Leader of New York Restoration Project Named Next PHS President

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Drew Becher, Executive Director of New York Restoration Project (NYRP), who has spearheaded New York City’s renowned MillionTreesNYC greening initiative, will become the 36th president of the venerable Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS).

Becher will succeed Jane G. Pepper, PHS leader since 1981, who raised the stature of the Flower Show internationally and guided Philadelphia Green into a national model for urban revitalization.

NYRP was founded by entertainer and environmentalist Bette Midler in 1995. Becher has led the non-profit NYRP since 2006, and during his tenure has been a respected leader in the city’s greening and beautification initiatives.

In 2007, Becher and NYRP partnered with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to launch MillionTreesNYC, which has led to the planting of more than 310,000 trees in New York City’s five boroughs to date. Becher is also responsible for raising millions in revenue for capital projects; revamping NYRP’s environmental educational programs for more than 10,000 children in underserved communities; and expanding the organization’s programs for community gardeners and volunteers.

He previously served as Deputy Director of the Washington, D.C.’s Office of Planning (2004-06), and Chief of Staff for the Chicago Park District (1996-2004). In Chicago, Becher helped to forge Mayor Richard M. Daley’s acclaimed environmental agenda which contributed to Chicago’s recent placement on the Forbes list of the world’s most beautiful cities.

“PHS is extremely fortunate to have found an individual of Drew’s caliber and track record,” said Council Chair John K. Ball. “His remarkable leadership, experience and devotion to urban greening are a perfect fit for our organization, which has been dedicated since 1827 to growing and preserving Philadelphia’s natural environment. Drew will be an excellent leader for the region’s green future.”

“Drew Becher has been an outstanding leader of NYRP for the past four years,” said Benjamin F. Needell, Chairman of the NYRP Board. “We appreciate the hard work and vision that he has brought to the organization, and we wish him well in his new endeavor.”

Pepper, whose work at PHS began as a volunteer at the 1976 Flower Show, became Executive Director in 1981 and President in 1985. During her tenure, the membership has doubled to 16,000 and the staff has grown from 28 to more than 100. Pepper’s ability to attract support for PHS has resulted in partnerships with city and state governments, corporations and greening organizations in the region and across the United States.

“My years here at PHS have been a wonderful, satisfying experience,” Pepper said. “I am very proud of the work our staff and amazing volunteers have accomplished in the expansion of Philadelphia Green in the neighborhoods and downtown landscapes, in the growth of our yearly exhibition into the Philadelphia International Flower Show, and in the valued partnerships we have formed. I am confident that Drew will help grow these programs and lead PHS into important new directions in the years ahead.”

Becher has led nearly 100 staffers and 37 AmeriCorps members in 10 departments in one of New York’s most successful and forward-thinking environmental organizations. In addition to creating a corporate giving program that increased funding by 250 percent, he raised more than $6 million for capital projects to rejuvenate 55 community gardens on 140 acres of land.

In the District of Columbia, he led the creation of the Department of Environment and before that served as associate director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. As Chief of Staff for Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley, Becher led a capital improvement program to renovate 253 field houses and recreation facilities and acquire land for neighborhood green space.

“Many of the practices implemented in the cities where I’ve worked were modeled after Philadelphia Green,” Becher said. “PHS is the top of the game in my field, and I couldn’t be more excited to be coming to Philadelphia and to such a dynamic organization. Jane Pepper is respected throughout the U.S. and beyond, and I am honored to have the opportunity to build on her accomplishments at PHS.”

Pepper announced her plan to retire in April 2009, at which time the PHS Council appointed a committee to search locally and nationally for a new president. Pepper will step down on June 1.

Another planned change at PHS will occur in June, when Executive Vice President J. Blaine Bonham Jr. also retires. Bonham founded Philadelphia Green in 1974, and nurtured its development into a national model for greening the city landscape and improving the quality of life in urban communities. Bonham helped create the Green City Strategy, which was adopted by the mayor of Philadelphia and led to the implementation of the PHS vacant land management program, which has converted millions of square feet of once-derelict land into green space.

Bonham’s supervision of PHS’s greening, education and publications departments will be taken on by Maitreyi Roy, PHS Vice President of Programs. Roy leads many of PHS’s innovative collaborations in urban greening, including the restoration of the tree canopy in Southeastern Pennsylvania as part of TreeVitalize, and partnerships with the Philadelphia Water Department to create storm water management landscapes.

Roy, a 2007 Eisenhower Fellow, traveled to urban centers in Europe to study best practices in urban open space policies and landscape design. She trained as an architect in India and received her master’s degree in landscape architecture at Harvard University.

PHS, a non-profit organization, founded in 1827, is America’s first horticultural society. Its two major initiatives include the Philadelphia International Flower Show, and Philadelphia Green, the largest and most comprehensive urban greening program in the nation. PHS motivates people to improve the quality of life and create a sense of community through horticulture.

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