Norm Krumholz, 92, Leaves Legacy of Equity Consciousness in Cleveland

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Norman Krumholz

Norm Krumholz, Cleveland's former planning director and professor at CSU's Levin College of Urban Affairs, died a few days before Christmas in Bethesda, Maryland at the age of 92. 

He leaves behind a legacy of equity consciousness for the region's planners and public officials, many of whom he taught and whose thinking on urban planning he helped shape.

"We all ask the question: 'What would Norm do'?" said Chris Ronayne, planning director for Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell and now Executive Director of University Circle Inc. "Norm is the conscience of Cleveland when it comes to how we deliver services to those most in need. He asked the question that still rings in my ears and resonates in my mind: Who pays and who benefits?"

Krumholz, who was born in New Jersey, arrived in Cleveland from Pittsburgh at the invitation of Mayor Carl Stokes in 1969. He served under three successive, wildly divergent, Mayors: Stokes, Ralph Perk and Dennis Kucinich.

Kucinich told Scene that Krumholz "elevated Urban Studies to an art form" and that he applied "a moral and intellectual measure of fairness" to his assessment of proposed development projects.

"Norm was there at the beginning of my career and I often relied on his advice during my years in City Council," Kucinich said. "When I became Mayor, I was privileged to have him serve in our administration, where his advice on Muny Light, tax abatements, Cleveland ports, transportation policy, and directing city resources to our neighborhoods was invaluable." 

In 1975, under Perk, Krumholz and his staff of advocacy-oriented planning professionals authored a seminal policy report that advanced the theories of what was called 'Equity Planning.'

"Equity requires that government institutions give priority attention to the goal of promoting a wider range of choices for those Cleveland residents who have few, if any, choices," the report stated. These views shifted the conversation in planning circles across the country. 

Professionally, Krumholz' vision was of him and his colleagues as doers. He thought it was vital that planners use their expertise to solve the problems of income inequality, substandard housing and transportation.

That was a vision he would later pass on to thousands of students at Cleveland State, where he taught full-time in the College of Urban Affairs until he was 90 years old.

"If the CSU mantra is engaged learning, that's Norm Krumholz," said Ronayne, who served as Krumholz's graduate assistant in 1994-1995 and became a close personal friend.

Ronayne said he valued how Krumholz used the City of Cleveland as a learning lab for his students and constantly encouraged them to provide "real counsel" to the city and its neighborhoods.

"If there was an assignment on the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, you didn't just write about it from history books," Ronayne said. "You lived it. You went to go work at the CDC. You met with CDC officials. You walked the block. I always said to any student coming into CSU, 'Take a class with Norm Krumholz.' It'll open your eyes to the world."

The Dean of Levin College, Roland Anglin, said that Krumholz was a countervaliing force to "the narrative of the expert" that dominated planning thinking in the mid-20th century, when Urban Renewal and federal highway policies decimated historic communities in urban cores.

"Based heavily in Democratic theory and practice, [Krumholz's] counter narrative values the history, culture, and economic contributions that made these communities part of a vibrant urban ecology," Anglin wrote Scene in an email. "In this way of thinking, the expert becomes the learner and collaborates with community residents to bring about a community vision that can attract wider support. The planner, here, advocates for the community not in a paternalistic way but in a manner that places their professional skills in service to communities and residents.

"Norm left us a rich and important legacy in Equity Planning. We celebrate it in the significant number of Levin students who go into community and economic development, run for and are elected to public office, staff a planning office, or manage large public agencies. Our graduates are known for avoiding the ethos that they are the experts and have the answer; what you often hear them say is, 'What does the community want, and what can we do to help them help themselves?' That is the influence and impact of Norm Krumholz on Levin and Urban Planning writ large."

Late in his life, under Mayor Frank Jackson, Krumholz was appointed to the City Planning Commission, where he was often the lone "nay" vote on flagship development projects, including upgrades to the Cleveland Browns Stadium and the renovation of Public Square. He was also an opponent of the Opportunity Corridor, which has failed to attract the private investment its promoters swore it would.

"Most votes by the Planning Commission are unanimous, but there were a few issues where I tried to keep the mayor from being embarrassed," Krumholz told the Plain Dealer in 2014. Krumholz was not re-appointed to the Commission after serving seven years. 

Jackson, in an official statement, called Krumholz a "pioneer" in city planning.

"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," Jackson said. "The legacy of Norm Krumholz is forever cemented in Cleveland’s planning and development history."

Friends and students remember Krumholz' warmth, his moral conviction and his sense of humor.

For decades, Krumholz hosted a "baloney lunch club" at CSU with members of his former planning staff, plus tag-alongs like Bob Jacquay, a city planner under Mayor George Voinovich, and local muckraker Roldo Bartimole. It was a regular gathering of what Ronayne called "Norm groupies." 

"Norm would literally bring baloney, mustard, bread and chips, and we'd bring the conversation," he said. "We'd go at it about various administrations, what was going right and wrong in planning and politics. It was a blast."

Roldo Bartimole said that Krumholz was a product of the Great Depression and World War II and that he "never forgot the poverty of the depression."

"As a planner, he didn’t simply look at the city as a place for zoning and traffic issues but made inequality the center of his strategy," Roldo said. "He drew a staff of young people, many of whom remain in Cleveland today. It’s a testimony to his value that so many of his former staff people continued the task of fighting inequality."

Ruth Gillet, a former Krumholz staff member who now leads the county's office of homeless services, said Norm was both a friend and a role model.

Krumholz is remembered as being faithful to his staff and earning the deep respect of all whom he worked for and with. He was a brave thinker and a force for change in Cleveland, paving the way for what would become the community development corporation network that still operates. He was a true giant of Cleveland''s 20th century history.

"We all have to acknowledge that we stand on Norm's shoulders when we're having conversations about inclusive growth," Ronayne said. "When I think, 'What would Norm do?' I remember when I was leaving grad school, he told me two things. He said, 'Get out of the cube and apply yourself because a planner's place isn't at a desk. It's in the community. And don't spend all your time with the highway guys.'"

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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