Mike Stokes considers himself among the very fortunate. He had the pleasure of knowing Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone, Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University, for more than 30 years.
When Featherstone went to work for the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) in the 1980s, Stokes thought of him as the “the young guy” even though Featherstone was two years his senior.
“There were the old engineers working with their slide rules and in comes this young guy with new skills and a new approach to planning,” said Stokes, Assistant Director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission. “He was given the task of organizing special protected stormwater areas in the region right out of the gate. He was an innovator with new ideas — I think he proved to be a sea change for the organization.”
Stokes was also there when Featherstone decided to depart from the DRBC and head into higher education.
“I was surprised when he told me he had taken a job at Temple. I hadn’t realized he was interested in academics,” he said. “But he had the right temperament for it and certainly the right intellect for it from early on.”
Stokes said Featherstone told him of the change in career that “federal government bureaucracy was one thing and university bureaucracy another, but if he could weather government, he could weather academia.”
“He was never discouraged by any of the challenges he faced in his career. In everything he did, he always had a very youthful, vibrant approach,” he said. “Jeff knew how to bob and weave. He was up to taking on any challenge.”
For Temple University and everyone who knew Featherstone, Saturday, May 7, was a day of unexpected and tragic loss. Featherstone, 68, passed away after a sudden and severe illness.
While family, wife Nancy and twin daughters Lia and Lin, friends, colleagues and students mourn his profound loss, they are also remembering and celebrating a legacy built tirelessly over decades locally, nationally and internationally; in the classroom and out.
Featherstone’s is a legacy based on a single overarching ideal — leaving the world a better place than he found it. It is a goal that he has now placed in the hands of the hundreds of students he has taught, the colleagues he has mentored and the thousands of young people that he helped bring to campus to plant a seed of environmental stewardship. His impact will be felt for generations to come, in the region and well beyond.
On Saturday, June 4, Temple University Ambler will host a celebration of the life of Jeff Featherstone from 2 to 3 p.m. in the campus Learning Center Auditorium. The event will include speakers from all facets of Featherstone’s life. A reception will follow from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Learning Center Lobby and Commons. For additional information, contact 267-468-8020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To support his legacy at Temple, the Jeffrey Featherstone Memorial Scholarship has been established by the planning faculty in his honor. The funds will be used to support a graduate student in the Master of Science in City and Regional Planning program who shares Jeff’s passion for sustainable water resources management. Contributions to the Featherstone Memorial Scholarship may be sent or given to Mollie Repetto or Dr. Lynn Mandarano at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University, 2001 N. 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122.
“I can’t remember a meeting with Jeff that doesn’t make me smile. He had an infectious enthusiasm that just filled the room and made you want to join his team and help him out in any way you could,” said Dr. Vicki Lewis McGarvey, Vice Provost for University College, who began at Temple in 2001, the same year Featherstone arrived. “I think Jeff's legacy is evident in his long list of projects and accomplishments — the positive impact his work has had on the Philadelphia region and his influence on the field nationally and, truly, globally. With the Center for Sustainable Communities, Jeff has built a strong team of researchers and he has trained them exceedingly well — we have every confidence that they will continue the important work that he so ably began.”
Building from the Ground Up
The Center for Sustainable Communities was formally established in July 2000. The Center was designed to build upon the strengths of Temple University Ambler, which had historically focused on horticulture, landscape architecture and environmental studies, while drawing upon the expertise of all of the Temple campuses.
In January 2001, then U.S. Representative Joseph M. Hoeffel III, who had helped secure a Housing and Urban Development grant for the Center, presented an oversized $1.5 million check to the University at a special ceremony that included former Temple President Dr. David Adamany, Dr. Sophia T. Wisniewska, Dean of Ambler at the time, and then Center Associate Director Elizabeth Richard.
Eight months later, Dr. Wisniewska had an important announcement to make about the future of the fledgling center — Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone was joining Temple at the Center’s new director in addition to becoming a professor in the newly formed Department of Community and Regional Planning — today the Department of Planning and Community Development in the Tyler School of Art’s Division of Architecture and Environmental Design — which would begin offering courses during the fall 2002 semester.
