Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Urbanism/community building obituaries: 2018

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From the better late than never department...

Each year, the New York Times Magazine runs a special issue featuring obituaries of signature people who died in the past year.  While I have written from time to time about people who've died and their contributions to urbanism, comparable to the NYT feature, I have realized it would be good to do a similar piece for people who who have influenced, positively -- or negatively -- urbanism. I wouldn't claim it's a comprehensive list, but hopefully it's somewhat representative.

These are some of the people and organizations who caught my attention in 2018.
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Jose Antonio Abreu, El Sistema, Venezuela ("José Abreu: Founder of world renowned El Sistema music project dies," BBC); Henry Bridges, Jr., Community School of the Arts, Charlotte, North Carolina ("Charlotte church musician who started school for poor kids dies at 90," Charlotte Observer); Robert Capanna, Settlement Music School, Philadelphia ("What really matters in the arts? Bob Capanna remembrance served as a reminder," Philadelphia Inquirer).; In their respective communities, each created successful music-specific community arts initiatives.

Todd Bol, creator of Little Free Libraries ("Todd Bol, founder of Little Free Libraries, dies").
Younkers in Coral Ridge Mall 4-30-18 02
Bon-Ton Department Stores.  The company, an amalgamation of many regional chains including Bon Ton out of York, Pennsylvania, Carsons (formerly Carson, Pirie, Scott) of Chicago, Bergners of Illinois, Herbergers in the Upper Midwest, Younkers of Iowa, and other companies, shut down over the course of the past summer.  More than 200 stores closed.  Although another company bought the brands and other intellectual property and will be reopening some stores. ("Bankrupt Department Store Chain Carson's To Reopen Suburban Store," CBS Chicago ).

Edwin G. Burrows, co-author of Gotham, a history of New York City ("Edwin G. Burrows, Historian and Co-Author of 'Gotham,' Dies at 74," New York Times). I have it on my nightstand, but haven't finished it...

James H. Cone, Black Liberation Theologist ("Why James Cone Was the Most Important Theologian of His Time" Sojourners Magazine).

Hank Dittmar, co-founder of Reconnecting America, a past chairman of the Congress for the New Urbanism, and director of Prince Charles' foundation focusing on higher quality architecture in the UK,  ("Former Prince's Foundation chief Hank Dittmar dies aged 62," Architect's Journal). My one interaction with him was not positive, he was very dismissive, but he did good work...

Farm Fresh Supermarkets, Hampton Roads and Richmond, Virginia. In March, the company sold 21 stores to competitors and began closing their remaining stores.  The company faced problems before and was bought in the late 1990s by its wholesaler, to maintain the store base as a company.  That company was then acquired by Supervalu, a national food wholesaler, which still owned the chain when they decided to shut it down.

General Electric Transportation.  It's not dead exactly but was sold off to Wabtec, which in turn is a remnant of the old Westinghouse Corporation ("GE's latest sale: Its 111-year-old rail business," CNN).

The roots of the  GE Transportation division go back to electric streetcars and the purchase of Sprague Electric, where Frank Sprague pioneered a variety of technological advances that led to the mass production of electric streetcars and underground subways.  Sadly, once Thomas Edison bought the Sprague assets, he scraped off the Sprague brand and replaced it with his.

The book The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway and the PBS "American Experience" documentary based on it discuss Sprague's work.

Jeremy Gold, actuary, "foresaw crisis in public pensions" ("Jeremy Gold, Actuary Who Warned of Pension Crisis, Dies at 75," New York Times).  Unfunded pension liabilities is driving many local governments toward bankruptcy, and funding pensions from past years crowds out spending on other priorities.

Richard N. Goodwin, White House speechwriter and writer, coined the phrase and concept "Great Society" for President Johnson and wrote other key speeches, including on civil rights ("Richard Goodwin, 86, Kennedy speechwriter and husband to Doris Kearns Goodwin," Boston Glober)).

Gump's Department Store, San Francisco.  I've never been there but it was one of the last of the iconic city-specific independent department stores.  (I sent an email to Hall Department Store in Kansas City, suggesting they take it over, but they didn't., clearly.)

Albert Hirsch, historian  ("Arnold Hirsch, influential historian of urban segregation, dies at 69," Washington Post).  From the NYT obituary:
Professor Hirsch’s best-known book, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960,” published in 1983, began as an inquiry into the causes of the urban riots that racked American cities in the late 1960s, including the disturbances that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Unlike the Kerner Commission and other bodies that focused on the proximate causes of the civil unrest, Professor Hirsch focused on the period immediately after the Great Depression and, in particular, the two decades following World War II. In that period, millions of AfricanAmericans moved from the South to the North in a second Great Migration as transformative as the earlier one, which lasted from 1890 to 1930.

