Green wants to improve city services for those that need them most.

Diana King
May 11, 2022

Clearwater, Florida, like much of urban America, is marked by startling inequality, with multimillion-dollar beachfront homes mere miles from the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods. At 22, as neighborhoods coordinator for the city of Clearwater, Juliahna Green MPP 2022 strived to bridge the disparity in services, and more significantly, the mutual distrust between the city and its under-resourced communities.

Green spent several nights a month talking to residents in Lake Belleview, the city’s lowest-income community at the time. During her two-year tenure, she identified and fixed major gaps in city services within the neighborhood, organizing a taskforce that installed, repaired, and replaced miles of sidewalk and bike lanes, broken curbs, leaking fire hydrants, street signage, and crosswalks, as well as launching community-led public art projects.

The problem she kept hearing about—and that had been an issue for 20 years—was a large, abandoned lot that was officially registered with the city as a park. Over the years, it had fallen into disrepair. Retired playground equipment was not replaced, and park programming was halted. Some residents could recount a time when they were barred from the park, which was formerly segregated. Over the years, the lot began to accrue trash and became the site of various crimes. For the residents, the lot symbolized the massive trust gap between the neighborhood and the city.

Lake Belleview residents “didn’t believe that change in their neighborhood was possible, or that the city was willing to invest in their community,” says Green. She sought to remake the lot into a symbol of change, a sign that “the city is trying to make things better, that they want to meet residents where they are.”

Juliahna Green with HKS buildings in the background.

Good-humoredly called a “true Leslie Knope” by her friends, Green took on a tooth-and-nail fight to raise funding for the park in the same indefatigable spirit as the protagonist of the popular TV show “Parks and Recreation.” “Leslie had a pit; I had a lot. So, I had a leg up,” Green jokes. It took Knope, the fictional deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in a small town in Indiana, several seasons to get funding. Green got her budget approved in just over a year.

Spearheading a committee of 15 people, Green personally took department heads and city staff to visit the neighborhood. Once she had secured funding, she helped redesign the park in collaboration with Lake Belleview community members. Today, it has a basketball court, picnic area, grills, and a soccer field. It’s a space that finally “honors the people of the neighborhood.”

The Clearwater experience cemented her desire to work in local government. “It’s easy to look at national politics, and see how things are mired in red tape and ideological battles, and feel discouraged,” Green says. But city staff, even with scarce local resources, have more leeway to be innovative. “The best part of working in city government is, at the end of the day, you’re the closest branch of government to the people you’re serving,” she states. “There’s no other option. You absolutely have to develop pragmatic solutions, regardless of ideology, to make things work for the people you serve.” 

Green first started working for city government while a freshman at Boston University. She had read an article in The Boston Globe about a new environmental initiative and wrote Mayor Marty Walsh’s chief of staff for the city’s Environmental Department that morning, expressing interest and outlining ways she could help. She got a call back the same day. That afternoon, she jumped on a train to City Hall in a borrowed suit, met the mayor, and was hired on the spot. 

“The best part of working in city government is, at the end of the day, you’re the closest branch of government to the people you’re serving.”

Juliahna Green MPP 2022

Since then, Green has worked for six different cities, including advising Manchester, in the United Kingdom, on its homelessness policy; Birmingham, Alabama, on its policing policies; and, as a Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Summer Fellow, helping overhaul South Bend, Indiana’s social assistance application process.

Most recently, she returned to Boston to work in Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration as a Transition Term Fellow and Operations Management Fellow, where she advised on community engagement strategy for the mayor’s historic free fare public transportation initiative and helped redesign the city’s block party permit process. “It sounds trivial,” she says. But the process is onerous, requiring several applications online and in person, impeding gatherings that could foster community spirit and belonging. She helped streamline and automate the process, creating a universal application, applying some of the things she learned in faculty member David Eaves’ digital government courses—coursework that she sees as vital to implementing effective government services.  

She also credits Rafael Carbonell, her Policy Analysis Exercise advisor and the executive director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, for helping her connect with cities around the country. “What I wanted more than anything when I arrived at Harvard was a seat at the table,” she states. Early in her career, she spent much of her time “arguing for people to let me do good work rather than doing good work.” At the end of her two years at the Kennedy School, mayors often contact Green to advise on homelessness, electric vehicle policies, low-income community outreach, and more. “There is more opportunity happening faster than I ever anticipated,” she says.  

Since that chance summer internship with the city of Boston at 18, she can’t imagine doing anything other than “making sure that we’re providing government services that run equitably and efficiently for the people who need it most.”

At heart a Floridian, she hopes to one day return to and serve her home state. “Florida is one of a kind,” she notes with affection. “You can get in your car, drive through vibrant, artistic cities, then a few hours later, arrive at an area that’s extremely agricultural. Then you reach the beach, and then the Everglades. No two places are the same.” Florida is also facing some of our world’s most urgent problems, including seawater rise, high poverty rates, high child abuse rates, and transportation issues.

In the meantime, nothing excites Green more than the prospect of returning home to visit with Lake Belleview residents in their new park. Construction was completed in April, and with commencement around the corner, it “feels very full circle,” a time of fulfilled commitments and new beginnings.

Portraits by Lydia Carmichael Rosenberg