“I am very pleased to have a well-known water resources expert direct the work of the Center. Through his role with the Delaware River Basin Commission, his credentials in management, and his strong educational background, Jeff Featherstone brings many strengths to this position,” said Wisniewska at the time of Featherstone’s appointment. “With a full-time director, we will be able to devote more time and resources toward building our research, educational and outreach initiatives. We will watch with great anticipation as Ambler College (which would subsequently become the School of Environmental Design and then the current Division of Architecture and Environmental Design) and the Center for Sustainable Communities take the lead in educating the leaders in regional and community planning.”
Stokes said Featherstone was given a “broad mandate” with the concept of Temple’s new Center “and he made it work.”
“I remember him up in this tiny office on the second floor of the campus Administration Building. He had his feet on the ground and the grant funding in hand and just set to work in accomplishing this wide open challenge,” he said. “He built up this group of academic and research talent in short order — it’s amazing what they were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. They built a planning education think tank and the field is all the better for it.”
After 30 years in government, Featherstone said at the time of his appointment that his goal in coming to Temple was to “get back into an academic setting” after teaching for several years as an adjunct faculty member at Rider University. Featherstone had also received his Ph.D. in Public Policy from Temple University so it was a bit of a homecoming.
“With Temple University Ambler’s environmental focus — landscape architecture, horticulture, environmental studies, planning — everything is under one roof. I don’t think there is anywhere else that has this combination of talent all together,” he said. “It is critical that we partner with outside organizations and other universities to see how we can leverage the limited resources that are available. The key to integrated resource planning is getting municipalities and getting organizations working together.”
It was in 2001 that Dr. James Hilty, former Dean of Temple University Ambler from 2005 to 2009, met Featherstone. Hilty had been on the search committee to find the director of the Center.
“Very early on, he became part of our Collegial Assembly meetings. One of the things that he helped us do was turn the campus in an environmental direction,” said Hilty, who was also a professor of history and planning at Temple. “Ambler was always environmentally sensitive, but he really got the campus and downtown interested in the idea of a ‘green campus.’”
Featherstone mentored students, researchers, even administrators. He knew how to compromise “while ensuring that things got done as he knew they should be,” Hilty said.
“It’s a minor miracle how the small group of people in the Center and the planning department could be so successful time after time. He was passionate about what he did but also compassionate in his approach,” he said. “Jeff became the glue that held the sustainable impetus of the University together. I think his personal imprint on Temple is indelible.”
Featherstone had an uncanny knack for getting people with differing viewpoints, opinions and agendas on the same page, according to Rick Fromuth, a Research Fellow with the Center for Sustainable Communities who had the pleasure of knowing Featherstone for 35 years, including working closely with him at the Delaware River Basin Commission.
“Despite his accomplishments, Jeff had no interest in accolades. He was humble, yet he was remarkably successful in focusing the talents of students and faculty at Temple on the sustainability of the communities that surround the University,” he said. “His honesty, his knowledge of environmental science, policy and government and his unique ability to understand people were combined with a great sense of humor and a warm, caring personality.”
Featherstone’s approach, Fromuth said, “built trust and respect across academic departments as well as government and non-profit organizations.”
“This is how he built the Center for Sustainable Communities,” he said.
Planning the Future
The Center wasn’t the only “ground floor” that Featherstone built upon in his time at Temple. In October 2002, he was appointed as the founding Chair of the Department of Community and Regional Planning and served in that capacity until August 2006. As director of the Center and chair of the department, he helped lay the groundwork for sustainability education and research at Temple for years to come.
In the early 2000’s Featherstone saw a dire need in the planning field that he believed Temple could help address.
“I think it is pretty clear that there is a dearth of planners. While I was deputy director at the DRBC, I was involved in hiring and you couldn’t find good planners; they just didn’t have the skills. In the early 70s, everybody was going into planning — if there was no program available, they were going into similar fields. We were the first wave,” he said at the time of his appointment. “In the mid-1980s, however, there was a backlash toward planning. People started feeling that the country was being over-regulated, that planning was no longer a viable field. We’re learning now that we had it right in 1970 — we need planners and we don’t have any.”
Temple’s initial planning cohort in Fall 2002 included 25 students. Within a few years, that number blossomed to 80.
“There was a lot of pent up demand for the program. Once we started, we could tell it would be successful,” said Featherstone on the 10th anniversary of the beginning of Temple’s planning program. “The planning community lobbied Temple to create a planning program — and it happened.”
