N. Krumholz, P. Clavel, Reinventing Cities: Equity Planners Tell Their Stories (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).

Pierre Clavel

Ph.D. '66

N. Krumholz, P. Clavel, Reinventing Cities: Equity Planners Tell Their Stories (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).

Preserving Progressive Planning

By Elisa Gallaro

AAP Professor Emeritus Pierre Clavel (CRP Ph.D. '66) is an authority on "progressive" planning. To him, progressives focus on the distributive effects of their work: more equality and wider participation are constant concerns. "It's a state of mind or attitude toward your work," he says. "You think the best is possible."

Clavel spent much of his 50-year career researching, teaching, and documenting the successes of this planning attitude. Now, in retirement, he's creating a repository of resources for those who share his interest in the history and future of the progressive planning movement.

A man with white hair and glasses sits in an office chair, facing away from his desk.

Pierre Clavel.

Progressive planning was an outgrowth of the activism of the 1960s and the resulting advances in civil rights and other progressive causes. Emboldened by these efforts, coalitions of public officials, community advocates, and progressive politicians in U.S. cities began working toward what Clavel describes as "a different, more just city with less inequality and more public investment to make the city a better place."

These coalitions mobilized voters to approve ballot initiatives and secure seats on local governing bodies. Coalitions also tapped the potential of planning to "alter the city as a whole and serve as a beacon," Clavel says, "setting goals for the longer timeframe while smaller battles were fought year to year and month to month."

Clavel's fascination with progressive planning is rooted, in part, in the frustrations of his early planning career. Attracted to the field by the opportunity to "change the world," he earned a master's degree in regional planning from the University of North Carolina, took a job conducting planning studies and developing master plans for municipalities, and quickly discovered how politics and other factors influenced — and often derailed — even the best planning efforts. When Clavel was called up to join the Army, he used his time in the service to "question what planning was all about and why it wasn't being accepted as much as we [planners] thought it should be." 

Among the planners he turned to for advice was Stuart Stein, Clavel's boss in the Rhode Island office of Blair and Stein, a planning consulting firm. Stein had left the firm to join the faculty at Cornell and suggested Clavel apply for an opening for a doctoral student in the Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP). Clavel enrolled and, after two years at the University of Puerto Rico, remained at Cornell for the rest of his career. He and Stein were colleagues at Cornell for decades.

Clavel's research on progressive planning includes hundreds of interviews in major U.S. cities, along with several in places such as rural Appalachia and cities in the United Kingdom. His findings are the subject of six books, including The Progressive City: Planning and Participation, 196984, which earned him the Paul Davidoff Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP). The award honors the memory of Davidoff, who established the field of advocacy planning and was a force for justice and social equity in the profession.

Mondrian-esque cover of book 'Activists in City Hall'

Activists in City Hall: The Progressive Response to the Reagan Era in Boston and Chicago (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2013).

Black and white image of a man gesturing with his hands while speaking in front of a table.

Clavel at Progressive Planning Summer Program in 1982.

Clavel has also published more than 25 papers and chapters. Equally important, his work has informed the AAP curriculum and helped prepare hundreds of CRP graduates to take their place among the next generation of planners. Clavel directed and helped develop the Progressive Planning Summer Program and was co-director of a field course in poverty in the Ithaca region. In addition, Clavel served as CRP department chair and director of graduate studies, taught courses on planning history and theory, and contributed to progressive efforts in the City of Ithaca as a member of the Rental Housing Commission.

His writings along with archival information on progressive planning efforts around the globe are preserved in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections at Cornell University Library and in the library's eCommons digital collection. Clavel has compiled manuscripts, doctoral dissertations, newspaper articles, interview transcripts, city documents, and more to help ensure that the principles and lessons of progressive planning endure.

"There's not much that cities can do that lasts forever," Clavel says. "That history is rare and precious and liable to be lost." Without this archive, "there would be no record."

No individual "can write about every progressive city," he adds, "but at least I can make as many documents available as possible."

His personal contributions to the collection cover progressive efforts in Berkeley and Santa Monica in California, as well initiatives in Boston; Chicago; Cleveland; Burlington, Vermont; and Hartford, Connecticut. Clavel wrote about community development organizations in Wiscasset, Maine, and Youngstown, Ohio. He also applied his research in the classroom and the community, teaching and mentoring scores of prospective planners, planning researchers, and educators and encouraging them to take advantage of planning's potential to "alter the reality in a city and change it for the better."

For example, students in the Progressive Planning Summer Program learned lessons in advocacy and organizational change along with more traditional planning-related skills. Offered from 198084, the summer program included sessions on influencing public opinion via op-ed pieces and building a community organization from the ground up. One cohort launched and managed an experimental cooperative grocery store the predecessor to Ithaca's GreenStar Food Co-op.

"We were looking to change things," Clavel says, and to give students the tools to make changes, as well.

Through the Progressive Cities and Neighborhood Planning Collection, Clavel is carrying on the work he began so long ago. The documents and other materials that he's compiled provide both an important historical record and a roadmap on how to use planning to continue to further progressive ideals.

"I was reviewing my papers and realized that all these years I’d been figuring out and teaching how I thought progressive planning ought to be done," Clavel says. In the process, he figured out something else as well: "How to change a small slice of the world."

Website: ProgressiveCities.org


Selected Works

First page of scholarly article 'Running the City for the People'

E. Bach, N.R. Carbone, and P. Clavel, "Running the City for the People," Social Policy 12, no. 3 (winter 1982): 15–23, https://hdl.handle.net/1813/41469

"Running the City for the People"

Cover of book 'The Progressive City'

P. Clavel, The Progressive City: Planning and Participation, 1969–1984 (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1986). 

The Progressive City

Book cover 'Reinventing Cities: Equity Planners Tell Their Stories'

N. Krumholz, P. Clavel, Reinventing Cities: Equity Planners Tell Their Stories (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994). 

Reinventing Cities

Mondrian-esque cover of book 'Activists in City Hall'

P. Clavel, Activists in City Hall: The Progressive Response to the Reagan Era in Boston and Chicago (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2013).

Activists in City Hall

First page of scholarly article 'Losing Out on Industrial Policy: The Chicago Case'

P. Clavel, S. O'Neill-Kohl, "Losing Out on Industrial Policy: The Chicago Case," Cornell University City and Regional Planning Working Papers: Economic Development (January 2010): 1–38, https://hdl.handle.net/1813/14278.

"Losing Out on Industrial Policy"

First page article 'Setback in Burlington'

P. Clavel, "Setback in Burlington," Progressive Planning 201, (fall 2014): 34–37, https://hdl.handle.net/1813/45775.

"Setback in Burlington"

Harold Washington and the Neighborhoods excerpt, produced by Wim Wiewel and Pierre Clavel, 1992. 

Harold Washington and the Neighborhoods excerpt