Norman Krumholz, Urban Planner


Norman KrumholzDesign, for Norman Krumholz, has always meant more than the look or presentation of commercial products or the crafting of objets d’art. It has something to do with the life of a city, the deployment of infrastructure for maximum usefulness and accessibility—in short, with an artful configuration of real-life elements that fosters and supports that most precious of commodities: community.

“It is not enough for cities to be beautiful and efficient,” Krumholz argues, “they could, and should, be just and fair as well, and planners should work toward human betterment. In local terms, that would mean spending less money on rock halls and stadiums, no matter how well designed, and more money on neighborhoods and decent, affordable housing.”

Krumholz, who holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Cornell University (1965), honed his urban planning skills in Ithaca and Buffalo, New York, and Pittsburgh, where Cleveland mayor Carl B. Stokes found him in 1969 and brought him to town to be city planning director for a new era. Stokes’s successors, Ralph J. Perk and Dennis Kucinich, had the good sense to retain Krumholz in that capacity. The approach he took to the challenges facing urban America during his decade in City Hall did not go unnoticed; President Jimmy Carter asked him to serve on the National Commission on Neighborhoods, whose members traveled around the country and held hearings on neighborhoods’ needs.

Cleveland, like other cities, had suffered irreparable damage during the “urban renewal” frenzy of the 1950s and ’60s that leveled entire neigborhoods and cut a wide swath through others without a thought to the terrible toll all this “progress” was taking on the social fabric of the inner city. At times Krumholz must have felt like a lone voice crying in the wilderness, questioning urban strategies that focused on glamorous downtown development at the expense of  neighborhood communities where people actually live, raise their children and struggle daily with the myriad pressures of urban life. 

His legacy in Cleveland  would include the founding of the Center for Neighborhood Development at downtown-based Cleveland State University. Out of City Hall, Krumholz continued to have an impact on the future of urban planning as a faculty member at CSU’s nationally recognized Levin College of Urban Affairs. Urban undergraduates got a chance to witness first-hand the kind of creative thinking he has brought to his work over the years—in the form of the RTA U-PASS, an innovative arrangement Krumholz negotiated with the city’s transit authority that allows CSU students to ride Cleveland’s public transportation system for an entire semester for an affordable one-time fee.

The author of articles in many professional journals, such as the Journal of Urban Affairs and the Journal of the American Planning Association, and a contributor to several books, Krumholz is also the editor, author or co-author of five books, including Making Equity Planning Work, which won the Associated Collegiate Schools of Planning’s Paul Davidoff book-of-the year award. Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods (1999), which he co-edited with CSU colleagues Dennis Keating and Philip Star, and to which Krumholz contributed a key essay, was hailed by experts as “an invaluable resource for . . . anyone concerned with the prosperity of America’s cities.” A collection of essays by some of the most respected thinkers in the field, the book made “a compelling argument,” said the reviewer, that “neighborhoods substantially define the civic life of cities—and that policies that would help urban residents must aim to revitalize the fundamental unit of civic culture, the neighborhood.”

“While acknowledging that there are broad political and economic forces that buffet the city and that are outside residents’ immediate control,” another reviewer observed, “the contributors identify ways in which even low-income neighborhoods can take things, productively, into their own hands. The collection strikes the right balance between visionary optimism and hard-headed realism.”

In recognition of the forceful role he played in the late 1980s as president of the American Planning Association, the APA honored Krumholz with its Distinguished Leadership Award. The American Academy in Rome awarded him its prestigious Rome Prize, and he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, one of the highest honors the AICP can bestow. And the organization declared his Cleveland Policy Plan of 1974 a “Planning Landmark” in American Planning History, citing among other things its emphasis on advocacy planning.

But the recognition Krumholz was to receive back in Cleveland must have held special satisfaction: In 2001 he was presented with the Homer C. Wadsworth Award for his trail-blazing work as an advocate and practitioner of “equity” urban planning, an approach to urban development that sees economic and environmental crises as opportunities for making cities more equitable or “just” in the ways they serve their citizenry.The Professor Norman Krumholz Scholarship at the Levin College of Urban Affairs, endowed in honor of his many years of service to CSU, is awarded to graduate urban planning students who demonstrate an interest in equity planning and/or neighborhood planning.

In 2005 a new mayor, Frank Jackson, appointed Krumholz to the city’s seven-member planning commission. Which made a lot of sense. Connecting Cleveland: The 2020 Citywide Plan that had been in development under two previous mayors was about to be unveiled. Owing much to the thinking of Norman Krumholz, this blueprint for intelligent growth puts forth long-range development strategies for all 36 of the city’s neighborhoods using the input of local residents and other neighborhood stakeholders and identifies “opportunity zones" where urgent needs and (in many cases unexploited) resources converge to offer exciting opportunities. Just the sort of thing a man who thinks about the design of communities could really sink his teeth into.

Dennis Dooley

Cleveland Arts Prize
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