Susan Spinella Sacks was right there with Featherstone almost from the beginning as the Center and the planning department began to make their mark at the University and began educating the next generation of planners, herself included.
“Jeff was director of the Center and chair of the department when I applied for the planning master’s program. I had worked in the dean’s office as an undergraduate at Ambler and received a call asking if I would like to assist Jeff — I was the first research assistant in the Center,” said Spinella Sacks, who also served as Administrator for Research and Operations and is currently Assistant Director of the Center. “I knew right away that it was going to be a fun experience and that I would learn an incredible amount from him.”
From day one, “we were always colleagues, we were always a team,” said Spinella Sacks, the first of three students to graduate from Temple’s planning master’s program.
“That’s who Jeff was — students, faculty, staff, he treated everyone the same, which I think was one of his greatest qualities. He was the smartest person in the room, but he never made you feel that way and he always valued the opinions of others,” she said. “He always had the ability to lead people where they needed to be. He put together a group of people whose expertise and talents only strengthened one another. We weren’t just a team, we were a family and I am a better person for having known him.”
Spinella Sacks said Featherstone was well aware that he couldn’t tackle all of the planning problems facing the region — stormwater and emergency management, water quality, transportation, sustainable housing, walkable communities — on his own.
“He surrounded himself with people that could make things happen. There was so much respect for Jeff; that respect was conferred to other members of the team because of the way he led,” he said. “He was a true agent of change; the amount of respect that he engendered with so many outside organizations that we’ve worked with is overwhelming. Everyone wanted him to be a part of their project to ensure that it would be successful.”
Featherstone brought a sense of community to both the department and the Center, said Dr. Lynn Mandarano, Chair of the Department of Planning and Community Development.
“He literally hired all of us and with this gesture each of us became his colleague, his friend and part of his extended family,” she said. “Jeff not only touched our lives, but the lives of hundreds of our students and alumni with whom he shared his passion, dedication, knowledge and, above all, his sense of humor. Through his work at the Center, and throughout his career, Jeff made the Delaware River Watershed incrementally more sustainable and a healthier place to live.”
With the combined talent of Center researchers, planning faculty, associated faculty and students from a variety of disciplines, the Center and the planning program set about completing research projects for local municipalities, entire counties and watersheds and the City of Philadelphia that have had a lasting positive impact.
Early project successes included working to alleviate flooding in the Fort Washington Industrial Park, remapping the Pennypack Creek Watershed and assisting Philabundance in determining the best locations for their food pantries. Additional research included creating a model to implement the Department of Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Vulnerability Assessment project for smaller watersheds; building a consortium for sustainable design and research with other area universities; and using a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to complete a market analysis for the 6,250-acre Prince Gallitzin State Park.
Center research fellows and planning students have helped map out the sustainable future of municipalities such as Milford Township and Warrington in Bucks County, and Upper Dublin and Fort Washington in Montgomery County. They’ve also examined transportation issues along the much-traveled Route 309 corridor; historic preservation in Springfield Township, Montgomery County; emergency management in Cheltenham; greenhouse gas studies and “sustainability audits” in several municipalities; and “Active Living Research,” designed to transform land use regulations to create livable communities that support physical activity in everyday life.
“Planning is not sitting in an office. It’s a matter of getting out into the community and working to solve problems in ways that people can agree upon — if someone wants to make an important impact on the future of their communities, this is the field to get into,” said Featherstone about the planning program. “This program is very much about applied learning and developing highly competent graduates. They can start at any planning agency or organization and begin to work right away.”
With the emphasis firmly placed on practice-based research, “Jeff was ahead of his time in the work that he did — he helped many local and international communities,” said Hester Stinnett, Interim Dean of the Tyler School of Art.
“He was hands-on and on-site for every project. Through his teaching he has profoundly impacted the next generation of researchers and planners in this results-oriented work,” she said. “I think we all want to honor Jeff’s legacy by continuing the Center’s work. Tyler and Temple fully support the Center and are committed to its essential mission.”
Since the program’s inception, the students in Temple’s planning programs have been incredibly diverse, due in large part to how welcoming Featherstone and the other faculty and staff made the experience.
