We are continuing to celebrate Women’s History Month with another installment in our blog series. This week we are featuring Gail Latimore from Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp. Gail is a proven leader in community development and has created environmental programs, including a community shared solar project. Read more about what inspired her to pursue community development, and her advice to young women starting out in the environmental field.
Which neighborhood do you live in, and what organization do you currently work for?
I am the Executive Director of Codman Square NDC and I live in Hyde Park.
What is your background, and how did you come to work in the environmental field?
My background is that I have a degree in architecture and did master’s level work in urban affairs at Boston University. I’ve always been interested in the environmental field. At one point, as a high school senior, I was seriously considering becoming a forest ranger. My guidance counselors, however, pointed me in a different direction. Today, my environmental work takes the form of leading the Codman Square NDC in Dorchester, where we’ve launched a range of environmental and energy sustainability initiatives, including the Talbot Norfolk Triangle Eco-Innovation District (TNT EID). Over the past 4 years, we’ve been surfacing environmental innovations in the Talbot Norfolk Triangle neighborhood, that include facilitating the energy retrofit of about 40% of the 525 mostly low-moderate income housing units in the District, while also launching a Community Shared Solar program that is currently installing solar panels on about 400 units of housing in our service area. We hope to virtual net meter excess energy generated from those solar panels back into the TNT EID, reducing the electric bills of the low/moderate income residents to help make bills more predictable.
What inspired you to pursue your career?
I was inspired to enter the community development field out of my love for my community, as well as the natural and the built environment. I see this field as enabling me to deploy my skills, interests, and passions across all of these areas: building affordable housing to high levels of environmental and energy sustainability, like Codman Square NDC did with our award-winning Erie Ellington Homes development, while also pursuing environmental and energy innovations. [These innovations] not only address climate and other concerns, but directly impacts the health and well-being of the low and moderate income people I care about through reduced energy bills and reduced greenhouse gases. Our work has direct implications for our constituents.
What advice would you give young women starting out in the environmental field?
I’d say to trust your instincts when it comes to engaging in this or any other field or endeavor. Women are not predominant in fields like this, particularly women of color. Trust your skills and experience, including your life experience. I’d also suggest women think about the bottom line for the communities they’re working in. How does the environmental work actually help the residents? Does it save them money, make them healthier? These type of guideposts and questions should predominate when advocating for or implementing the work.
What female figures have influenced you the most? Why?
I think Harriet Tubman, also Maya Angelou. Those women were fearless, taking risks, and in the case of Harriet Tubman, putting her life on the line for what they believed in. Maya brought her life experience and prose to bear on issues in ways that cut through the “noise” and made statements. I also admire my mother, Lessie, who successfully raised 9 children—all college-educated, during an extremely challenging time in our nation’s history (the 1950’s). She is truly my role model—83 years old, and still walks miles at a time! I always tell her I want to be like her.
What do you believe is the most pressing environmental issue of our time?
There are many. I’m concerned about climate change, of course, which has huge implications for all of us, globally. In our inner city neighborhoods, toxic sites—brownfields, are a serious health issue. Indoor air quality, especially in the older homes (many over 100 years old), is a not often-addressed issue. Radon and other hazardous gases is a huge unknown in our community that affects our health. I’d like to see more testing and more availability of resources to address this issue.
What actions do you suggest women take today to get involved and make impact to act on climate?
In our community, with the many pressing issues that low and moderate income people face, climate change is often not at the top of their list. It does, however, have huge implications for our physical and economic well-being. I’d suggest that women work with local groups, such as Codman Square NDC that are in the community, trying to mobilize the community around these issues. Women, who are often the primary nurturers, can help translate climate issues into concrete, practical applications for those we serve. Help people see the link between climate change and the cost of things such as electric and gas bills, health care and food costs.