Memories of Peter Marcuse
Over the next several days Progressive City will be posting a series of tributes to Peter Marcuse (1928-2022), influential planning scholar, practitioner, and activist. Peter was a long-time Planners Network member and founding editor of Progressive City: Radical Alternatives online magazine and Progressive Planning magazine (our print predecessor).
Peter and I knew one another initially though our mutual work in city planning – when I was all those years at Cornell and he, at Columbia. Peter was especially involved with the founding of Planners Network, being one of the few true notables of the rather sizeable group of more “mature” activists. On visits to lecture at Cornell Peter stayed at our place in Ithaca. Perhaps my favorite memory is watching him describe to a student audience, in his booming bass voice, the near impossibility of managing with Comecon industrial products: Peter could almost not get his long legs into a little Russian Lada automobile, then drive it, with his knees at his chin.
One night at some conference somewhere, not so, so long ago, Peter and I were sharing a room, and we had a long, late dinner with our two old friends Prof X and Prof Y. The three of them so outclassed me in their detailed knowledge of Soviet history that I, uncharacteristically, quietly listened as they jousted. Finally, Prof Y, invariably polite, also withdrew, as Peter and Prof X continued their impossible argument about whether USSR evil began with Lenin or with Stalin. Finally, Peter gave up, but without giving in. Later, I asked Peter why he had stopped arguing. “By then we were using different facts” – and of course Prof X’s were nonsense – “so arguing was pointless.”
Peter and I roomed together for a week or two in Cuba, in 1980, traveling with trip organizers Tony Schuman and Jill Hamberg. The gang included Chester Hartman, Jim Fitch, and a bunch of younger US lefties. On that trip, while flying from Havana to Tampa, Peter and I came up with an idea: to merge Cornell and Columbia City Planning into a joint program, something we never managed to do, but should have, if only for its name, CCCP, best if written in Cyrillic!
I had the incredible good fortune to move to Santa Barbara at about the same time that Peter and his wife Frances arrived to be near their son Harold, so over the past few years we saw one another, sometimes for brief walks, usually for lunch or dinner. Their apartment in a lovely retirement home was just right – and as you may know from other reports, Peter, to supplement his blogging, had a special activity nearly every day, including meetings of the residence’s budget committee. Surrounded by other high-powered intellectuals, with plenty of other things to talk about, Peter kept trying to get a grip on the horrific California housing shortages, observing that it might be the best window onto inequality, even as his hyper-active brain slowed just a little.
Our visits had become less frequent and less fun as the pandemic interrupted, and as everyone knows phone calls and emails just don’t make up for face-to-face. I miss Peter very much. May he rest in peace.
--Bill Goldsmith, Santa Barbara, March 2022
The Long Boat by Stanley Kunitz
When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.
Bill Goldsmith, a PN founder and life member, taught in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University from the late 1960s until 2012. His writing covers inequality, poverty, and racial bias, and also environmental problems, in cities throughout the Americas.