Nationally Influential Urban Planner And Educator Norman Krumholz Dies

Norman Krumholz holds a street marker that was posted to honor his 90th birthday in 2017
Norman Krumholz holds a street marker that was posted to honor his 90th birthday in 2017 [Cleveland State University]

A nationally respected Clevelander who helped nurture several generations of urban planners has died. Norman Krumholz first came to Cleveland fifty years ago and went on to establish a legacy as a city planner and as a professor of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University.

Chris Ronayne was one of his students and says Norm Krumholz was always able to speak from experience.

“He has the credibility of having been there,” Ronayne said. “And what I mean by that is he was planning director at City Hall in some very, very dynamic times.”

Norm Krumholz’s reputation as an urban planner in Pittsburgh prompted Cleveland mayor Carl Stokes to hire him to head the City Planning Department in 1969. In an ideastream interview this past spring, Krumholz said he was “delirious with delight” when given the opportunity to apply some of his ideas in Northeast Ohio. At the core of those ideas was a principle called “equity planning.”

“Equity Planning became to me to mean more choices for those residents, businesses and so on in the city of Cleveland that had few if any choices,” he said.  “All planners, all public administrators, try to provide more choices for their populations.  'More choices' for those who have few, however, narrows the focus down to the point where it can be recognized as making a political choice to line-up with the poor.”

The keys to equity planning included such things as downplaying highway-building in favor of public transit and advancing the construction of public housing.

Norm Krumholz protege Chris Ronayne also served as Cleveland's planning director, and now heads University Circle, Incorporated, where he still applies principles learned from Krumholz and his nationally-influential 1990 book, “Making Equity Planning Work.”

“It is now a requirement that persons seeking certification into a certified planning profession study equity as a requisite to the tests that you actually take to become certified,” Ronayne said.

In Cleveland, Krumholz’s legacy can be found in his students, including Ronayne, current Cleveland planning director Freddy Collier, and local transportation writer Angie Schmitt. She admires the fact that Krumholz had a reputation for taking a bus to work every day.

“That's something that you don't see a lot from leaders in positions of authority lot of times,” said Schmitt. “They're a little bit out of touch with what people who don't drive experience in our transportation system.”

Schmitt says she also admired her former teacher for his dislike of big-ticket projects, like sports stadiums and convention centers, as silver bullet solutions for urban ills.

“What we should be pursuing and thinking about is how to lift up people who have the least in our community,” she said. “So, I think it's a really good lesson to think about. And that's something we should all try when we approach these planning decisions. We should try to think: what would Norm do?”

In a statement issued Sunday, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson praised Krumholz’s focus on those who have the least: “His passion for urban development and transportation issues gave voice to the issues of individuals who were most impacted by development policy but least empowered.”

Norm Krumholz died Saturday after complications from a stroke. He was 92. Chris Ronayne says an event to celebrate Krumholz’s life is tentatively planned for Feb. 29.

“Norm had a great sense of humor,” Ronayne said. “So, if it's on leap year, I think he would find it all the more fitting.”

Norm Krumholz and Chris Ronayne, upfront [Chris Ronayne]

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