Norman Krumholz (1927-2019): Working for Equity Inside Government

In this posting, we have three obituaries for Norman Krumholz, who was a ong-time Planners Network member. This first is by Tom Angotti, the second is by Pierre Clavel and the third is by Dennis Keating.

Norman Krumholz (1927-2019): Working for Equity Inside Government

He made the term equity planning popular. It stood for a whole branch of progressive planning that proposed to radically challenge the boundaries limiting what professionals in government can and should do. As Planning Director in Cleveland between 1969 and 1979 under Carl Stokes, the first African American mayor of a major US city, Norm Krumholz commissioned a path-breaking Policy Planning Report that advanced proposals to promote greater equity within the city and the region. Its bold, strategic long-term vision came long before “strategic planning” was imported into urban planning from the business world. Francis Fox Piven famously praised the Cleveland Plan as a model for combating inequality through local government policies. Equity planning was a brilliant expression of the importance for urban social movements of having allies inside government, or what is commonly called an “inside-outside strategy.” It challenged the powerful influence on planners of elitism, bureaucratic stagnation, narrow professionalism and racism.

Norm Krumholz embodied equity planning in theory and practice. His political skills and prestige led to his election as President of the American Planning Association in 1986 and President of the American Institute of Certified Planners in 1999. In 1987 he became a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. He later supported my nomination to the Academy and joined me there for a couple of days in 1990. More than a decade later, we both accompanied a group of Cornell students in a visit to Sicily. Norman had received his Masters in Planning at Cornell in 1965.

Norman remained an optimist and advocate until his last days. A strong civil rights advocate, he understood the need for planners in government to work strategically with communities of color and grass roots movements. He supported strong, responsible government and opposed public-private partnerships. His passing at age 92 is a reminder of the need for planners to push the boundaries of planning practice both inside and outside government, bending the profession towards greater racial and economic equity.

Making Equity Planning Work: Leadership in the Public Sector (Temple University Press, 1990) by Norman Krumholz and John Forester is a classic in the library of progressive planning. In it Krumholz and Forester say that the “practical paradox of professional style” is that “neutral action in a world of severe inequality reproduces that inequality.” He recently edited, with Kathryn Wertheim Hexter, Advancing Equity Planning Now (Cornell University Press, 2018).

Tom Angotti is Editor, Progressive City, and Professor Emeritus, Hunter College & The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Norman Krumholz was rightly revered as a liberal icon, not only for his distinguished public service and academic presence in Cleveland, but for his impact on the profession of city planning worldwide. This is amply documented – in his best known book, Making Equity Planning Work (with John Forester, 1990), and in hundreds of other short pieces, books, public appearances, and scholarly talks.

The key to much of this was his early career as Cleveland’s city planning director when his most signal impact was the publication of the Cleveland Policy Planning Report (1975). It laid out an image of professional function that not only sustained Krumholz thereafter, but found what is still an apparently permanent place in professional practice and thought, and through that, on urban politics and life.

Krumholz had been attracted to the Cleveland position by Mayor Carl Stokes who offered a chance to remake the planning function in response to the economic and racial issues impinging on cities. He used Stokes’ position as the first black mayor in a major U.S. city to hire the best young planners he could find, starting with Ernie Bonner – then Janet Cogger, John Linner and Doug Wright – and put them in the city hall attic, a floor above the main planning department space. He told them to think, and come up with a plan that could seriously confront the city’s issues.

The result was innovative. It began with an injunction “to provide a wider range of choices for those Cleveland residents who have few, if any choices.” This was an expansion of the sense of the public interest as it was seen generally in the United States, where successive presidents had won office saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

But the mandate was also a broadening of the scope of city planning. While the field had had wider pretensions under the progressives and in its’ early New Deal period, by the 1960s it had regressed to a focus on the physical city. But Krumholz’ planners, in line with a few other voices nationally, took issue. Concern with the physical city alone put city hall in the hands of the real estate industry, which had scant attention to the needs of the poor.

