Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Neal Peirce

Dateline: 10:20 pm April 29, 2020 Filed under:

I met Neal Peirce at the American Planning Association conference in 2009. He was a speaker at the conference, and according to my notes he commented that we need another 1 million person city to be built every five days for the next 45 years to accommodate forecast global population growth. Immediately after that panel discussion I introduced myself, and what I don’t need notes to remember is that he knew who I was. I had been writing and blogging as Joe Urban for half a decade at that point and apparently he had read something of mine because we had a nice chat and within days I was invited to become a member of the Citistates Group.

Neal Peirce passed away in late 2019 and I was honored to get to know him as part of the Citistates Group in the golden years of his career when he was still intellectually curious to chase new ideas about how to improve cities. The Citistates Group grew out of the work Neal did with his colleague and fellow Minnesotan Curt Johnson in the 1990s and 2000s. Neal and Curt would visit cities, interview key civic and business leaders about the challenges their regions faced, and publish the results in a multi-part series in the respective local newspapers. They did this in more than two dozen cities and to me it sounded like a wonderful gig. The results of these publications have had far reaching effects in many metros for providing the initial ideas for major civic projects such as transit improvements, recreation trails, government cooperation and economic development.

I was fortunate to attend three Citistates Group “Convergences”, as they were called, two of which were held at Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. At each Convergence we gathered with 25 or so colleagues for a couple days to decompress and have thought-provoking discussions about the problems facing and solutions for cities. And cocktails. Citistates was looking for new ways to grow and have an impact in the digital era and that is something those of us in attendance continue to strive toward. I can say the creation of websites like indirectly came from these convergences. I met many wonderful new colleagues at these convergences and count myself lucky to have met Neal. I wish I had known him better. If I’m anywhere as vibrant and eager to contribute in my late 70s/early 80s I’ll consider myself lucky.

A few years ago I was at the Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting in Chicago. I met a colleague for a drink in the lobby of the Palmer House. Surrounded by other urban thinkers in this beautiful setting reminded me of that scene in the Simpsons who Homer has a vision of heaven where Ben Franklin and Jimi Hendrix are playing air hockey; I asked my colleague that if this is what heaven is like for urbanists. I hope Neal Peirce is enjoying a drink with friends in the Palmer House in heaven. May he rest in urban peace.

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