Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Slow, Steady Cumulative Influence
Of A Planning Guru Named Krumholz

'Reader, if you seek a monument, look around.'
--an inscription near the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, the British architect who designed much of classical London.

Lately, there's been much attention paid to a seemingly new concept in urban economic development circles: planning for cities that aren't growing, or those that are actually shrinking. Much of the attention has centered on Youngstown, which lost more than half its population in the generation since the steel plants closed, and which has smartly begun comprehensively adjusting to the reality. But of course Cleveland also tends to come up in this discussion as well. USA Today recently published this much-remarked-upon piece about the trend.

But the intellectual architect of this approach is a legendary planning guru who headed the city planning department under three Cleveland mayors and who now teaches at CSU's College of Urban Affairs. Norm Krumholz's national, even international, influence continues to spread even on this, the eve of his ninth decade, through his writing, teaching and shepherding of his far-flung disciples (who include everyone from former first spouse of Cleveland Hunter Morrison, who now works in Youngstown, to University Circle's Chris Ronayne and the Gund Foundation's Bob Jaquay). The occasional brown bag lunch conversations he convenes are legendary in planning circles, and I hope to be allowed to sit in and listen to one sometime soon to experience it for myself.

But back to that concept of his having been an intellectual architect for the urban right-sizing movement. Don't take my word for it. Instead, you could listen to author Kenneth Fox:
Cleveland City Planning Director Norman Krumholz and his associates dramatized the issues for the planning profession by emphasizing that almost all large central cities were losing population, including many that were aggressively pursuing economic development. No perfectly coordinated industrial, commercial, office, tourism and housing development strategy could magically reverse declines at one stroke. Krumholz and associates employ a sophisticated political pragmatism that quickly became known as the 'no-growth planning.'

You'll find that passage in a semi-obscure book published by the University of Mississippi Press, which I happily came upon some time ago and added to my library. It's entitled Metropolitan America: Urban Life and Urban Policy in the U.S., 1940-1980. And it was published more than 20 years ago, in 1986.

And yet, just months shy of his 80th birthday, he shows little sign of retreating from his life's work. Late last year, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson appointed Norm to the city planning commission. That means that when his final chapter has been written, he'll likely have made significant contributions to Cleveland's planning vision over parts of six decades. That, my friends, is what you would call leaving one's mark on the world.


At 10:08 AM, Anonymous roldo bartimole said...

The testimony to Norm Krumholz's value to Cleveland is evident in the many people who came here in the 1960-70s to work with him and are still quietly toiling in Cleveland's neighborhoods. They came and stayed because they believed that planners SHOULD and could do work that helped those who really need help, rather than simply those who could demand advantage by money and power.

I had started Point of View a year before Norm came. Many don't know this be he and his wife Virginia are graduates of the U of Missouri journalism school. I worried in those days about Norman's motives as he actually invited me to little get-togethers with his very open staff. It was treatment I rarely got from any public official, even those who might curry favor with "regular" media people. The concern I had disappeared over the years as Norm became a friend and always a great proponent, despite knowing that at times, if not often, he disagreed with my positions.

I'll tell one little story that I've written about before. Norm got a threatening call because of a stand he was taking, answered by Virginia, who in her inimitable way responded to someone threatening death to her husband, "And whom shall I say is calling?"

At 10:19 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wow. That last bit is a hell of a story. And the entire thing is a nice addition to what I wrote. I think I might have known that Norm was a J-school grad years ago but have since utterly forgotten it, so thanks for adding that perspective. It certainly explains a lot about him and his uniquely open-source intellectual orientation. Do please give him my warmest regards when you see or talk to him, will you please?

At 11:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of you guys should nominate Norm for a Cleveland Arts Prize in design before the first planner to get it is Hunter. (OK, maybe Hunter, but Norm first.) Or maybe a special citation… He should not be overlooked in the local community. His contributions to planning nationwide have been vast and his consideration for all people - not the privileged few, is exemplary for all communities.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

That's not a bad idea at all. Thanks for the suggestion.


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