Ever since he was a child, David L. Butcher always had a passion for urban environments.
“I’ve always loved cities but it wasn’t until I was a little older that it occurred to me that I could actually help build cities,” said Butcher, 36, who graduated from Temple University in 2008 with an MS in Community and Regional Planning. “I had a particular interest in urban redevelopment. Edison once said that vision without execution is hallucination — I wanted to both plan and develop cities and help find ways to improve our urban centers.”
Armed with an Urban Studies degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Butcher became an urban planner with the City of Harrisburg’s Planning Bureau and coordinated all new development projects in the city. It was during his time as an urban planner that Butcher discovered Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program, a degree he was able to complete entirely at the Harrisburg Campus while also working full-time.
“I had a wonderful experience at Temple — I think I enjoyed the process of learning as much as I enjoyed the outcome. I’ve read that college and graduate school doesn’t tell you what to think, it teaches you how to think, critically and cogently — it’s about training your mind,” he said. “The Community and Regional Planning program has great, real world content. I was learning theory at night and putting it into practice the next day.”
Fast forward five years and Butcher is now president and full partner at WCI Partners, LP, in Harrisburg, an urban revitalization and redevelopment company with a $2.5 million operating budget and a $35 million asset portfolio. Butcher is the first Community and Regional Planning alumnus from the Harrisburg Campus to be inducted into Temple’s Gallery of Success as the 2013 inductee for the School of Environmental Design.
Each year, the Gallery of Success pays tribute to extraordinary Temple graduates who have made noteworthy accomplishments in their respective fields and communities. The Gallery of Success places a spotlight on alumni who have utilized the skills and knowledge learned at Temple to become leading educators, scientists, business owners, artists, healthcare providers, planners, lawyers and much more.
“These honorees are out in the real world, leading the search for solutions and making a real impact,” said John Campolongo, university trustee and president of the Temple University Alumni Association. “As we honor these men and women, I hope we also reflect on all that Temple does to empower our students and alumni to make their marks on the world.”
Butcher called the recognition “a tremendous honor.”
“What struck me were the accomplishments of the other inductees. I’m very humbled by this honor,” he said. “I think you can’t be afraid to hustle and make it happen when it comes to the things you are passionate about — you can’t just wait for things to come to you. You have to be open to any opportunities that are presented to you, make connections and be relentless in seeing things through — at WCI we call it being ‘Dog on bone.’ The most complex, complicated issues can be resolved through personal connections.”
Butcher embodies the Gallery of Success’ goal of honoring alumni who have made exceptional contributions in their field. For Butcher, that has meant making a direct impact in the urban landscape that has become his life’s work.
When he began at WCI Partners in 2007, Butcher dove into developing and managing the company’s continuing Olde Uptown neighborhood revitalization project, which has included the construction and renovation of more than 100 homes within a four block area in midtown Harrisburg, representing more than $10 million in private investment into a once blighted community.
“This is an area that was hit hard by Tropical Storm Agnes in the 1970s and never really recovered — there had been no concerted or organic effort to transform it. It was an area that dealt with a full range of social ills; drugs, poverty, severe blight, two gangs,” he said. “Alex Hartzler, one of the founders of WCI, and I used to walk the neighborhood for three or four hours a day picking up trash, talking to the neighbors, talking to the gang leaders. Alex moved into the neighborhood in 2007-2008 and I followed with my family in 2010.”
Showing the commitment to revitalizing the neighborhood in such a hands-on way was, “probably a little risky,” Butcher said, “but we wanted the community to know that we had a shared vision for change.”
“We knew that we had to be on the ground doing it. We needed that community buy-in if we ever hoped to accomplish anything,” he said. “When we started, the average property value in Olde Uptown was about $30,000. Today it’s $150,000 — a blend of existing properties and those that have been renovated. The people that are happiest are the people that have lived there the longest.”
Butcher’s involvement in the community in which he lives doesn’t end inside the office.
In 2010 he was one of the Central Penn Business Journal’s “40 Under Forty” and received the Harrisburg “Pillar of the Community Award” in 2013. Butcher is a board member and co-chair of the City Beautification Committee for the Harrisburg Young Professionals organization, a board member for Harrisburg Habitat for Humanity and is actively involved with the American Planning Association and the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the Urban Land Institute.
“Wherever I go, it’s hard for me not to get involved. I can’t just sit still,” he said. “I take great satisfaction in the community we are building. It is a meaningful social and professional network of people who share the same values; all for the improvement of the City of Harrisburg.”