Most ended up in hypersegregated neighborhoods, often in cheaply constructed and poorly maintained public housing that, in the 1970s, would become emblems of urban decay and malaise.

Segregation, Professor Hirsch found, was not a natural process, or the mere outcome of individual prejudice and choices, but was rooted in institutional interests, including profitseeking.
Love Sculpture by Robert Indiana in John F. Kennedy Plaza, Philadelphia.  Photo by Alec Rogers for the Association of Public Art.

Robert Indiana, artist-sculptor, known for large sculptures that became icons of public art, in particular the LOVE sculpture first installed in Philadelphia, and then elsewhere ("Robert Indiana, Pop Purveyor of Love, Hope, and American Darkness dies at 89," ArtNews).

The installation of his works in cities across the country brought renewed attention to public art as an element of urban design and placemaking.

George S. Kaufman, real estate developer, Astoria Studios, Queens, New York ("George S. Kaufman, Who Revived Astoria Studios, Dies at 89," New York Times). The studio complex in Astoria was the original unit of the company that became Paramount Studios and was brought back to life after decades of decline and besides supporting television and movie production work is also home to the Museum of the Moving Image.  It also spurred revitalization in the nearby residential and commercial districts.

He was the first chair of the business improvement district in the Garment District in Manhattan and helped to found the Sinatra High School of the Arts in Queens.

Charles Lazarus, Toys R Us.  Ironically, the toy store Toys R Us went bankrupt and shut down in  he US less than one year before the main person behind the company also died.  Lazarus had worked for the parent company, which owned discount department stores.  The parent went bankrupt but they realized there was a viable business in Toys R Us, which they rapidly expanded.

But the company's stores were suburban for the most part, except when they bought the iconic NYC store FAO Schwarz, which among its stores, was the landmark store on Fifth Avenue, and featured in a scene of the Tom Hanks movie "Big."

Getty Images.

Jane Maas, advertising, executed the "I Love New York" campaign which was a transcendent branding and marketing campaign for the State of New York, originally aimed to increase demand at Upstate ski resorts, which became a model for other city and state tourism marketing programs ("Jane Maas, a Pioneer for Women in Advertising, Dies at 86," New York Times).

William Murtagh, historic preservationist and first Keeper of the National Register for Historic Places ("William J. Murtagh, 'pied piper' of American historic preservation, dies" Washington Post). The NRHP was created as part of the National Historic Preservation Act, passed in 1966. Listed buildings, districts, and sites have some protection from federal undertakings and are eligible for federal historic tax credits for rehabilitation projects.

Oramenta Newsome, director of the DC branch of the Local Initiative Support Corporation ("Oramenta Newsome of LISC dies," Washington Business Journal).  LISC is an organization that was created to support community development organizations.  Each branch operates somewhat independently.  Some are great, others are not.  I thought the DC branch enabled bad work. ("The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," 2013).

J. Paul's Restaurant, Georgetown, Washington, DC.  (I worked there.)  It was a very successful restaurant on M Street NW for a long time, known for a oyster bar in the window.  I think it's interesting because the company, Capital Restaurant Concepts, had more than a dozen restaurants, clustered in Georgetown, Reston, and Baltimore, plus Georgia Brown's Downtown.  Now they are down to one, Georgia Brown's.

It shows how management is important.  (One of the leaders of the Clyde's Restaurant Group died in early January.  His company is going strong with $135 million in annual sales over 13 restaurants.) 

Lee Harris Pomeroy, architect, New York City ("Lee Harris Pomeroy, 85, Dies; Architect Revived Subway Stations," New York Times). From the AIANY obituary:
Lee’s early interest in urban planning influenced his work throughout his career. One of his early adaptive reuse projects, the Henry Street Studios in Brooklyn, involved the conversion of a 19th-century candy factory into studios and housing units for working artists. When the demolition of historic Broadway theaters was proposed to make room for a new Marriott Hotel in Times Square, Lee worked with preservation groups, eventually helping to draft the plan to establish the Historic Broadway Theater District. Lee’s plan for Fulton Street Pedestrian Mall and Transitway in downtown Brooklyn won the Bard Award for Excellence in Architecture and Urban Design from The City Club of New York.
-- LHP Architects webpage (click on subpages for discussion on transportation, planning, and historic preservation projects)


A house in the Concord Green subdivision in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, which was the first subdivision built by William Pulte.

