Two Tributes to Peter Marcuse from Progressive Planning Magazine



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). The following are two articles originally printed in the Winter 2010 issue of Progressive Planning. This was a special edition dedicated to Peter's work on the occasion of his 80th birthday.







Peter Marcuse at 80: His Extraordinary Contributions to Progressive Planning


By Clara Irazábal and Susan Fainstein



Peter Marcuse is known throughout the world as a leading scholar and practitioner of progressive planning, but he has also been an outstanding member of Planners Network since it was founded in 1975.


Peter is an attorney, a practicing planner and a teacher of planning. He is truly one of the most multifaceted, committed and productive planners anywhere. As a devoted planner and educator, he has worked extensively inside and outside academia and government to promote the highest ethical standards for the profession. He has also been a consistent advocate for social justice.


The following review of Peter’s scholarship, teaching excellence and service in the field of planning shows how significant his contributions have been.


Marcuse the Scholar


Peter’s contribution to human settlements research, thinking and practice is internationally recognized. He has written on a broad variety of topics and his work has been widely cited across the world. His writings are in German as well as English. He has written or edited eight books and over 200 papers in over thirty professional and scholarly journals and he is on the editorial board of several journals, including the Journal of Planning Education and Research. His contribution, however, is not simply a matter of quantity. Rather, he has had a major effect on the field in a number of areas, including racial discrimination, housing policy, comparative planning and globalization.


Peter’s first major published piece, in the Journal of the American Institute of Planners (predecessor to the Journal of the American Planning Association) dealt with professional ethics, and his interest in the subject has been ongoing. Peter’s writings on the ethics of the planning profession have been widely assigned in urban planning programs and have helped to shape the profession. He has pressed the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) to improve and implement its professional code of ethics.


Peter has consistently critiqued U.S. housing programs and developed ideas for alternative approaches, offering fruitful comparisons with European programs. The range of his work on housing extends from compiling the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey—a critically important empirical tool—to conceptual pieces, including his very influential essay “Housing Policy and the Myth of the Benevolent State.” He has also made important contributions to scholarship on housing in Eastern Europe.


Peter’s recent works focus on spatial divisions within cities. Also important and widely cited is his theoretical approach to the differing meanings of neighborhood homogeneity in neighborhoods with different social composition. This work reveals the connections between urban development and globalization. His two edited books in this area have been seminal in developing this relationship.


Frankly, the variety of subjects that Marcuse has studied and written about makes any summary difficult. Despite this substantial scholarly output and range of interests, Peter has been consistently guided in his scholarship by a commitment to social justice. And his progressive voice has been consistent, original and productive.


Teaching Excellence


Peter taught at the University of California, Los Angeles after receiving his PhD, and since 1975 he has been teaching at Columbia University, where for many years he was chair of the planning program. Although now officially retired, Peter continues to teach courses and is highly respected by his students. He has taught a great variety of subjects at the master’s and PhD levels, reflecting the broad range of his scholarship. Subjects include planning theory and ethics, housing and housing policy, comparative housing and planning issues, social policy planning, globalization issues and community participation in planning, as well as planning studios.


Most recently he collaborated with a group of Columbia doctoral students to edit the book Searching for the Just City (Routledge, 2009). In addition to his teaching at Columbia and UCLA, Peter has been a visiting professor at universities around the world, including in South Africa, East and West Germany, Canada, Australia, Hungary, Austria, Venezuela and Brazil. He has also given guest lectures at many more universities, including in China, New Zealand, Portugal, France, Argentina, Israel, England, Scotland, Wales, Croatia, Vietnam, Singapore, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Russia, Japan and Finland. His teaching has won widespread praise from students and colleagues for his conscientiousness in course preparation, openness to the input of others and the thoughtfulness in which he presents his subject matter.


Community Engagement


Peter’s service to communities and the planning profession has been extraordinary and exemplary for a scholar. He has acted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in housing cases, advisor to state and local governments and framer of innovative policy approaches in places as disparate as New York, Israel and South Africa.


