Deborah Marton to Step Down as Executive Director

July 1, 2024

Van Alen Institute Announces Deborah Marton to Step Down as Executive Director

Deborah Marton, at center. (Left: R. May Lee, Board Chair. Right: Shiloah Coley, Project Manager, Programs) Photo: Cameron Blaylock

Current Director of Programs and Director of Strategic Partnerships to Serve as Interim Co-Executive Directors

(Brooklyn, NY—July 1, 2024) Van Alen Institute, the 130-year-old urban design nonprofit, announces that its Executive Director, Deborah Marton, will step down from her role in August 2024 to focus on family and her work at the New York City Public Design Commission.

During her five-year tenure, Marton led the organization through a major mission shift to create equitable cities through inclusive design, centering community expertise and residents’ agency over their built environment. She created programs that leverage Van Alen’s legacy, resources, and network to make it easier for communities to shape places where they live.

“It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime to steer Van Alen Institute towards self-initiated projects that advance design justice. Now, with a suite of community-led design programs, welcoming new headquarters in Brooklyn, and a unified board and staff, Van Alen is in a brilliant place to continue growing under new leadership,” said Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute. “It’s been an honor and privilege to lead these efforts and build coalitions with inspiring community leaders working towards justice, squarely situating Van Alen to foster equity in the built environment.”

“We’re going to miss Deborah. Throughout her career as a civic leader, Deborah has been committed to elevating community voices and holding space for dialogue among the many stakeholders involved in bringing an environment to life. At Van Alen, she has consistently cultivated trust in service of the design process, the essential first step to systemic change we need for a more equitable world,” said R. May Lee, Van Alen Board Chair and Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Institutional Impact, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Van Alen’s Board of Trustees has begun the search for the new Executive Director and will seek an individual who shares the organization’s values and has the skills and passion to lead Van Alen in the next stage of advancing its mission. During this time, current Director of Programs Andrew Brown and Director of Strategic Partnerships Kate Overbeck will serve as Interim Co-Executive Directors, building on their extensive senior leadership experience at Van Alen.

“Deborah joined Van Alen Institute with a laser-focused vision to put community expertise at the center of our work. It’s been profoundly fulfilling to lead Van Alen’s programs during this transformational period, and I look forward to continuing this momentum,” said Andrew Brown, Director of Programs, Van Alen Institute.

Added Kate Overbeck, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Van Alen Institute, “Under Deborah’s leadership, Van Alen’s staff, board, and partners are wholly united in our mission to create more equitable cities. I’m excited to continue advancing the remarkable power of Van Alen’s inclusive design network.”

As Interim Co-Executive Directors, Brown and Overbeck will carry forward community-led inclusive design programs developed during Marton’s tenure, including:

  • Design Sprints: fast-paced co-design projects that build trust between community leaders and designers
  • Common Build: public space activations that engage residents and attract neighborhood investment
  • Multiyear initiatives sparking transformational change in the way communities, designers, and city leaders build coalitions and co-create shared spaces — for example, Albany Hive is redeveloping a disinvested alley into a welcoming community space
  • Urban Room at Van Alen Institute, a dignified community meeting space to support civic participation and the work of Van Alen’s partners

These programs build on the momentum of citywide initiatives that Marton spearheaded at Van Alen, including Neighborhoods Now, the pandemic-response initiative in collaboration with the Urban Design Forum; and Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge, an international design competition in partnership with the New York City Council.

About Deborah Marton
A leading voice on the intersection of environmental and social justice, Deborah Marton is the President of NYC’s Public Design Commission, where she leads its advocacy for equitable public space design. She was previously Executive Director of New York Restoration Project, where she led the private sector commitment to plant a million trees as part of New York City’s MillionTreesNYC initiative and the creation and/or renovation of more than 50 community garden spaces throughout New York City’s most under-resourced communities. In her prior role as Executive Director of the Design Trust for Public Space, Deborah launched the Taxi 07 program, resulting in a new purpose-built NYC taxi.

About Andrew Brown
As Director of Programs at Van Alen Institute, Andrew Brown oversees programs that mobilize designers to address pressing challenges in communities. Andrew is a researcher trained in empirical analysis of programs and public policy and his work often explores how designers, city leaders, and communities can work together to create healthier, more prosperous neighborhoods. He received his Master of Public Administration from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and Bachelors in History from Williams College.

About Kate Overbeck
As Director of Strategic Partnerships at Van Alen Institute, Kate Overbeck connects people committed to equitable citymaking with the resources needed to create more livable, healthy, and resilient neighborhoods for everyone. Prior to joining Van Alen, Kate was Associate Director of Strategic Partnerships at Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, where she mobilized support to help cities survive and thrive in the face of physical, social, and environmental challenges. Kate graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology.

About Van Alen Institute
Van Alen Institute helps create equitable cities through community-led inclusive design. In an equitable city, communities are engaged in the conception and creation of their built environment, regardless of income or personal circumstances. Community-driven decision-making builds resilience, social infrastructure, and ultimately, more just cities. For 130 years, our purposeful community engagement, convening capacity, and global network have produced profound transformations in the public realm of New York City and beyond. With an interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in architecture, arts and culture, community organizing, preservation, and public policy. See all work at

Press Contacts
Alisha Kim Levin, Director of Communications:
Elisa Smilovitz: