March 29, 2022 News & Features » Cover Story

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Maritza Mercado Pechin, 39 

Deputy director for the Office of Equitable Development, City of Richmond

click to enlarge maritzamercadopechin.jpg

Scott Elmquist

“I was living in Boston after college, walking around and thinking, ‘How does this parking lot become a Ritz Carlton with a movie theater and restaurants and apartments?’” says Maritza Mercado Pechin. “This sidewalk is glittery with a special aggregate—who makes these kinds of decisions?’”

As one may glean based on the above line of thinking, Pechin has urban planning in her blood. The Puerto Rican native and Harvard grad says she grew up going to planning meetings with her mother, who worked on large transportation projects.

Discovering how and why cities are transformed by thousands upon thousands of minute and large-scale details has always captivated Pechin."I’m a systems thinker,” she says.

When addressing issues inherent to any city—like the heat island effect, poverty or unequal life expectancy—Pechin says every piece matters, from determining if the Department of Public Works is planting the right trees to whether an empty structure will becoming affordable housing.

In 2021, Pechin officially started working for the city of Richmond. Before this, she’d been an embedded consultant, working as a project manager for a private firm.

Pechin is the brains behind Richmond 300: A Guide for Growth, an exhaustive plan that outlines the vision and goals for Richmond over the next 20 years. In 2021, Richmond 300 won the planning profession’s most prestigious award, the Daniel H. Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan. “That was pretty exciting,” says Pechin, who helped launch Richmond 300 in 2017.

While figuring out how best to implement the massive plan, Pechin and her team established an advisory council comprised of a diverse group “in terms of gender and race and location and time living in the city,” says Pechin. “I wanted people who were experts in land use law and I also wanted people who were experts in loving Richmond. Those people became very important in the planning process.”

Pechin is still helping implement Richmond 300 today, focusing on different facets of the plan each year. This means asking questions like, "How do we make the highway that runs through the 6th and 9th districts support the neighborhoods better?" "How do we untap Southside Plaza and make it something better and stronger?”

Between 2017 and 2037, Pechin was tasked with achieving 17 goals, 73 objectives and 415 strategies laid out in Richmond 300 with an overall mission to expand equity, increase sustainability and beautify the city.

“This is the fun part,” says Pechin. “That’s why I joined the city. Making the plan can be a slog, but now it’s like ‘OK how do we make this happen?’”

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