Fred Bair, Jr., a planning pioneer and author who enjoyed a varied career in government and private practice, died February 14, 2005, in Auburndale, Florida. He was 89.
He is “part of a disappearing breed of generalist planners,” wrote AICP President Daniel Lauber, AICP, in 2000 when he nominated Mr. Bair for APA’s Distinguished Leadership by a Planner Award.
“Few planners have influenced the practice of planning to the degree that Fred Bair has,” said Dennis Andrew Gordon, AICP, chair of the 2000 APA awards jury. “His pioneering work helped to define the rational, progressive, humane side of planning that so many members of our profession aspire to implement.”
Much of today’s planning theory and practice is based on Bair’s 40 years of professional practice with the Florida Development Commission, and then as an independent consultant at his own firm, Bair & Abernathy. His three editions of The Text of a Model Zoning Ordinance guided several decades of planners as they introduced modern zoning to their communities. For 30 years, Bair served as a reporter and editorial board member for Zoning Digest and its successor, Land Use Law and Zoning Digest, where his commentaries helped advance sound zoning practices before a national audience. Indeed, most of today’s zoning for mobile and manufactured homes, recreational equipment storage, trailer and truck rentals, and signage, and other issues, is based in Bair’s work in these areas.
A 1981 profile in Planning magazine, a year after Bair’s retirement from a long consulting practice, traces a varied career. Bair was born in New York City in 1915, graduated from the University of Chicago in 1935 with a degree in sociology, and found work with two New Deal agencies, the Works Progress Administration and the Soil Conservation Service. Later, he talked about how much he learned from being on the road during the Depression. In World War II, he served as a regimental carpenter.
After the war, Bair became a kind of circuit rider planner for the New York State Department of Commerce and wrote his first planning publication, a manual on parking problems. In 1949, he was hired by a citizens group in Casper, Wyoming, to prepare a long-range plan for the city. Then it was on to Florida and a job for the state community planning and industrial development division.
By 1953, when he started his consulting practice, Bair, Abernathy and Associates, Bair was already becoming known for his zoning work. His first commission: to write a zoning ordinance, and prepare a map, for Jasper, Florida-all in three days, at $35 a day.
To stir up planning interest in a conservative state, Bair founded the Florida Planning and Zoning Association and started a newsletter,Florida Planning and Development, which he edited for 17 years out of his home office in Auburndale.
Meanwhile, his consulting business grew. He became known as the man to see for a new zoning ordinance. His longtime colleague Earnest Bartley wrote of him: “He’s the best idea man in the field.” Among his innovations: the refinement of the land-use intensity system, which he first adapted to fit the needs of a zoning ordinance in Norfolk, Virginia.
Later Bair wrote a Planning Advisory Service report on the land-use intensity system, one of 17 reports he contributed. This and other zoning techniques are all covered in the most well read Bair volume, The Text of a Model Zoning Ordinance.
Yet Bair never lost his wide-ranging interests and down home manner. Both come through in a compilation called Bair Facts: The Writings of Frederick H. Bair, Jr., edited by another longtime consultant, Perry Norton, AICP. In Planning Cities, published in 1970, Bair described the kind of consultant he didn’t want to be: “The Expert writes reports in a language called Planningese,” prepares a useless master plan, and then skips town.
His sense of humor came out in the captions he drew to accompany Richard Hedman’s cartoons in the 1961 classic book And on the Eighth Day, and in the zoning clinics and workshops on land-use controls that he organized at the annual national planning conferences.
An obituary of Mr. Bair in The Ledger of Lakeland, Florida, notes that as a member of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association and the Early American Industries Association, he enjoyed a love of old tools and traditional woodworking skills.
The organization became a national clearinghouse for demonstrators of everything from tatting to blacksmithing. It was also his way of giving back during his retirement years, his son, Bill Bair, said.
Mr. Bair was a Mason and a member of First United Presbyterian Church. He was preceded in death by his son, Frederick Haigh “Rick” Bair III. In addition to his son, Bill Bair, he is survived by his wife of 59 years, Margaret Bair; daughter Laura Jesseph; sister Betty Bryan; and eight grandchildren.