Peter has held a variety of public offices, including membership on the City Planning Commission of Waterbury, Connecticut; president of the City Planning Commission of Los Angeles, California; and chair of the Housing Committee of Manhattan Community Board 9 in New York City. In Waterbury, he helped spearhead a referendum establishing the procedure for the use of governmental powers to improve blighted areas and served as founding chair of the city’s anti-poverty agency (in the days of the federal War on Poverty). In his work with local government he always insisted that social factors be considered in planning and zoning decisions. In Los Angeles, he served on the Planning Commission in the early stages of development of the city’s poly-nucleated long-range plan. In New York City, he focused on the issue of the disposition of city-owned property and was successful in achieving the adoption of a statement of principles committing the city to the redevelopment of city-owned property to meet the needs of existing residents. He has also been a consultant to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Development and the City of New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.


As an expert witness on planning issues, Peter has testified or given affidavits in a number of important lawsuits, including the Yonkers (NY) school desegregation case, the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Island Park (NY) for discrimination in the use of federal housing subsidies and for a number of low-income housing projects. He produced an important affidavit and wrote a key article arguing for the inclusion of social impacts in environmental impact statements under New York State law. He is currently active on a number of housing and planning issues in New York City, including the planning for Lower Manhattan after 9/11, housing policy and subsidies for low-rent housing.


Peter has served on a staggering number of boards and advisory committees. He is a charter member and elected fellow of the AICP and serves on its Committee on Global Planning. He has been active in the American Planning Association (APA), including as a member of the executive committee of the New York chapter. He is one of the founders of the Global Planning Educators Interest Group (GPEIG). A few years ago, he founded a group for New York City urban scholars around the theme of the right to the city. The group meets regularly and is linked with the Right to the City Alliance, in which Planners Network serves as a resource group.


The Legacy and Recognition of Peter Marcuse


Peter Marcuse is known for his extensive expertise in many areas of planning and his broad experience in analyzing the multifaceted challenges to sustainable and equitable urbanization in many regions of the world. He has been exceptional in his ability to be both realistic and inspirational in his multiple writings, talks and service engagements. As a planner that has exemplified a lifelong balance between thinking and acting, Peter has stimulated global dialogue that bridges new thinking and new approaches intended to address the challenges of our urban world. He has affected generations of practitioners and scholars who take with them a strong commitment to planning ethics and social equity. He stays in touch with scholars in a multitude of planning programs in the U.S. and abroad. Within the practice of planning his voice has persuaded many who have served along with him or subsequent to him on the innumerable planning bodies and commissions for which he has found the time.


Peter’s work was recognized by two conferences in 2008 held in his honor. “The Right to the City: Radical Urbanism” was held in New York City and Berlin. Two issues of the journal City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action (v.13, no. 2-3 & 4, 2009) discussed his work and legacy. The City editorial in issue number 2-3 states, “The inspiration for much of the work presented here is the continuing, theoretical and practical, journey from Europe to North America (and back) provided by the lawyer, planner and urban scholar Peter Marcuse—drawing on, developing and applying the critical theory and witness of his father Herbert Marcuse.”


Progressive Planning echoes these words to honor our mentor and friend, Peter Marcuse.




Clara Irazábal is an assistant professor of international urban planning at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University.


Susan Fainstein is a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.






What We Can Learn from Peter Marcuse: “Think Critically, Act Critically!”


By Jacqueline Leavitt



In his long and productive career as a planner, academic and lawyer, the writings and speeches of Peter Marcuse question the foundations of planning practice and thought. Whether it is about ethics, housing, civil rights, the role of the state or social movements, Marcuse advances our understanding of structural conditions that create social change, i.e., are transformative in relation to the distribution of power and wealth and not merely palliative exercises or superficial actions.


Peter has been a major force in putting forward the idea that planning is critical thinking, and that planning tools can be used in ways to change conditions for exploited and dominated people. At the heart of his research, writing, teaching and practice lay basic ideas about values, and he repeatedly challenges us to distinguish between right and wrong.


