Larry Reich's legacy

September 20, 1994

Larry Reich was one of those remarkable people who came to Baltimore from another city but became a true Baltimorean. As the city's planning director for 25 years, he combined his professional knowledge with an intuitive sense of what was right for Baltimore. He did not win all the battles. But he prevailed often enough to leave a better city behind him, when he died over the weekend at 75.

"He was a voice of reason in city government," says Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun's architecture critic.

It is not widely known that Mr. Reich was quite a radical in his youth. While his political views mellowed with the passage of time, he retained an uncompromising view of what was right for a city. It was Baltimore's good fortune to have him as the planning director from 1965 to 1990, when the city experienced ......TC rebirth because of Inner Harbor projects and other major developments.

When Mr. Reich, who at the time was assistant commissioner of planning in Chicago, came to Baltimore, authorities knew the city's planning post would be important. Some 300 resumes were scrutinized, 50 candidates interviewed. In the end, Mr. Reich was selected because the screening panel thought he would strengthen the planning department whose power had been diluted by urban renewal authorities.

Mr. Reich lived up to that hope. He vetoed projects that were "crummy" in his estimation. "We are ruining good parts of the city," he complained. "It is high time we put our foot down in an attempt to get better development."

At a time when plans called for sacrificing stable neighborhoods for expressways, Mr. Reich felt such arteries were destroying the livability of Baltimore. Although some neighborhoods were able to stop the roads, his verdict was that the expressway system "did destroy more than it created."

Mr. Reich's insistence on quality and retention of what he thought were the fundamental values of the city made him a controversial figure. Politicians attacked him, landlords demanded his head.

If anything, those tempests solidified his mentor relationship with younger planners who admired Mr. Reich's high standards and willingness to speak out on issues he felt strongly about. In return, Mr. Reich was proud of his planners, who are now scattered throughout the world.

Baltimore was fortunate to have Larry Reich during a crucial redevelopment period. He tried to keep the builders and politicians honest.

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