“Our students include township managers and individuals from non-profit organizations, retirees and students fresh out of high school. We have adults who want to start a new career, further their current career goals, or express their vision to improve the lives of people and their surrounding environments,” Featherstone said. “We also have young people who are part of a generation that is deeply interested in social change. We have been able to produce graduates with extremely well-rounded skills for the planning field, from theoretical aspects to the technological side, such as the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) — they are well-prepared to handle the issues that face planners in the field today.”
In the classroom, Featherstone’s personality, youthful good humor and calm demeanor “captured students immediately,” said Stokes.
“I think it was his ability to teach very complex topics and his depth of knowledge that were a big part in getting the program off to a good start. He was very good at making sure the program connected to the planning professions through internships and guest lectures,” he said. “He built a great network that his students could connect with; they had excellent contacts within the industry before they ever graduated. He gave them the opportunity to meet us and we got to meet them and we knew that they could hit the ground running.”
Decades of Experience
Featherstone’s planning knowledge certainly didn’t happen in a vacuum. A specialist in water resources management and dispute resolution, he came to Temple with decades of experience.
From 1982 to 2001, he was Deputy Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, an interstate agency responsible for the management of water resources in the 13,000-square-mile area drained by the Delaware River and Delaware Bay.
Carol Collier, a member of the Ambler Campus Board of Visitors and Senior Advisor for Watershed Management and Policy and Director of Environmental Studies and Sustainability at Drexel University, first met Featherstone in 1998 in what could have been a tense situation. They had both applied to become director for the DRBC.
Collier was selected for the position and the two worked together for years. Titles were never an issue for Featherstone, it was the job that mattered.
“It was wonderful to work with him. He knew so much about water policy locally, regionally and internationally,” she said. “Jeff never delegated. If something needed to be done, he jumped right in and did it. The history of the region was a steep learning curve, but you could always ask him questions about the history of how different things got to be the way they were.”
The DRBC is all about building consensus, Collier said, and in 1998, Featherstone’s ability to work with people and build consensus was critically needed.
“There was a point in 1998 where it just stopped raining, period. The reservoirs just kept going down,” she said. “We had to reach out to the major water users in the region to talk about their water management plans. Jeff did a stellar job helping them realize how individual water management plans could be implemented and how it could be done equitably.”
Featherstone, Collier said, also helped start the effort to develop a water resources plan for the basin as a whole, a project that Fromuth worked on as well.
“He was able to get different people from different sectors to realize the value of water — it drives the economy of the basin — and what water resources management really entails,” she said. “He was able to build water resource constituencies and get different people into the conversation. He was one of the brightest water policy people that I ever met, a good friend who really cared.”
Prior to his time with the DRBC, Featherstone was the Director of Planning for the Upper Mississippi River Basin Commission where he served as the Regional Study Director for the 1975 National Water Assessment, and project manager for numerous comprehensive basin studies. He was employed in the early 1970s as a hydrologist and planner with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a research specialist at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.
Featherstone was quick to share his knowledge but just as quick to avoid any accolades that might come from it. He served on review boards for professional associations and was published in conference proceedings or professional journals of the American Water Works Association, American Political Science Association, Universities Council on Water Resources, American Water Resources Association, and National Ground Water Association. In addition to previously teaching courses and seminars at Rider University, he also served as a guest lecturer at City University of New York, Delaware Valley College, Drexel University, Pennsylvania State University, and Rutgers University.
In 1992 Featherstone served as a member of the Long’s Peak Working Group, an advisory body to then President-elect Bill Clinton on National Water Policy and Sustainability. He was responsible for drafting the sections of the group’s report on water use efficiency and conservation. The final report, entitled: “America’s Waters: A New Era of Sustainability,” served as the starting point for the new administration’s policy and regulatory agenda.
In 1995, he was asked by then Director of the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation Dan Beard to serve as a ranking member of the U. S. Water Resources Delegation to China. Featherstone presented a paper on water conservation and sustainability at a symposium in Beijing entitled “Sustainable Water Resources Utilization” and traveled throughout major parts of China to advise government officials on water conservation and sustainability issues. He regularly hosted and educated groups of touring international water professionals at the DRBC’s office in West Trenton, New Jersey, and was viewed by China as a premier U.S. expert on water resources and sustainability.
