Behind the Scenes with CSG


[featured]Learn what motivates and inspires our staff, along with a few personal fun facts! Love our work? Support us today.

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Stewart Schwartz | Cheryl Cort | Aimee Custis | Claire Jaffe | Pete Tomao | Evan Riggs




Stewart Schwartz

Executive Director


Stewart with his wife Alli before the start of CSG’s 20th Anniversary Celebration.


How long have you been at CSG and what do you do as Executive Director?

I have been at CSG from the beginning – 20 great years! As Executive Director, I lead a great team of smart, motivated staff. I build partnerships with all sectors from conservationists to progressive developers and work with elected officials and government staff.

You have a law degree. How did you end up advocating for smart growth?

A great book, Geography of Nowhere, sparked my interest in urban planning while I attended law school. Then Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, two of the inspiring founders of the Congress for the New Urbanism, spoke at UVA and I was hooked. And in 1996 an amazing group of conservation leaders gave me the opportunity to lead CSG.

After 20 years, what inspires you to keep going?

I am inspired to keep doing this work so we can build a world that will be healthier for people, our planet, and future generations.

What did you do before you came to CSG?

Before working at CSG, I served in the Navy hunting Russian submarines during the Cold War. The Navy taught me much about strategic planning, leadership and team-building. The experience also helps me to wake up bright and early each day to get to work on smart growth issues.

I know CSG keeps you very busy. But what do you do in your spare time?

Spare time? I love to bicycle and travel. I enjoy discovering great cities and towns with my wife, who I met through CSG, and our two pups. We love the Avett Brothers and their fun, thoughtful and inspiring music and we’ve seen them in concert many times.

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Cheryl Cort

Policy Director


Cheryl with her one of her two sons, enjoying one of DC’s protected bicycle lanes.

[line]How long have you been working on smart growth and how long have you been at CSG?

I started working on smart growth policy in DC through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and in 1998 took over leadership of the Washington Regional Network for Livable Communities (WRN). CSG and WRN merged in 2007 and I have been here ever since!

What is your main role as Policy Director?

I lead our policy campaigns to support transit-oriented development, sustainable land use planning and zoning, equitable development, housing choices, economic development, and pedestrian safety and access, mostly in DC and Prince George’s County.

How did you end up where you are today?

I was originally an Environmental Planner working on protecting the Chesapeake Bay when I realized that one of the best ways to protect the environment was to stop sprawl and redirect growth to existing towns and cities. I started fighting freeways and rural sprawl development in Maryland. I now work on the other critical side of this issue – ensuring that we are welcoming more people and jobs to great walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, and that everyone benefits from the revival of urban places.

I know CSG keep you busy, but what do you do when you’re not at work?

Outside of work, I entertain my two sons – Eli, age 5, and Max, nearly 3. We like to visit fun DC neighborhoods and other cities and ride all modes of transit. My son Eli loves transit and trains and was recently the subject of a semi-viral internet photo for his “I love trains” sign at the Women’s March. When I’m not working or doing urban things with kids and my spouse, I love to get into the natural world. I enjoy kayaking, canoeing, birdwatching, and identifying flowers and salamanders.

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Aimee Custis

Deputy Director


Aimee in action as a part time photographer.

[line] How long have you been at CSG?

5 years! I started as the Communications Director and am now Deputy Director.

What sort of things do you do as the Deputy Director?

I do a little bit of everything — from planning advocacy campaigns to serving as one of our spokespeople, to grant writing and fundraising, budgets, marketing and design. Since CSG is such a small team, “Deputy Director” is never a boring job, even if it’s stuffing a few hundred direct mail envelopes!

How did you get into work in urban planning?

I studied architecture and political science at Tulane. But what really caused me to fall in love with cities and  roll up my sleeves to make places better, was living in New Orleans during the years before and after Hurricane Katrina. I became involved with public service and came to DC in 2008 for graduate school at AU, after which I became a national transit advocate and then joined CSG to work at the local level.

What inspires you to keep advocating for walkable cities?

A fascination with people is a big common thread for me – in my roles as a smart growth advocate, a photographer, and an urbanist,. Jane Jacobs said it right when she observed that great cities are about people. People and the relationships between them are endlessly fascinating, always changing, and a source of constant wonder and inspiration for me.

What’s your biggest accomplishment, either with CSG or elsewhere?

My favorite CSG achievement has to be when DC finally passed its progressive zoning update in 2016. To see our campaign finally pay off after 4 1/2 years? That’s really rewarding!

What do you do outside of the office?

A lot of people know this, but many probably don’t: I’m a wedding photographer. I’ve been doing it for nearly 5 years, and I’ve even photographed some bike- and Metro-themed weddings along the way, in addition to photographing great walkable communities for CSG! CSG and wedding photography don’t leave me with a ton of spare time, but I love reading sci-fi and fantasy, listening to podcasts, and cooking (mostly French cuisine)!

What are two other fun things about you?

  1. I’m totally type-A, and a lover of spreadsheets and lists. I have a checklist for everything, from packing for a vacation to my daily to-do list. If it’s not written down or unread in my inbox, it doesn’t exist.
  2. I’m a sucker for fresh flowers, and peonies are my absolute favorite. Although, if you can’t find a vase of peonies to butter me up with, a bowl of fresh pineapple is a great unconventional second option. 🙂

Are there any adventures in your life coming up?

Chances are, you’re reading this while I’m exploring the beautiful terrain of Iceland, or about to walk the streets of Paris! I’m taking 2 weeks off to explore places in Europe I’ve always wanted to visit. I promise to come back well-rested and full of great ideas about transit and biking infrastructure!

