Jeff Levine, director of planning and urban development in Portland, is taking a teaching position at MIT. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — For the last 20 years, Jeff Levine has been helping communities in Massachusetts and Maine plan for the future.

Now, after seven years as Portland’s director of planning and urban development, Levine is leaving city government to do that for the next generation of planners.

Levine’s last day in the planning office is Aug.2. He will join the faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, where he will lecture in planning and economic development.

“I will be shaping the next generation of planners, which to me is really exciting at this point in my career,” Levine said last week.

Levine said he was not actively trying to leave his job, but was notified by a former planning colleague in the Boston area that the college position was available. Levine originally dismissed the idea, but in the end felt it was too good an opportunity to ignore.

“This was a rare opportunity because these sort of positions don’t come up too often. The guy who had it, had it for 25 years,” Levine said.

The MIT program is “very well known nationally and internationally,” he said, and its graduates include several employees in Portland’s planning and urban development office.

“I’ve always been impressed with the people who have gone there,” Levine said.

City Manager Jon Jennings said he has come to rely on Levine.

“I have seen him in some very difficult situations at times with the public, and work masterfully with the City Council,” said Jennings, who became city manager in July 2015. “My respect and admiration for him has only grown over these last four years, to the point where I have asked him for his ideas and advise of things outside of planning and urban development.

“I have always believed, in a position like mine, you want the best for the people that you work with,” he added. “I am sorry to see him go, but I am thrilled for him and his family for this opportunity.”

Levine has led the planning and urban development office since July 2012. Prior to that he worked as director of planning and community development in Brookline, Massachusetts. He has been director of transportation and long range planning in Somerville, Massachusetts. Levine also taught graduate planning courses at Tufts University, the University of Southern Maine and the University of Massachusetts.

He said he is looking forward to his new position, but will miss the work he is doing now.

“I really enjoy local government,” Levine said. “This is where the action happens.”

City Councilor Kimberly Cook took a moment at the end of the council’s July 15 meeting to thank Levine for his service to the city.

“Your leadership and forward thinking over the years, we are all better off for it,” she said.

Levine said Portland city government has become more confident about its ability to balance “protecting what we love about the city and understanding a vibrant city needs to grow and change,” and has pushed forward initiatives such as inclusionary zoning, impact fees, historic preservation and incentives for affordable housing development.

The biggest challenge during his tenure, he said, has been the volume of development the city has seen in recent years, especially in the India Street and East End areas, and the juggling of several major projects at once.

Levine said one of things he is most proud of is the community collaboration that created Portland’s Plan 2030, the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The effort included feedback from high school students, minorities and members of other groups who typically don’t attend meetings or engage in planning discourse.

“Having a team that could not only do the day-to-day planning, but work that results in a forward-thinking plan was great,” Levine said. “I am glad of the work they have done over the last seven years and I’ll miss them.”

Levine said he will continue to live in Portland and will be following the development of the city closely.

“There are some areas in the city that just need the right opportunity for something great to happen there,” he said. “We just have to balance growth and change with what makes Portland special,” he said.

Jennings said he has asked City Planner Christine Grimando to be the acting director of the department until Levine’s replacement is hired. Jennings said he hopes to have someone in the position permanently by the end of August or early September.


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