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In memoriam: John Friedmann, 91, was the father of urban planning at UCLA

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John Friedmann
UCLA

UCLA's John Friedmann published and edited the early fundamental textbooks in the emerging field of regional planning.

John Friedmann, internationally renowned pioneer in urban theory and planning and a central figure in the founding of what is today the Department of Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, died Sunday, June 11, in Vancouver, B.C., following a short illness. He was 91.

Friedmann, who was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1926, came to UCLA in 1969 at the invitation of Harvey Perloff, who had recently been appointed founding dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Perloff, an economist by trade and a pioneer and legendary figure in the field of planning as well, was Friedmann's dissertation adviser at the University of Chicago. Perloff asked Friedmann to head a new program in urban planning at UCLA.

“Together they brought in a number of ‘big thinkers’ to be the core faculty of the emerging urban planning department, including Ed Soja, Dolores Hayden and Peter Marris,” said Michael Storper, a longtime friend and faculty member in urban planning. Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development at UCLA Luskin, added that Friedmann and Perloff were among those who published and edited the early fundamental textbooks in the emerging field of regional planning.

“This is a momentous loss,” Storper said of Friedmann's passing. “He brought a real global outlook and sensibility to UCLA.” Other friends and faculty at UCLA Luskin expressed similar thoughts.

“I consider John Friedmann as the father of our urban planning department — a huge figure whose vision has guided our department’s structure, overall mission and social justice goals,” said Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, associate dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and professor of urban planning. “Aside from being a brilliant scholar, John was an amazing human being. I know that I am not the only one who has benefited tremendously from his kindness, mentorship and generosity of spirit. John lives in our thoughts and minds. John is UCLA Urban Planning.”

Martin Wachs, distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, agreed.

“While many people contributed to the evolution of urban planning at UCLA, John Friedmann is universally recognized as THE father of the department,” Wachs said. “He was a person of unbounded energy and unlimited curiosity.”

Friedmann, who earned his Ph.D. in 1955 in an interdisciplinary program of research and education in planning at the University of Chicago, served as department chair of the urban planning program for a total of 14 years during his tenure at UCLA. He retired from UCLA in 1996 and lived in Vancouver for many years.

His decades-long career included serving as a member of the U.S. occupation forces at the end of World War II. His wide-ranging interests took him around the world. After spending his first 14 years in Vienna, he listed Germany, Brazil, South Korea, Venezuela, Chile, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada as stopping points along his journey as a scholar. During his long career of learning and teaching, he helped establish and maintain an intellectual lineage and link to generations of world-class scholars in the field.

Vinit Mukhija, the current chair of the Department of Urban Planning, said his own dissertation adviser, Bish Sanyal, now at MIT, completed his dissertation under Friedmann’s guidance. “I’ve felt a strong bond with UCLA Urban Planning because of this connection,” Mukhija said. “John’s ideas on social justice and planning have influenced me deeply and will continue to play a very important role in the training and education of planners at UCLA and around the globe.”

Friedmann also was the first distinguished lecturer of the Institute of Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. In May of 2016, Friedmann delivered a lecture titled, “The Ruse of Reason: Poverty and Personal Freedoms in the People’s Republic of China 1950-2015.”

“For those of us who were trained at other urban-planning programs, we were raised on the writings of John Friedmann,” said Anaya Roy, director of the institute and a professor of urban planning and social welfare at Luskin. “His scholarship — for example, the analysis of world formation — remains foundational to the ways in which we think about cities and metropolitan regions around the world.”

Before the talk, Friedmann sat for a video interview and was asked about the evolution of urban planning at UCLA.

“The vision that I had was that planning was not just a profession,” he said. “We had to begin to theorize about planning, to start thinking what is planning? What should we expect from this social science-based profession that isn’t simply urban design or land use planning, but goes far beyond that?”

Friedman authored numerous books, co-edited nearly a dozen more and wrote almost 200 other scholarly works, including articles and book chapters. As one of the most highly cited researchers in the planning field — his citations number in the tens of thousands — he is best known for his work on regional development planning, world city hypothesis, empowerment in planning and planning theory. 

His most recent book, “Insurgencies: Essays in Planning Theory” (Routledge, 2011), is a collection of his most influential writing over nearly four decades.

Awards for his scholarship included the Distinguished Planning Educator Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, which established the John Friedmann Book award in his honor in 2013. In 2006 he received the first UN-HABITAT Lecture Award organized through the Global Research Network on Human Settlements. He was also appointed honorary foreign advisor of the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design. In 2008 he was the Harvey S. Perloff Visiting Professor in the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

He also received honorary doctorates from the Catholic University of Chile, the University of Dortmund in Germany and York University, Ontario, and the University of British Columbia.

His personal interests, which included painting, music and poetry, “never flagged, as he saw these as essential to cultivating a sensibility of how things work together to create a whole out of the sum of parts, among which were statistics, economics, politics and history,” Storper said of his colleague.

Friedmann is survived by his wife of many years, Leonie Sandercock, who is a professor at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia; his daughter, Manuela; and brother, Martin Friedmann.

Read his full obituary as well as statements and tributes from his colleagues and friends here.

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