Progressive Roots and Political Action


It may be that the development of these ideas is most apparent in the realm of housing, but to separate Peter’s work by issue area is as wrong as it would be to identify him by only one of many present and past occupations. Whether as a lawyer-planner or planner-lawyer, or as an academic, Peter has also always been an activist, participating in progressive events as far back as the summer he collected signatures for the Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace who unsuccessfully ran against Harry Truman in 1948.


Peter handled a lawsuit for the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Education Fund in the 1950s, was elected to the Waterbury (Connecticut) Board of Aldermen in 1959 and then became a member of the Waterbury City Planning Commission and about ten years later, when he began teaching at UCLA, became president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.


Peter was arrested twice. First, in the summer of 1950, when he organized a small factory with the United Electrical Workers (UE) and was arrested walking the picket line. His second arrest came some three decades later when East German police were sweeping up those congregating in the center of East Berlin just before the Berlin Wall came down. In

the mid-1950s, Peter was fired from a New Haven law firm for his leftist views and activities. Freedom Summer brought civil rights activists to Mississippi and Peter worked as a lawyer with the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee.


It is likely that Peter’s outspoken defense of progressive ideas led to his defeat for a second term on the Waterbury Board of Aldermen. In the 1960s, at the University of California, Berkeley, where Peter received his doctorate in planning, he joined anti-war protests and boycotted classes. In more recent times, Peter participated in electoral campaigns for progressive candidates and helped in 1994 in drafting district voting legislation for the African National Congress (ANC) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 2000 he has continued to work for democracy in planning in New York City. He served on Community Board 9 and was chair of its Housing Committee and drafted revisions to the New York City Charter decentralizing power to community boards. He also co-initiated the Right to the City Study Group. His articles, books and public lectures continue to be in the forefront of controversial planning issues, including his ideas on the creative class, gentrification and globalization.


A Wide Scope of Writing


Peter’s writings, like his occupations/professions, should not be separated into silos. An early article of his on housing and planning identified twin paths in the fields of city planning and public health, far ahead of planning departments offering joint degrees in urban planning and health. His articles on ethics extend to current conflicts over space; one example he cites is the wall Israel erected to isolate the Palestinians and limit the opportunities for an effective peace agreement. An article of his on gentrification looks at the twin face of abandonment and gentrification to more deeply grasp the ways in which the process for each arises from “common causes.” He notes that “abandonment and gentrification both are reflections of a single long-term process resulting from the changing economy of the central city.” Peter questions the myths of traditional planning and his oft-cited article “The Myth of the Benevolent State” was a breakthrough in planning education, providing a critical frame for analysis of housing and urban policy. His articles on public housing and affordability parse the literature in order to arrive at deeper analyses of topics that are too often generalized. The pity is that these writings, despite their unifying threads, which would support more interdisciplinary teaching, likely only surface in individual classes that fit into topical silos.


Let us look at the broad scope of Peter’s writings by examining some themes that he began in his early career and continues to refine today.


Peter first made an important distinction, for example, between alienation and amelioration in his 1975 article “Residential Alienation, Home Ownership and the Limits of Shelter Policy,” which appeared in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare and was also the basis for his doctoral dissertation. He relates the concept of alienation to housing and

comments, “It is indeed curious that the idea of alienation is so scarce in the housing literature. Intuitively, it belongs there, almost uniquely.” Peter identifies three types of alienation: residential alienation as the “condition of estrangement between a person and his/her dwelling;” social alienation as the “condition of estrangement between a person and his/her community;” and self-alienation as referring “broadly to the state of alienation in the individual.”


In 2006, in an article called “The Permanent Housing Crisis: The Failures of Conservatism and the Limits of Liberalism,” Peter and co-author Dennis Keating conclude by stating that housing policy in the United States has alternated between “liberal” and “conservative.” They note that the differences are only at the margins, however, with “conservative policies often aggravating housing problems, and liberal policies rather tending to ameliorate them.” Both neglect more basic alternatives.


