In Memoriam C. Britton “Britt” Harris, FAICP

C. Britton Harris, FAICP, Emeritus Professor of City and Regional Planning, died February 7 from complications of pneumonia at the age of 90.

Harris received a BA from Wesleyan University in 1935, and an MA from the Planning Program at the University of Chicago in 1951. Prior to coming to Penn, his planning work included service with the Chicago Housing Authority and the government of Puerto Rico. He became UPS Professor of Planning, Transportation, and Public Policy in 1972, and retired from full-time work in 1984.

Harris served Penn in many capacities: as chairman of the Department of City and Regional Planning and of the graduate group; as dean of the former School of Public and Urban Policy, and through joint appointments in several other departments and graduate groups. After his retirement, he continued to write and lecture, taught in the program in Appropriate Technology and in the Liberal Studies program, and spent a year as visiting professor at Stanford University. From the vantage point of 35 years at Penn, Harris felt that his most productive contributions came from his work on the Penn Jersey Transportation Study, which led to a significant special issue of the Journal of the American Institute of Planning (May 1965) and to a conference on transportation planning, published in an influential volume (Special Report no. 97, Highway Research Board, Washington DC).

Among his later writings, Harris continued to pursue the use of computer technology, especially geographic information systems, in planning support applications to explore urban form. Representative are an essay written with the eminent British modeler, Michael Batty, “Locational Models, Geographic Information and Planning Support Systems,” in Planning Support Systems (2001) edited by Richard Brail and Richard Klosterman and “Accessibility: Concepts and Applications,” Journal of Transportation and Statistics (2001). Eugenie L. Birch, professor and chair, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of Pennsylvania, notes, “Britton Harris was an intellectual giant whose students were not only Penn graduates but all who were interested in advancing the art and science of the field through rigorous and thoughtful analysis of the dynamic processes of spatial interaction that shape urban places.”

In 1991 the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning awarded Harris its Distinguished Educator Award. In 2000, in recognition of his work, the American Institute of Certified Planners inducted Harris into its College of Fellows citing him as “ a pathfinder [who] over 40 years ago, foresaw the importance of computer simulations in planning, the need for applied location theory, and the salience of human values and behavior in urban development. His basic research and tireless advocacy have spurred the advance of new methods in planning. This work, despite its admitted limitations, has helped pave the way for a new generation of advances in the scientific support of planning for the 21st century.”

Harris pursued many fields during his career at Penn. His interest in developing countries was expressed in his work in Puerto Rico as a member of the Ford Foundation Delhi Master Planning Team, and in other consultancies. He was an early and consistent advocate of the use of computers and models in urban planning; he was a member and past president of the Regional Science Association, and made many contributions to land use and transportation modeling. Most recently he related the use of microcomputers and geographic information systems to his other interests. Throughout his career at Penn, Harris wrote widely on these topics and participated in the work of organizations concerned with them.

Harris is survived by his wife Ruth, his three children, Jared (Wendy Martin), Katherine and Ellen Harris (Gianni Benvenuti) and one granddaughter, Laurel Martin-Harris. He is also survived by a sister Margaret Zorach.

The Department of City and Regional Planning at PennDesign will hold a memorial gathering in late spring.