Featherstone also served on various expert panels to advise agencies and communities on their water supply and wastewater systems. In 2001, he served as consultant to the City of Wichita advising their water professionals on the City’s future water supply plans. For six years he additionally served as an expert panelist for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s program to reduce nitrogen loadings to Long Island Sound and Jamaica Bay. He also served as a board member on the Interstate Council of Water Policy and chaired its Interstate River Basin Standing Committee.
Featherstone, Hilty said, “was an innovator, builder and leader, always with an eye to the future.”
“He had great political instincts, an almost intuitive sense of what had to be done to get the job done when others questioned whether it could or should be done at all. He was also a survivor in an often hostile bureaucratic world,” he said. “What impressed me most about Jeff was his ability to maintain his sense of humor and perspective, to evoke a genuine sincerity and compassion for others, especially when the absurdities of academic life pressed around him.”
Celebrating the Earth
For Featherstone, “sustainability” wasn’t a buzzword. It was an avocation. He welcomed every opportunity to talk about and showcase sustainable concepts to as wide an audience as possible within Temple and within the region.
Featherstone described “sustainability” as “the balance between the natural world and the buildings in which we live and work.”
“Sustainability involves protecting our natural resources — our rivers, streams, forests, and air — for today and tomorrow. Nearly half of the global population and more than 220 million people in the United States live in cities,” he said. “Striking that crucial balance between the natural and built worlds is at the heart of the research and projects undertaken by students and faculty in Temple’s School of Environmental Design (today the Division of Architecture and Environmental Design).
Sustainability is one of the legacies that Featherstone leaves Temple,” said Spinella Sacks.
“He had the personality and wherewithal to not only emphasize sustainability in the classroom but outside of it, to other faculty, other disciplines and within the community. And it wasn’t just the Center talking about these concepts,” she said. “Jeff wanted the University to practice not only what he was preaching but what other faculty members were trying to achieve. He helped start the conversation and had the strength to move the University forward and become a leader in sustainability education.”
In fall 2002, faculty from Temple’s Intellectual Heritage program came to Featherstone with an idea for a day-long conference focused entirely on sustainability, which would be held on Earth Day, April 22, 2003. Meetings began soon after about the form and function of the conference and the intended audience.
The day’s conference topics included: “When and how do private and public interests collide,” “Does preservation and conservation mean a rejection of ‘Progress,’” “How might science and social values meet,” “How can business help enhance our natural and cultural heritage,” and “Indicators of sustainability: How can state, county, and local governments assess progress?”
“The environmental movement is essentially a distant memory at this point. We need to refocus,” said Featherstone in November 2002. “During recent Earth Days, there has been very little activity in this area to draw attention to these important issues of sustainability. As a university we want to take a lead role in offering people ways to learn about, discuss, and deal with them.”
It was during those early meetings that a seed was planted that has grown into an annual Ambler Campus celebration — EarthFest.
“Jeff and I talked about the idea of having an event for the public outside while the conference was taking place inside, something that would bring environmental organizations and companies together to share concepts and ideas. He was all in from the start,” said Jim Duffy, Public Relations and Website Coordinator at Temple University Ambler and one of the co-coordinators of EarthFest. “That was Jeff — he always valued your opinion and was always willing to share his own insight. We’d had never done something like this as a campus before but where others might have seen challenges, he saw opportunities.”
Featherstone and Duffy took the idea to Michael Schlotterbeck, then Director of Marketing and Communications at Ambler, who took the ball and ran with it. They also enlisted the aid of Spinella Sacks to turn the concept into reality.
“Through this celebration we want to bring as many facets of sustainability together in one location,” said Featherstone in 2002. “We want to both talk about the idea of sustainability in addition to showing the public practical applications.”
That first year welcomed about 40 exhibitors, which included several Temple departments in addition to non-profits and government agencies, such as the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP also presented an environmental education grant to the Center to develop curricula and workshops to assist educators in teaching environmental studies during the event.
“Year one was a learning experience from start to finish. We didn’t tent anyone and it poured for the first 90 minutes,” Duffy said. “Then the sun shone through and our 1,500 visitors had a great time. I think that’s an apt metaphor for the event as a whole — what initially seemed impossible to pull off became an event we could all be extremely proud of.”
EarthFest, Duffy said, could have been a one-time event, “but Jeff and Mike and I think really most of the campus community and administrators saw the value in it.”
