JOHN FRIEDMANN, 1926-2017


With the passing of John Friedmann planning, and progressive planning, has lost an important and unique voice. A prolific author, with many honors, Friedmann made significant contributions across a number of domains in planning including planning theory (where he was known for articulating radical planning and transactive planning), urban studies (the world city idea), regional planning (where his contributions included the core-periphery theory and later work on decentralizing planning), and planning education. Educated in the PhD program at Chicago, Friedmann practiced in regional planning, and taught in Brazil, at MIT, and in Chile, before joining Harvey Perloff at UCLA in 1969 to head up the new planning program. He received the ACSP distinguished planning educator award in 1988 and went on to make further contributions to planning education for almost three more decades, first at UCLA (until 1996) and then at the University of British Columbia.

Friedmann was also a PN member for some time. In 1991 Friedmann and a couple of others responded to a note requesting more funds. Friedmann’s comment was characteristically blunt and reprinted in the newsletter. He said it was his last check because:

“the time, I believe, has come for a change. The form of the newsletter just isn’t sufficiently compelling to continue it. There must be other ways to communicate an alternative vision of planning, if indeed it is an alternative vision. We have never spelled that out, and I think that’s a pity…. I don’t have an alternative to the newsletter, unfortunately. But perhaps of the newsletter were to vanish one day, we’d think of something” (Issue 91).

This was a question that needed to be asked of an organization a decade and a half old. Dubbed the “whither/wither” PN discussion in later issues of the newsletter, this debate led to the reinvigoration of PN with more regular conferences, a new and rotating steering committee, the transformation of the newsletter into a magazine and separate e-newsletter. John Friedmann’s ability to ask important questions was no small part of that process of organizational rejuvenation.

On a more personal note, John Friedman taught me a number of lasting lessons about the academic life. As a master’s student at UCLA from 1987 to 1989, I took the doctoral planning theory seminar with John. I also sat on the curriculum committee with him. I was on the committee because John had set up the department using student-faculty work groups (or committees). According to student lore—which may well have been wildly inaccurate but was part of the mythology at the time--this has been a product of his “Maoist period.” Students could sign up for basically any committee including tenure, though that one had a selection process. This is a terrific way to run a planning program—channeling student energy into building the institution—and I have taken this as a model.

I was also amazed at how much John could do, and I pieced together that he never let things sit in piles—he just did things and moved on. When asked to present a talk he would say yes, write the talk, and then file it until he needed it. I have never quite managed that level of efficiency but it explains how he could make intellectual contributions in so many areas while still undertaking administrative roles.

"I still remember his office-hours advice on how to look into a broad topic from a scholarly perspective, using various kinds of resources to map a scholarly domain."

As a teacher John was fairly tough and opinionated but he was willing to engage student ideas. I still remember his office-hours advice on how to look into a broad topic from a scholarly perspective, using various kinds of resources to map a scholarly domain. I still direct students to those same kinds of resources.

Finally, John and his wife Leonie Sandercock were extremely kind in opening up their home to dinners and other events with students. I can remember one dinner where we needed to bring a poem to read—not unusual for John who liked poetry, but not common in planning. I still use one of his dessert recipes. This is really a model for engagement with students that displays substantial generosity. Over the years I have tried to find ways to evoke some of this care—both intellectual and personal—in my own practice as a professor. They set a very high bar.

With John’s passing, planning, and progressive planning, has lost a major figure whose substantial contributions helped shape the field.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON JOHN FRIEDMANN’S LIFE AND ACHIEVEMENTS:

Ann Forsyth is a Professor of Urban Planning at Harvard, past Co-chair of PN, and a member of the PN Greater Boston Chapter organizing group.

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