She grew up on a produce farm in Powhatan County where she had a pony, a beautiful pony with a red-speckled mane. Lory Markham didn't see herself becoming a gatekeeper for the city, the last line of defense in the redevelopment of dying industrial corridors, an advocate for good urban planning.
"I would ride around with my parents to make deliveries in the city," she says. Even a girl with a pony could see the region's sprawling tendencies: "I wondered why we developed this way."
She majored in philosophy and political science at Hollins University in Roanoke, and then earned her master's degree in urban planning from the University of Virginia. After graduating, Markham took a job as an associate planner with the Richmond Regional Planning Commission. She was hired as a city planner in 2006.
She quickly moved up the ranks, leading efforts to digitize the city's zoning maps and revitalize Manchester. Today, Markham is the person at City Hall whom developers must convince to get special permission to build in areas not zoned for, say, residential apartments or retail. That means she handles all of the most controversial land-use cases.
"Any time you have a developer that wants to come into a neighborhood there is a possibility for contention," she says.
But it's all worth it. Ultimately, it's her job to balance the short-term interests of developers with the long-term health of the city. "I really just want the city to be a place where people want to be," she says.