officer at the Midwest office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where she was the Midwest representative for the trust's community partners subsidiary, which uses both preservation and real estate development tools to revitalize older residential and commercial areas. As a consultant in New York City, Okabe conducted a market study for entertainment-related uses to be incorporated in the 42nd Street Development Project. Work included a review of economic and demographic data and profiles of potential market segments.

She has specialized in advocacy, funding sources, and the public approvals necessary for historic preservation projects. For example, she has managed a Section 106 procedure for a former military base in the New York City suburbs and worked on the master redevelopment plan for the Town of Fort Sheridan, a base closure project north of Chicago.

"I loved my time at Cornell," Okabe says. "Being a student in Sibley Hall planted a universe of ideas in my mind that I return to all the years since. Going through the Historic Preservation Planning program provided me with unique insights into real estate development and finance, affordable housing, market analysis, military base closures, nonprofit management, advocacy, community organizing — and I've worked in all of these fields at various points in my career. I'm proud to follow in Professor Michael Tomlan's footsteps!"

"I'm proud to be something of an iconoclast, and wish I had another few lifetimes to do justice to all these ideas," she says. "But right now, I'm focused on writing a book about environmental psychology, and how the physical and aesthetic differences between urban neighborhoods affect their individual characters."

In addition to her Cornell degree, Okabe holds an A.B. from Vassar College and an M.S. in nonprofit management from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University.

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