Martha Frish Okabe
AB, 1978, Vassar College; MA in Historic Preservation Planning (1981), Cornell University; MS in Non-Profit Management, Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University (1998). Publications: H-Net; Planetizen; Planning; The New York Times.
Experience at SAIC
I've found being part of the SAIC community for a dozen years very satisfying. I enjoy sharing what I've learned professionally, and I especially enjoy the give and take of an active classroom discussion. After the completion of my course, I highly value my continuing relationships with my former students.
I have extensive real-world and academic experience in urban planning, real estate, and historic preservation.
My work has been motivated by a deep respect and love for the urban built environment. I've been fascinated by the aesthetics of architectural history: what can we learn by really looking at the world around us? I've chosen to teach at SAIC because I want to contribute to the recognition of the importance and complexity of the urban built environment.
I first started teaching graduate students in Historic Preservation at SAIC in 2000 because I'd had an unusual career path, and I wanted to share what I'd learned. I'd deliberately chosen to enter the real estate field after my earning my preservation degree at Cornell, because I felt that it wasn't realistic to work in preservation without understanding the financial and planning contexts. I initially worked for a developer of affordable housing and then transitioned to market analysis consulting.
This consulting career facilitated the use of public-private partnerships as strategies for urban development and revitalization. I was privileged to work as a consultant on more than real estate projects in the United States and London, England; many of these were preliminary steps in developing publicly sponsored urban-development projects. My responsibilities included writing reports based on my preparation of cash flow projections and detailed estimates of operating revenues, expenses, and rents for the proposed projects.
Having worked in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, I've been able to teach my students about those fields' implicit differences in problem solving, policy making, and implementation processes. Over the years, my SAIC course has emphasized a variety of guest speakers who discuss the decision-making processes for investment, retail, commercial, residential, and institutional real estate. I've felt that the content of the class has made my students better prepared for professional life, and many of them have told me it has.
I take a fairly holistic approach to historic preservation: what are the contexts in which historic buildings exist, and how do those contexts affect those buildings' preservation?
I have taught in SAIC's Historic Preservation Program since 2000, and have also taught classes in Public Policy Studies at DePaul University. Most recently, I gave a lecture on "French Cultural Influences in the Physical Development of Chicago" to a class at DePaul.
I have also been the Founder and City Organizer for Jane's WalkCHICAGO. The concept for Jane's Walks originated in Toronto in 2007, to celebrate the ideas and legacy of the urban thinker Jane Jacobs. Locally, I started Jane's Walk as a program of the Chicago nonprofit Friends of Downtown.
Jane's WalkCHICAGO's purpose and goals are to champion and promote learning about the history and neighborhoods of Chicago—its legacy—by organizing events to encourage Chicagoans to visit neighborhoods that they previously have had little experience of, or which they wish to learn more about. I am particularly interested in attracting and involving students in these events. These programs are intended to have a civic—educational, social and cultural—impact on Chicago residents in teaching about community, and instilling pride in Chicago's rich neighborhood traditions.
In 2013, we had 8 Walks and 119 participants. In 2014 and 2015, the Walks each experienced an attendance increase of more than 40% over the previous year. The long-term goal is to be able to offer similar events year-round, indoors and outdoors. We will be offering two Walks on the opening weekend of the Chicago Architectural Biennial: chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org/public-program/calendar.
Disclaimer: All work represents the views of the INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS & AUTHORS who created them, and are not those of the school or museum of the Art Institute.