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Jennifer Gooden graduated from Harvard.
She’s traversed Russia and China via the Trans-Siberian Railway. She also has been jazzed about doing things to help the planet ever since she can remember.
Gooden’s worldly experiences and her grassroots upbringing made her a natural choice to become Oklahoma City’s second-ever sustainability manager.
“It was an incredibly attractive opportunity for me,” she says.
Her job title is pretty amorphous, and her role is basically one that she has to define as she goes along. In a nutshell, she’s an idea person who is tasked with, basically, taking a look at everything the city does, and then deciding if it can be done in a way that’s better for the environment.
“Jennifer is a respected leader and has a proven track record for her commitment to sustainability in Oklahoma City,” City Manager Jim Couch says.
A chance to see the world helped Gooden put things in perspective.
“I was exposed to both the amazingly positive things about the environment, but also some pretty negative impacts,” she says.
To this day, she vividly remembers a trip to central Siberia, and seeing a father and son fishing at a local river bank. She had never heard of the Romashka or Tom rivers, so she Googled them, and found that their water carried the most nuclear contamination of anywhere in the world.
“People knew about it, but there was nothing they could do when they needed to eat,” Gooden says.
Closer to home, the Kingfisher native knew she was thinking globally, but needed to act locally. That’s why when she moved back to Oklahoma, she helped set up the Oklahoma City chapter of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network in 1995.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities in Oklahoma City,” she says. “The thing I love about sustainability is how broad it is. There’s opportunity in transportation, land use, opportunity in solid waste and stormwater. I think a huge opportunity is looking at a city as its own organization and changing the way we operate the city.”
Gooden is a veteran of the nonprofit scene, previously working as the vice president of community initiatives for the Regional Food Bank, where she managed more than 700 partnerships with fooddistributing agencies. She put her grant-writing ability to work helping supervise the food bank’s urban agriculture program. She previously worked as program coordinator for Homeless Alliance.
The wheels of sustainable change are already in motion in OKC. Gooden inherits the implementation of a $5.4 million block grant from the Department of Energy that her predecessor, Autumn Radle, used to fund 13 programs continuing through August 2012.
The city’s bike-share program is just now kicking off; Downtown workers can use bicycles, instead of their cars, to get around.
Elsewhere, various city departments are implementing measures to make city services a little greener.
One of Gooden’s first tasks was to dig deep into the city’s strategic plan for sustainability. From there, she’ll be able to cull enough data to help the city move forward with possibly larger-scale initiatives.
“When I think about sustainability, it’s a pretty old-fashioned idea,” Gooden says. “In Oklahoma, our heritage is about common sense and practical solutions that last.”
Photo by Mark Hancock