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Claire Jaffe

Communications Manager

Claire on top of a mountain in Ethiopia with her sister, Anna (left).


How long have you been at CSG?

I’ve been here for 2 wonderful years.

What do you do as a Communications Manager?

I get to translate complicated policy into clear, actionable, persuasive writing that will motivate people to push for change. I also run our education and Walking Tours & Forums Series and oversee our intern program.

How did you get into smart growth advocacy?

My journey started at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) where I studied environmental policy and found my passion for sustainability and cities. After a short time in, Detroit, I landed back in DC where I was lucky enough to get a job at CSG pushing for policies that will make the city I love even better and keep rural land green!

What inspires you?

People! Urban space affects every single person, no matter who you are or where you live. Talking to residents of our region and hearing what matters to them and why they love to live here, work here, and use our great range of transit options inspires me to keep pushing for walkable, transit-friendly areas and more affordable housing so everyone can enjoy them.

What is your biggest accomplishment at CSG or thing you are most proud of?

This year, I was very proud when we organized a mentoring happy hour for women in urban planning. It was incredible and heart-warming to see so many powerful women in our field in one room sharing experiences and passing down hard-earned knowledge.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love being outdoors. I grew up in DC, but my mom grew up skiing, hiking, and climbing, so I have the outdoor adventure in my blood. Whenever I can, I get out of the city and visit my Dad’s house near the Shenandoah River, hike the Appalachian Trail, or go rock climbing. You can often find me hanging from a wall at the new Earth Treks in Crystal City.

What are three (or four) other fun facts about you?

  1. I’m a DC native!
  2. I am a huge art enthusiast. My grandparents were big art collectors, and there are many artists in my family, so I grew up surrounded by it. Modern art is my favorite. If I had to narrow it down, my three favorite artists would be Sol Lewitt, Alexander Calder, and Roy Lichtenstein. I am often exploring the vast amount of free art in DC.
  3. I am very close with my family, especially my two sisters. One is a mural artist in DC (check her out!) and the other one works with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. I am also obsessed with my family’s yellow lab, Stella.
  4. I recently moved to a new house in Petworth, and I just started my first personal garden. I spend a lot of time tending to my new plants and worrying that they won’t grow. But, low and behold, I ate my first home-grown kale this week!

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Pete Tomao

Montgomery County Advocacy Manager

Pete in his kitchen – cooking, which he loves to do whenever not at one of his many night-time meetings in Montgomery County.


How long have you been at CSG?

I have been with CSG for almost two years.

What do you do as Montgomery County Advocacy Manager?

I work with Montgomery County community members and residents to make the County more walkable, transit-accessible, and inclusive. I’m often out at a public meeting, grabbing coffee with activists, or organizing supporters.

How did you end up working in transit advocacy?

I first came to the DC area in 2008 to attend American University, and immediately fell in love with the city and began following local issues during the Rhee-Fenty education battles. I took a class on local DC history and we traveled all over the city to listen to speakers, pair up with local non-profits, and learn about the struggle for voting rights. From that point on, I became more and more engaged in the struggle for an equal city and equal region. I saw and experienced first-hand how the housing crisis interconnected with transportation and began thinking: “how can we grow smarter”?

What inspires you to work so hard?

Every day, I am inspired by community members coming together to find solutions to problems, both big and small. Working at the local level, you really get to see change happen and it is gratifying to see issues you work on actually get solved.

What are you most proud of from your work at CSG?

I am most proud that over the last few years we have been able to work with the community forge expanded coalitions with environmentalists, progressive business leaders, affordable housing advocates, and social justice groups in Montgomery County. All these issues are interconnected.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a big foodie and love to cook. I grew up on Long Island watching my grandmother making delicious Italian-American food and she is one of my inspirations for cooking. Now, my specialty is Bolognese. I also love history, especially American and political history. Because of my knack for remembering arcane facts; the staff nicknamed me Wiki-Pete.

What are some other fun facts about you?

  1. My mom is from Maine and I spent a lot of time up there as a kid. As a consequence I learned that many homes in the north woods sit atop lumber and learned how manually raise and level them with hydraulic pumps.
  2. Thanks in part to a previous job with the letter-carriers union, I have traveled to almost every part of the United States from Anchorage, Alaska to the Florida Keys.
  3. I’m a big concert enthusiast and am a little bit of a Springsteen roadie, I have seen him four times. One of the best concerts I have ever seen was Kings of Leon back in 2009, it was at the Spectrum in Philly right before it was torn down. They packed the house.

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Evan Riggs

Fundraising Manager

Evan enjoying some down time on the tidal basin overlooking the cherry blossoms.


How long have you been at CSG?

I celebrated my one year anniversary at CSG in April and couldn’t be more excited to be part of such a wonderful team!

What does being the Fundraising Director entail?

I’m responsible for working with our individual and corporate supporters to sustain financial support for our mission and to keep our policy and advocacy work in the forefront of decision makers’ minds.

Why do you do what you do? How did you come to smart growth?

Having spent a significant amount of time living in the sprawl of Atlanta and needing a car to get pretty much anywhere I’m excited to be living in a city that puts an emphasis on walking, biking, and public transportation. After getting rid of my car when I moved to the area more than 10 years ago, I see and experience first-hand the positive effects of CSG’s work.

Biggest accomplishment at CSG or thing you are most proud of?

We recently celebrated our 20th anniversary on May 17th at Washington National’s Historic Terminal A. Seeing over 250 of our supporters, founders, and champions of causes come together to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and look toward the next 20 was really something!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my 10-year-old lab, taking walks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and exploring DC’s restaurant and brewery scene.

What are two other fun facts about you?

  1. I’m originally from Tucson, AZ.
  2. I went to school at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!).

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