Most recently, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, a symposium was organized in Berlin, Germany, around theory and practice in relation to the Right to the City. In the article based on his opening statement, “From Critical Urban Theory to the Right to the City,” Peter argues that the selling of homeownership as the American Dream in many ways has parallels with other policies and prejudices, all of which affect people’s lives: anti-abortion and right to life, the right to hold guns, anti-tax measures, homophobia, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, religious fundamentalism, family values, chauvinist war-mongering, false patriotism and elements of sports fanaticism. Peter also writes: “It is tempting to use Freudian terms for the process, repression of discontent and its sublimation in the emotional phenomena, a catharsis in which emotion is attached to these issues and removed from more dangerous discontents, or even realization of discontent. A direct confrontation with this repression/sublimation may have to be a very concrete part of any practical political action to achieve real change” (emphasis by author). This formulation links to work in other disciplines, especially recent scholarship in sociology (for example, in the edited volume by Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper and Francesca Polletta, Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements).


Peter suggests why we should and in what ways we need to confront repressive but seemingly benign policies. “The battle thus becomes ever more a battle of ideology, understanding, grounded in material oppression but not limited to it, combining the demands of the oppressed with the aspirations of the alienated.”


Linking Ideas and Actions


Why do I emphasize these ideas? To begin with, the times call for direct action along with far-ranging visions. Peter offers us ways of assessing, analyzing and acting. His basic formulation was identified in the 1970s when he spoke of the “perniciousness” of thinking that the “mere act of owning a home ‘transforms a man’.” Other than changing the word

“man” to a woman/man, I doubt that Peter would change anything else in this statement today. Alienation is both an individual and collective feeling that is not only resolved by a shelter policy. In the article with Keating, the authors do not emphasize alienation but identify assumptions held by both conservatives and liberals to different degrees; they are

rooted in an economy that gives primacy to the profit-driven market rather than human development and a government that is held captive by the powerful interests of the private real estate and housing industry. This reflects his critical thinking about alienation as defined in the earlier article. In the more recent article Peter returns to the concept of alienation, developing his ideas about the role of critical thinking and action. First, he suggests ways to update ideas about class beyond simply the “terms of material interests . . . along lines of position in the relations of production . . ..” Class structure needs to consider “the excluded, the working class, the small business people, the gentry, the capitalists, the

establishment intelligentsia and the politically powerful.” He then reformulates a “more modernized concept of class, including “cultural” terms. It would include, he writes, “relation to the dominant cultural, ethnic and gendered society and ideology, [and] might be: the directly oppressed, the alienated, the insecure, the hapless lackeys of power, the underwriters and beneficiaries.” He identifies the directly oppressed as the ones “who will make demands for the Right to the City” and the aspiration will come from the alienated “of any economic class, many youth, artists, a significant part of

the intelligentsia, in resistance to the dominant systems as preventing adequate satisfaction of their human needs.”


Taken together, these articles by Peter go outside the traditional planning formulations. When this occurs, not surprisingly, it is usually from a progressive perspective. But what progressives are currently saying goes beyond proposing an alternative to planning and includes more a reformulation of priorities that puts critical thinking at the center. Among those pursuing this path, Peter is most eloquent.


In Peter’s own words, “‘Critical’ I take to be, among other things, shorthand for an evaluative attitude towards reality, a questioning rather than an acceptance of the world as it is, a taking apart and examining and attempting to understand the world. It leads to a position not only necessarily critical in the sense of negative criticism, but also critically exposing the positive and the possibilities of change, implying positions on what is wrong and needing change, but also on what is desirable and needs to be built on and fostered.”


If in urban planning we learn from Daniel Burnham who said “Make no little plans,” should we not also learn from Peter Marcuse something like “Think critically, act critically!”




Jacqueline Leavitt is a professor of urban planning at University of California, Los Angeles.



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