In its second year in 2004, Featherstone proudly announced that “EarthFest will be bigger and better thanks to a partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) that will essentially double the size of the event.” Schlotterbeck spearheaded the idea of Temple’s EarthFest and PHS’s Kids Grow Expo and Junior Flower Show becoming one large event hosted on campus, a partnership that lasted for many years that followed.
“Jeff became a champion for EarthFest. He was there every year at the event main stage welcoming our visitors and sharing a message of sustainability, providing a strong vote of confidence that they could and would make a difference,” he said. “He knew so many people among our exhibitors — groups and organizations that would come back year after year — that I think it must have been like a gathering of likeminded friends getting together with the clear goal of educating and empowering the next generation to protect and preserve the planet we’re leaving them. I think he was particularly pleased that EarthFest 2016 included 32 student-created exhibits.”
Since 2003, Temple’s outdoor, educational celebration of Earth Day has welcomed nearly 100,000 students, teachers, parents and community members to campus. On April 22 of this year, Featherstone was there once again to welcome 6,500 visitors and more than 90 exhibitors to campus.
The creation of EarthFest “will have a lasting impact on the future through its influence on youth and helping to teach them about sustainability and giving them a venue to present and teach others,” said Vicki McGarvey.
“I’ll always remember the last time I saw Jeff,” she said. “We were standing together near the stage at EarthFest looking out at the literally thousands of kids that the Center brought to campus and talking about ideas for recruiting some new sponsors to make next year even bigger. EarthFest is not going to be the same without him.”
Duffy said Featherstone always seemed unshakeable, even at the most stressful of times — planning an event welcoming thousands of people to campus has an inherent level of stress inducing moments.
“He brought out the best in people — their best work and their best selves. He gave faculty, students and colleagues the quiet guidance to see where the finish line was for any project and then find the best solutions to get there,” he said. “He was always someone you enjoyed working with no matter the project. I will miss his laugh...a deep, booming crescendo that dared you not to join in. He was someone you felt honored to know and someone who could always be counted on to provide insight and encouragement.”
A Welcoming Friend
For everyone who had the opportunity to work with him, everyone who he befriended, he made their lives better for being a part of it. Soft spoken but exceedingly quick witted, Featherstone was a very easy person to like.
“Jeff was a great conversationalist; it was easy to strike up a friendship beyond Temple. I’m from Ohio so we shared a Midwestern view of the world,” said Dr. Hilty. “Jeff was a very caring person, about friends, colleagues and the environment, but especially of his wife and family. He was as likeable and charming as anyone I’ve known in my four-plus decades in academic life — God, I’ll miss him.”
Janet and Lew Klein had the good fortune of meeting Jeff and Nancy Featherstone at a faculty gathering held at the home of Jim Hilty.
“Jeff laughed about something and it resonated throughout the room. The friendship began right there,” said Janet Klein, a member of the Ambler Campus Board of Visitors and staunch advocate for the campus. “The four of us had so many interests in common.”
According to Klein, Janet, Lew, Nancy and Jeff were in the middle of planning a trip to Ireland, which would have taken place in a few weeks time.
“The four of us sat down and together planned out our basic route, where we wanted to stay and what we wanted to see — the wild Atlantic coast and thatched roof cottages were high on the list,” she said. “Jeff made all of the reservations. Nature and history and archeology, there was so much to talk about and so much to plan; we had such fun planning the trip. There was such a lightheartedness about (Jeff and Nancy), in how they approached things, in how they were with their children and in their travels.”
Family, Klein said, is Featherstone’s true legacy.
“They are such a strong family. His two girls Lia and Lin (both Temple sophomores) are his lasting legacy — the closeness and the love of his children,” she said. “I think they inspire everyone to enjoy life.”
For David Boardman, Dean and Professor in Temple’s School of Media and Communication, his first introduction to Featherstone wasn’t at a meeting or faculty function. It wasn’t at Temple at all.
“Jeff was the first friend I made when my wife and I moved to Media from Seattle. I was out walking my dog in the snow, and was approached by a new neighbor, smiling broadly. After a few pleasantries, he asked me what brought us here,” he said. “I told him was a newspaper editor in Seattle. Now, I'm an academic dean …”
Before Boardman had a chance to finish his sentence, Featherstone had finished it for him — “At Temple!”
