julie-hooverJulie Hoover has a soft voice and a soft cloud of hair, but don’t mistake her for anything other than what she is: a highly educated woman who is passionate about the environment, with a wealth of experience in her 40-year career. She has a Master of Urban Planning from New York University, and she has been recognized globally for her expertise in sustainable development, transit and transportation planning, research, and public involvement.  She has endeavored to promote good planning practice through extensive project work, authorship of more than 80 publications and conference presentations, leadership in professional associations, and management/ mentoring/advocacy roles within the firm Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc. where she worked for 37 years, and where she led their sustainable development initiative.

So what does a person with such a vast amount of knowledge and experience do when she retires in Mérida, Yucatán? She forms an organization called Mérida Verde, of course. But first let’s get to know Julie.

In the 1970’s Julie was an avid collector of Hatian art. In order to understand Haitian art, one must understand Haiti’s history and practice of voodoo, so Julie went to Haiti with a filmmaker friend in 1983. They visited galleries by day and went to voodoo ceremonies at night. While on that trip, she met Serge Lafontant. He joined her in New York and they became life partners. They wanted to retire to Serge’s native Haiti, but it was too unstable. They decided six years ago to retire in Mexico instead, so she and Serge traveled for two years throughout Mexico, searching for the place they would eventually call home. That place turned out to be Mérida. Julie likes to walk, so she likes the flat terrain, and they love the climate, the people, and the cultural focus of the city. They sold their townhouse in New York and came to Mérida with four suitcases, renting various houses while they did a stunning restoration of a grand colonial home in Centro.

Today she chairs the board of directors for Mérida Verde, AC, a Mexican non-profit organization founded in 2008 to promote greater sustainability in all aspects of life in Mérida (they have just published the 2nd Edition of the book Living in Mérida). This completely volunteer group of around 350 members is comprised jointly of almost two thirds Mexican nationals, and the other third are ex-pat members from the international community. Mérida Verde has shown the film An Inconvenient Truth to many groups, and translated it into Spanish for greater reach. They have worked to raise public awareness about other sustainability topics through forums, school presentations, publication of materials, candlelight vigils, radio talk shows, and more. Work is done primarily through a dozen task forces focused on such diverse topics as composting, climate change, green buildings, recycling, etc. Their newest task force deals with cycling and is leading an effort to provide input to the City’s three-year development plan update. “We are also talking to the City about hosting a 3-day Green Conference, looking at land use, transportation, and environment issues. That would be a wonderful thing for Mérida, and it would make my life here feel totally complete.”

That may be so, but it is unlikely that the tireless Julie Hoover will ever stop promoting sustainable development.

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