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HomeModern House PlanRemembering Peter Marcuse, an influential professor of city planning

Remembering Peter Marcuse, an influential professor of city planning


To start on the finish: Because the revolutionary urbanist Peter Marcuse took his ultimate breaths on March 4, 2022, he returned to his childhood language to supply his final phrases to his family members. Ich habe etwas zu sagen. (“I’ve one thing to say.”) I assume that life didn’t permit him to finish the thought, however the assertion stands nonetheless: Peter Marcuse had one thing to say, and he stated it superbly and mightily over the course of his 93 years on earth.

Peter was born in Berlin, however when he was six his dad and mom—mathematician Sophie Wertheim and Marxist thinker Herbert Marcuse—fled the Nazi regime, taking Peter first to Switzerland after which to america. Peter went on to be one of many world’s most vital and influential radical city planning students, melding his analysis pursuits in housing, land use, and public area together with his political commitments to establishing civil rights, constructing tenant energy, and placing an finish to homelessness. He helped discovered vital and lasting establishments of left city planning like Planners for Equal Alternative (now the Planners Community), and he tirelessly provided his time and power to grassroots initiatives for the conclusion of the proper to town.

I got here to know Peter first by way of his printed texts, then as a trainer, and eventually as a mutual sounding board and collaborator. In graduate faculty I encountered his scholarly writing, all the time theoretically and empirically rigorous but readable and relatable. In a category on city sustainability, we learn “Sustainability isn’t sufficient,” his quick essay deconstructing and in the end smashing the idea of sustainability itself. He argued that the topic was inherently conservative; to ensure that the earth to outlive, our relationships to it—and, simply as importantly, to at least one one other—must be radically altered.

Whereas attending Hunter School, I started working as an organizer at Tenants & Neighbors. In my first weeks on the job I discovered in a file cupboard a draft of a paper by Peter titled “The Political Economic system of Lease Management: Concept and Technique,” despatched for suggestions to the group’s founder in March 1977. In it, Peter argued that hire management as we all know it isn’t a present from a legendary “benevolent state,” however slightly a mirrored image of the stability of energy between landlords, tenants, and the state. Lease controls, he argued, represent vital protections for tenants, but additionally allow just about assured steadily rising rents for landlords even when market-rate rents fall—a dynamic borne out in cities like New York throughout the first yr of the pandemic, when rents for market-rate residences declined however these for rent-stabilized residences stayed regular or rose.

Whereas working at Tenants & Neighbors, I took Peter’s class “The Housing Query,” co-taught with fellow leftist planner Tom Angotti, on the Brecht Discussion board, a Marxist grownup schooling middle in New York Metropolis. Peter had lengthy since retired from Columbia College, however he continued to dedicate himself to educating activists, rising critics, and curious metropolis dwellers in search of deeper solutions about why our cities work the best way they do. He didn’t assign lots of his personal works, however we learn a paper of his titled “The 5 Lives of Public Housing,” during which Peter demonstrated how the aim of public housing had shifted over the a long time, leading to modifications in its funding ranges, design, and tenancy. It was traditional Marcuse: He took a chunk of the constructed atmosphere all of us thought we knew fairly effectively and confirmed us that, in reality, it was many different issues directly and all the time the product of ongoing wrestle.

Over the previous few years, Peter and I might focus on and typically collaborate on initiatives and panels. He would ask me for my ideas on varied topics, and I might do the identical. Every time I might get an electronic mail from him, I’d all the time ask myself: Why is he speaking to me? The reality was that Peter was an extremely beneficiant one that by no means stopped instructing, however he additionally by no means stopped questioning. He was all the time seeking to each impart his personal data and search inspiration from youthful generations. He was a mannequin of the right way to retire from one’s profession with out ever ceasing to study, query, observe, and make choices.

To return to the tip: Peter spoke his final phrases—“I’ve one thing to say”—on March 4. That day was my paternal grandfather’s birthday. He used to joke that it was the one date on the calendar that constituted a full sentence in English: “March forth!” Peter met his spouse, Frances, at a Could Day march and would proceed to be a fixture at protests so long as he may comfortably stroll. The date of Peter’s loss of life serves as his ultimate problem to radical planners, architects, and urbanists: March forth and construct a greater world than the one we inhabit as we speak.

Samuel Stein is a researcher, author, advocate, and critic centered on the intersection of actual property and concrete planning in New York Metropolis and the creator of the ebook Capital Metropolis: Gentrification and the Actual Property State.



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