“I asked him how he could know that. He said ‘I work at Temple also, and I was just reading about you,’” he said. “We moved on to talking about our wives and daughters. ‘Where is your wife from’ Jeff asked. ‘Iowa,’ I answered. ‘Where in Iowa,” he asked. ‘The northwest corner,’ I said.”
Considering how the conversation had been going, it was little surprise when Featherstone said his wife Nancy was also from Northwest Iowa.
“I felt like he and Nancy had been put there by some higher power to help Barbara and me feel at home. And they sure did,” Boardman said. “Jeff and I shared a passion for travel, for college sports and for good red wine. We also shared a passion for making a difference in the world, and he certainly did. I feel privileged to have had him as a colleague, a neighbor and a friend.”
A Lasting Legacy
Janet Klein opened the Philadelphia Inquirer recently to find a photo of individuals along the Tookany Creek working to monitor water quality for a project in the Delaware River Watershed. While the project might not have been directly Temple-related, she certainly felt Featherstone’s influence in the work that was taking place.
“Jeff’s interest in water started a conversation throughout the region. He championed the concept of being able to protect and preserve entire watersheds,” she said. “He took his knowledge to China and the Middle East. He understood the importance of educating people about clean water and sustaining the environment.”
Born in Redwing and then raised in Winona, Minnesota, Featherstone’s talent and expertise was internationally recognized, though his Midwestern modesty prevented him from ever thinking of himself in those terms. His knowledge, problem solving skills and keen interest in travel, however, took him all over the world.
In addition to his work in China, Featherstone was a valued member of the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) for more than a decade, participating in international conferences in Poland and Russia and chairing the organization’s conference in Brisbane, Australia in 2013.
In 2015, he led an international team of city planners to explore and recommend revitalization efforts in the West Bank of the Jordan River. He also provided technical assistance to a second team in the Gaza Strip. The United Nations-approved project was spearheaded by ISOCARP in cooperation with UN-Habitat and the UN Development Programme.
“Due to the volatility of the region, a great deal of the urban infrastructure in areas such as Gaza and the West Bank is in a constant state of disrepair. The water and sewer lines and transportation corridors are essentially non-functioning,” Featherstone said shortly before departing for the trip. “Rather than send engineers or geologists, the UN turned to ISOCARP for its expertise and global perspective. I think part of the reason I was selected for this project is the Center’s years of experience in overseeing projects that cross municipal and political borders.”
At Temple, Featherstone was one of the first members of Temple’s $1 Million Research Club in 2004. Never seeking the spotlight, he firmly attributed such success to the people he worked with.
“I’m pleased that Ambler and the Center are being recognized for this achievement. It’s not one person; it’s a large number of faculty and staff contributing to the effort,” he said when learning of the accolade. “I think the reason we are successful in acquiring funding is that we have the people to do the work. We have faculty from various departments who are very skilled in applied research in engineering, planning, geology, horticulture, and landscape architecture.”
Feathestone led projects in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties to ensure healthy drinking water, provide municipalities the tools to avoid the damaging effects of flooding, provide effective transportation, ensure food equity and support viable, sustainable communities for today and tomorrow. The Center’s stormwater management research in the Pennypack Creek and Wissahickon watersheds and other regions of the state led to complete floodplain remapping by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Most of the projects that the Center and the planning department have undertaken place an important emphasis on ensuring “people are remembered in planning,” according to Dr. Mahbubur Meenar, Assistant Director of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Operations and Research with the Center for Sustainable Communities.
Featherstone believed that community support was essential for any of the action plans the Center developed to become a reality. The Center has hosted numerous public meetings and planning charettes in communities within the city of Philadelphia and in the suburbs to ensure that their work reflects the needs and interests of the people who live and work there.
“I worked for Jeff for 14 years, but I never considered him as a boss. He was a great colleague, friend and mentor,” said Meenar. “Without his strong support, professionally and personally, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything. He gave me a lot of freedom to explore new avenues and grow as a person and a professional. He was truly the best person I have met in my 17 years in the United States.”
As director of the Center, Featherstone secured more than $10 million in research grants and successfully completed over 30 research projects.
