2018 Rising Star Award in Urban and Regional Planning: Levar Martin

The UTSA CACP’s Rising Star Distinguished Alumni are those who are demonstrating bright promise in the first decade of their professional lives. They show evidence of outstanding professional progression, such as licensure in architecture or position increase over time in any field, and evidence of service to their communities or professions. A native of San Antonio, Texas, Levar earned his Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning degree from UTSA in 2014. He is currently National Director of Programs for the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), a position he began in January 2017. He began with NALCAB in 2011 as a Program Assistant — at the same time he began his master’s degree at UTSA — and has held several positions culminating in his current one. At NALCAB, he oversees the Equitable Neighborhood Development Program. Levar has continually worked to advance economic mobility for low- and moderate-income persons and was recently accepted into the NeighborWorks America, Achieving Excellence Executive Leadership program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

On his time spent at UTSA:

After completing my undergraduate degree in Sociology, with a concentration in Urban Studies, from Trinity University, I wanted to pursue a degree in urban planning. The semester after I graduated from Trinity, UTSA launched the Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program and I wanted to learn in a program that was connected to my home town. What stands out to me was the connection that the city had to practitioners to learn from those in the planning profession along with the expertise of the UTSA professors.

On working with NALCAB for the last seven years:

My experience has been challenging and rewarding. We support real estate development, small business investment and financial capability programming through more than 120 local nonprofits in 40 states and Washington, DC. We also provide funding to organizations to develop Equitable Neighborhood Development Plans to respond to changes they are experiencing in their communities. It is challenging in that many of the communities we serve have been historically capital neglected and continue to face poverty and a lack of wealth-building opportunities. It is rewarding as our work supports low- to - moderate income communities in building economic assets and wealth.

His typical workday:

My day consists of guiding the implementation of our organization’s asset building strategies, usually quite a few meetings, and communicating with funders, government agencies, and municipalities around economic development, affordable housing, financial capability and small-business investment programs, contracts, and initiatives.

On NALCAB’s Equitable Neighborhood Development Program and the different roles he has held, such as Senior Program Manager and Program Director:

Our Equitable Neighborhood Development program area came from responding to the needs of the communities we serve. Many of our member organizations across the U.S. were telling us their neighborhoods were changing significantly and they did not quite understand why or how to respond to those changes. Lots of research exists around reacting to or responding to neighborhood change, including gentrification and displacement after it has already occurred, but there is limited research on how to get ahead of the changes so that existing residents and businesses can also benefit from the economic development and investment that is coming into these historically capital neglected communities. This led us to deeply engage in analyzing and anticipating neighborhood change, including displacement and gentrification. As Senior Program Manager and then Program Director of Equitable Neighborhood Development, I had the opportunity to lead the design and implementation of our programmatic approach and methodology of understanding and getting ahead of neighborhood change across multiple U.S. cities. This includes, but is not limited to, data analysis, GIS mapping, community engagement and facilitation, developing training curriculum, conducting multiple site visits, and advancing fair housing policy and advocacy.

His advice for current students:

Dive into the work, make yourself uncomfortable and meet as many people in the field as possible. Attend symposiums, conferences, and events. Ask people to lunch or coffee to get to know what they do and to understand what type of work is out there. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and do something you enjoy.

The UTSA CACP Distinguished Alumni Awards were introduced at the college’s 15-Year Celebration in Spring of 2017 and are now awarded annually as part of the CACP’s Scholarship Banquet each fall semester. Distinguished alumni are nominated by faculty, vetted through a faculty committee, and voted on by faculty.