William J. Pulte, mass homebuilder and leader in spreading post-war suburbanization ("Funeral arrangements set for PulteGroup founder," Detroit News).

Along with William Levitt and Kaufman and (Eli) Broad, Pulte Corporation was a builder of subdivisions in many leading markets across the country.  Both Pulte and Kaufman and Broad started in Michigan, but spread out across the country, in lockstep with post-war outmigration and the growth of the American economy.

Dovey Roundtree, attorney ("Dovey Johnson Roundtree, defense lawyer and civil rights warrior," Washington Post). She argued the first (and only) bus desegregation case before the Interstate Commerce Commission, which held that "separate but equal" accommodations were unconstitutional.

Her 1955 victory before the Interstate Commerce Commission in the first bus desegregation case to be brought before the ICC resulted in the only explicit repudiation of the "separate but equal" doctrine in the field of interstate bus transportation by a court  

-- Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (64 MCC 769 (1955)

Robert S. Rubin, banker, helped to create Brooklyn Heights Historic District, was chair of the Brooklyn Museum when Mayor Giuliani demanded the museum remove an artwork that he termed "pornographic and anti-Catholic."  Rubin stood up to the Mayor and defended artistic expression.

He also was a co-founder of St. Ann's School and a leader in the effort to create new parks on the Brooklyn waterfront ("Robert S. Rubin, Banker Who Defended Brooklyn Museum, Dies at 86," New York Times).
In a letter to the New York Times in 1961, he wrote that the homeowners who had first been attracted there were "among those who feel that a nation or a city too hurried or careless to take pride in its past can have little hope for a worthwhile future."
Alan Sagner, revitalized the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Alan Sagner, Who Revitalized the Port Authority, Dies at 97," New York Times). Although as a builder, he helped push sprawl further out into New Jersey, and also helped to build social housing for seniors and the disabled in suburbs that were often opposed.

Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, which grew into a chain of mostly great stores in prominent locations in center cities, with late hours, events, and great book and magazine sections too.  Record stores died as a result of the Internet and the shift to digital download and streaming of music.  But record stores, like bookstores, were "third places" and building blocks of thriving commercial districts.

Linda Brown Thompson, the name plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education case (which consolidated multiple cases) that led to the Supreme Court ruling in 1954 in favor of school desegregation.  School systems directly part of the case, including DC, had to desegregate effective with the 1954-1955 school year.

Marsha Thompson, arts administrator, helped to create financially sound practices for arts organizations ("Marcia Thompson, Prudent Promoter of the Arts, Dies at 94," New York Times).

Tatsuro Toyoda, spearheaded Toyota's development as a globally significant automobile manufacturer, shifting the US auto market away from being dominated by US-based companies (GM, Ford, Chrysler).

Jonny Walker, Street performer advocating for the rights of buskers, UK
"Renowned busker who campaigned for the rights of street performers," From the article:
... a busy busker who played in more than 50 British towns and cities every year, leading many of his fans in each location to adopt him as their local minstrel. But he was more than just a very good singer and guitar player. As he developed as a street performer he became a leading campaigner for the preservation of street culture in Britain, taking the fight to local councils over the rights of artists, musicians and entertainers to occupy public space and perform.

The son of an Evangelical Anglican vicar, Walker had campaigning in his blood and it was in 2012, in response to new proposals by Liverpool city council to control busking, that he founded the campaign group Keep Streets Live. Later he helped to set up the Association of Street Artists and Performers.


Richard Weinstein, urban planner in NYC (",a href="https://archpaper.com/2018/03/architect-planner-richard-weinstein-passes-away-at-85/">Architect and Planner Richard Weinstein passes away at 85," Architect's Newspaper), who later went on to be dean of the architecture and planning school at UCLA. According to the UCLA obituary:
In this role [as director of planning for New York City], Weinstein helped transform the way cities manage development, insisting that public benefit had to be identified as a fundamental principal of zoning variance. He believed that part of the city’s mandate was to preserve and enrich the life of the public and cultural streetscape as the city grew taller with private investment. Refuting the practice of simply granting variances to developers in exchange for increased taxes, these zoning codes became a new and different means of implementing complex planning objectives.ledge of New York’s complex system of air rights facilitated economic self-sufficiency for the city’s landmarks and simultaneously guided development along predetermined channels.
Projects under these principles included retaining historic Broadway theaters, reviving the South Street Seaport, and using revenue from a residential tower to help fund the Museum of Modern Art.

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