In 2014 alone, the Center received grants totaling more than $2.65 million to research and help implement a variety of beneficial projects, from overseeing restoration projects in the Philadelphia region to exploring “traffic demand management” policies along the Route 422 corridor.
“The Center and our researchers, faculty and students are extremely active, a clear indication that our funders are confident that we can do the job,” said Featherstone reflecting on the Center’s extensive list of research. “They know they are going to get a good product with an eye toward implementation. We have branched out from working almost exclusively on watershed and stormwater management to sustainable transportation, urban infrastructure and social equity issues.”
Ongoing major grant projects include a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for research that focuses on the environmental, economic and social impacts of implementing green infrastructure to deal with stormwater-runoff issues in urban environments. Temple’s Main Campus has become a living laboratory for the study and evaluation of stormwater management controls and practices.
The Center received a $1.235 million grant from the William Penn Foundation to provide oversight, expertise and support for what could potentially be dozens of restoration projects in the suburban portions of five watersheds in the Philadelphia region. The funding has allowed the Center to conduct modeling, monitoring, assessment and project oversight for projects undertaken by area municipalities and watershed organizations with the ultimate goal being to protect and improve the water quality and ecological conditions of the streams within these watersheds.
The Center, Featherstone said, “has the skilled professors and researchers and a dedicated group of student research assistants each year to research each project and provide recommendations and/or direct expertise to bring these projects to fruition.”
“We combine those things with technical knowledge and a large network of community partners. We are out helping communities do serious work from preventing floods and stormwater management to transportation planning and reducing carbon emissions,” he said. “Through modeling and monitoring, we are learning what is working in the field and what isn’t with every project. What makes the most sense; what options are most cost effective and produce the best outcomes.”
The Center’s research also directly reflects one of the “six commitments” laid out by Temple President Neil D. Theobald in his inaugural address.
“All of the research that we undertake is designed to improve lives. Doing this type of research is the classic role for a university to take in conjunction with our community partners,” Featherstone said. “In doing so, we also provide a diverse group of students from a wide variety of disciplines at Temple the opportunity to engage in real world projects with actual clients. They are learning skills today that will directly benefit them in their chosen professions.”
While the students have benefited from the hands-on experience Temple’s programs offer, the planning industry has greatly benefited from the students it has produced, said Drew Shaw, Environmental Planning Section Chief with the Montgomery County Planning Commission.
“Jeff had a good understanding of the way things work and took a very balanced approach to everything, a trait he instilled in his students. The Commission has hired quite a few students from Temple who are able to jump right in with knowledge and confidence; they understand planning, they understand government,” he said. “Now many of those students are out working with planning firms and agencies or building firms of their own. That’s a significant part of Jeff’s legacy and impact in the region — the many Temple graduates who are working in and influencing the environmental field.”
The Montgomery County Planning Commission is certainly not alone in hiring Temple planning students. Graduates have found careers that directly impact communities throughout the region, securing positions with the likes of the Bucks County Planning Commission; Radnor Township; the Department of Homeland Security; FEMA; Hunterdon County, New Jersey; New Jersey’s Office of Smart Growth; area environmental, land use, and economic development firms; and Temple’s own Center for Sustainable Communities.
Featherstone worked very hard “to get the Center in a position to be successful for the next several years,” said Spinella Sacks.
“In just the last fiscal year, the Center has brought in more than $2.7 million in grants,” she said. “We have several other things in the works that could put that number well over $2.8 million before the end of June.”
Part of Featherstone’s legacy will always be the way he treated his colleagues, Spinella Sacks said.
“A lot of what I learned from him goes well beyond the tangible planning skills. I learned how to treat the people around me; I learned to value my family; I learned that there is more than the day-to-day operations of the Center,” she said. “Jeff was so much more than a colleague to me. He was a mentor and dear friend and I will cherish all of the memories that I have of him.”
Featherstone loved the Ambler Campus and its community, Spinella Sacks said, “and it’s a comfort to have people here that respected and cared for him as much as I do to not only grieve with but to celebrate his life with.”
“Jeff and I laughed a lot and we also shook our heads a lot. We had to preserve through some tough times but he was always a strong, unbreakable, compassionate man,” she said. “I think the best way to honor him personally is to remember how much he loved life and how well he lived it. I think the best way to honor him professionally is to continue to do the important work that we are engaged in.”