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Jan. 31, 2001

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Chester Rapkin, urban planner and Princeton University professor, dies at 82

Princeton, N.J. -- Chester Rapkin, a leading urban planner and scholar, died Sunday from pneumonia at the age of 82. Rapkin was professor of architecture, emeritus, at Princeton University, and was well known for his efforts to apply new research findings to solve practical problems of the metropolitan region.

Professor Rapkin served as a member of the New York City Planning Commission under Mayors John Lindsay and Abraham Beame. He also was executive director of the White House task force that proposed the Model Cities Program. As a consultant, he helped plan housing and communities around the world.

His passion for cities began in childhood. Born in Manhattan in 1918, Professor Rapkin grew up in the Bronx, and his father took him on tours of favorite neighborhoods. A 1939 graduate of the City College of New York, Professor Rapkin earned a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University in 1953.

From 1954 through 1966, he was professor of city and regional planning, and chairman of the urban studies group, at the University of Pennsylvania. He then became professor of urban planning in the Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University, and was director of Columbia’s Institute of Urban Environment.

Professor Rapkin joined the Princeton faculty as professor of urban planning in 1973 and taught courses on urban housing and planning. He retired in 1988 but continued to advise undergraduate and graduate students and spent most mornings in his University office.

By the time of his retirement, he had supervised more than 70 dissertations, which amounted to about 15 percent of all dissertations in the planning field at that time.

Professor Rapkin authored 15 books and monographs and more than 100 professional articles, plans and reports. Some of his work transformed the field of urban planning. His dissertation on urban traffic integrated traffic and land-use planning for the first time. His 1956 study of the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund, co-authored by Ernest Fisher, was the first analysis of the adequacy of FHA mortgage insurance to cover defaults and losses in major financial contractions. His examination of the residential market for African-Americans raised new questions about their access to affordable housing in desirable neighborhoods. These and other studies changed how planning was conceived, introducing quantitative methods and an integrated approach.

His study of New York's SoHo area in 1962 has been credited with saving that area from demolition. The term "SoHo" was coined in his report.

Throughout his career, Professor Rapkin consulted for governments, companies, universities and civic associations. In China, he consulted with the organizations guiding an unprecedented transformation of communally held urban land toward a market-price system. In Israel, he advised on housing and the New Towns program for the Ministry of Housing, and helped develop a plan to settle Russian immigrants. Closer to home, Rapkin consulted for James Rouse & Co. as a member of the planning group and housing-market consultant for the landmark "new town" of Columbia, Md.

The American Planning Association, New York metropolitan chapter, honored Professor Rapkin with its Meritorious Achievement Award in 1985. The August 1988 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association included a symposium on his life and work. Professor Rapkin was an honorary fellow of the Homer Hoyt Institute of Post Doctoral Studies, and received a Distinguished Alumni Medal at the 125th anniversary of CCNY.

He was a member of the American Economic Association, the American Planning Association, the International Federation of Housing and Town Planning, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, and other professional organizations. He also was active in civic affairs, as a member of the Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights, the Manhattan Community Planning Board #7, the Citizens' Housing and Planning Council of New York and other groups. He served as chairman of the Governor's Task Force on the Future of the Tri-State Regional Planning Commission.

Professor Rapkin is survived by his wife of 58 years, Eva Samuel Rapkin; his son, David; his daughter-in-law, Ilene Goldsmith Rapkin; a grandson, Asher; and a sister, Dorothy Zimet.

Contributions may be made to the Chester Rapkin Award, given by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning for the best paper published annually in the Association's Journal of Planning Education and Research. The address is: Chester Rapkin Fund, c/o Kaye McBroom, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 111 Temple Buell Hall, Champaign, ILL 61820. 

Editors: A photo of Professor Rapkin is available at