Hank Dittmar, Former STPP Exec. Director, Passes Away

Hank Dittmar, a leading international urbanist and former Executive Director of the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), passed away Tuesday, April 3, 2018, at the age of 62. Dittmar, who served as the Chief Executive of The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community from 2005 to 2013, had been living in London since 2005.hank-dittmar

Dittmar earned his Bachelor of Science in Speech Communication and Rhetoric from Northwestern University, and a Masters in Community and Regional Planning, School of Architecture, from The University of Texas at Austin in 1980.

Dittmar quickly amassed a varied background, as a regional planner, an airport director, and an outreach worker with street gangs in Chicago’s inner city. His role as Director of Legislation and Finance at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the San Francisco Bay area laid the groundwork for helping US government officials see the possibilities of transit and its role in building community—something already being practiced in Europe at the time.

In 1993 Dittmar switched coasts to become Executive Director of the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) in Washington DC, a national collaborative working to use smarter transportation choices as building blocks for better and safer communities. Dittmar served as STPP’s Executive Director until 1998. In that capacity, he proved to be “the most effective advocate for transportation reform, bar none,” said Scott Bernstein, chairman of the STPP. “Hank lived by the credo ‘first listen, then design.’ He was really good at that, and he didn’t know any other way.”

Dittmar left the STPP to help found and direct The Great American Station Foundation. Its goal was to renovate old train stations in the hopes of stimulating public transit and transit-oriented development. This organization in turn morphed into Reconnecting America, a US not-for-profit that integrates transportation and community development, advising community leaders on how to overcome development challenges and create better communities.

Dittmar served as CEO of Reconnecting America until 2005. From 2003 to 2015 Dittmar also served as co-founder of the Center for Transit Oriented Development (CTOD), whose mission was to make “TOD” a preferred development form in US cities, something that succeeded. And from 2003 to 2008 he was the Chairman of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a leading organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities, and healthier living conditions.

“Hank’s passion and desire for urbanism were enormous,” says Lynn Richards, President and CEO of CNU. “His contributions to this cause span decades, from organizing the STPP to leading the charge on Lean Urbanism.”

In 2000, Dittmar was on the verge of joining a Democratic US administration led by Al Gore. He had previously advised Bill Clinton’s administration on sustainable development and climate change, and had been appointed to the White House Advisory Committee on Transportation and Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the President’s Council on Sustainable Development’s Metropolitan Working Group, where he served as Chair. Gore’s election defeat by George Bush ended those plans.

Over the course of several years, Dittmar found a new—and seemingly unlikely—champion of the new urbanist movement: the Prince of Wales. In 2005 Dittmar moved to London to become the Chief Executive of The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, founded in 1998.

Dittmar was the longest serving Chief Executive for The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community (2005-2013), directing the growth of the unique charity in the UK and around the world, and overseeing the development of its practice-based approach to education.

Hooper Brooks, the former program director at the Surdna Foundation, describes Dittmar as smart, creative, and someone who knew how to get things done. “It was a pleasure for me and the Foundation to support his work until he moved to London to be Executive Director of The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community,” said Brooks. “Then in 2007 I had the privilege of joining him in that endeavor as Director of International Programmes.”

In 2013, Dittmar stepped down as Chief Executive to undertake a limited number of high impact projects for the Foundation and on his own through Hank Dittmar Associates. Dittmar’s firm specializes in walkable communities connected by public transport, in small-scale lean urbanism, and in planning for a wireless, interconnected future. The firm has worked in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in the Gulf on projects ranging from new towns to urban policy and strategy development.

Dittmar is the author of the 2008 book Transport and Neighbourhoods, co-author and editor of New Transit Town (Island Press, 2004) and a coauthor of Sustainable Planet (Beacon Press, 2000) and Green Living (Compendium, 2009). He was a contributing columnist for Building Design magazine, and has published articles in the London Evening Standard, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.
At the time of his death, Dittmar was completing a new book, DIY City—Making Small Possible Again, which takes a hard look at how massive redevelopment projects have affected cities and describes the many benefits of more organic growth of cities, including the advantages for affordable housing. He was also readying a photography book, Ancient Lights Out the Hotel Window, for production.

Dittmar’s long-held tenets in urban design are neatly summed up in this quote: “If we surrender our towns, countryside, and cities to the car, we will also be surrendering many other values that we hold dear: neighborhood life, a sense of history and place, a feeling of belonging somewhere.”