The Cleveland Policy Planning Report broke with this approach. It put major attention on local transit route planning on the premise that bus routes had more to do with the needs of the elderly and poor populations that could not depend on automobiles. It supported MUNY Light, the city’s municipal power system whose low rates served the low and middle class city populations directly, and as a brake on higher rates proposed by the private utility. It opposed proposals for “public private partnerships, as stuffing the pockets of private developers and corporations at the cost of higher tax rates for the larger population; and opened city hall – and planners’ attention -- to the fast-growing neighborhood movement.

The Cleveland Policies Plan of 1975 was hugely consequential – for the city over a period of decades, and for the profession world-wide and nationally. In Cleveland after Krumholz left the planning office in 1979 the new mayor appointed a planning director who determined to re-establish the physical projects approach; but the moral issues established by the plan remained in the air, and eventually some of its commitments reappeared. Krumholz particularly celebrated the evolution of the city’s neighborhood organizations alongside the Cleveland Housing Network, staffed by former organizer Chris Warren in the 1980s, and its further institutionalization when Warren became the city’s Community Development Director in 1990.

At a larger scale, “equity planning” came into its own in the professional literature and in practice. This was partly through Krumholz’ own efforts, but perhaps more so the gradual awareness of the move toward inequality that was infecting national economies after the millennium. One result being the increasing focus on the small but manifold ways that happened, which the equity planners had often spotted and concocted remedies for.

Not that Krumholz himself saw a comprehensive answer. He never thought he was showing the way to more than small gains. The most we can get, he said, was “a few crumbs off the table.” Perhaps it is for these smaller things – added up – that we most have to thank this giant of a voice and example.

Pierre Clavel is Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, lives in Ithaca, NY and is a member of the editorial board, Progressive City. He and Krumholz co-authored Reinventing Planning: Equity Planners Tell Their Stories (1994).

Norm Krumholz and Equity Planning

A major reason that I moved from the San Francisco Bay area in 1983 to join the faculty of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University was the presence of Norm Krumholz. Norm’s tenure as Cleveland’s City Planning Director under three mayors had ended in 1979. Soon after that he came to the college to form the Center for Neighborhood Development (CND), which he directed until he joined the faculty fulltime in 1988.

Norm’s philosophy of Equity Planning was embodied in his department’s 1974 Policy Plan that advocated for those Cleveland residents with few or no choices and in need of decent housing and affordable and accessible public transportation. His work over that decade at Cleveland City Hall is recounted in his book with Professor John Forester from Cornell University entitled Making Equity Planning Work: Leadership in the Public Sector (Temple University Press, 1990).

The year before his death December, 2019, Cornell University Press published his co-edited Advancing Equity Planning NOW. Norm published many other books and articles, some of which were in collaboration with me. Two examples are our co-edited Cleveland: A Metropolitan Reader (Kent State University Press, 1995) and Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods (University Press of Kansas, 1996).

In all his professional and academic work, Norm stressed the need for urban planners to represent the poor and powerless and their needs. This included his stints as head of the American Planning Association (APA) and the American Institute of City Planning (AICP). He successfully advocated for adding this policy position in the APA’s Code of Ethics.

Professionally, Norm served on the boards of Greater Cleveland’s public housing authority (CMHA) and the Cleveland City Planning Commission, among other public and community organizations. As Director of the CNP at the Levin College, Norm was instrumental in the formation of the Cleveland Housing Network, a consortium of then fledgling community development corporations dedicated to providing affordable housing for the poor in Cleveland’s neighborhoods. As it evolved, it became a national model.

Throughout his teaching career, Norm inspired many students at the Levin College. Dozens of graduates of its urban planning program entered the field of community development having had Norm as a teacher and mentor.

Norm’s lasting legacy is his contribution to the movement for social justice and equity planning by progressive cities. While not all of his efforts as a practitioner achieved his goals, his ideas live on as a tribute to his career as an advocate.

Dennis Keating, Emeritus Professor, Department of Urban Studies, Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University

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