John Friedmann (1926-2017)

Not only was John Friedmann (1926-2017) one of the brightest minds in the history of planning research and action, he was also a great friend of the YAs. In 2015, while I was finalising the organisation of the YA conference in Palermo, his wife, Leonie Sandercock, who we had invited as keynote speaker, suggested me: ‘John is travelling with me, why don’t you ask him if he wants to help?’

We had no budget left, and I was quite puzzled by the idea of asking. But the opportunity to have John Friedmann in the conference was too thrilling: so I went on asking whether he’d like nonetheless to chair a session and a workshop on the research-theory-action nexus (with Laura Saija). He was happy to join us, and contributed a great deal to the success of the conference. No one of us will ever forget his generosity, strength and charm; and the amazing histories of planning he told us during that workshop.

We decided to remember John Friedmann by collecting some short comments from members of the YA community. Below, you’ll find very different statements, which share the energy John transmitted to whom met or read him.

We’d love to receive more statements, and we’ll publish them on a rolling basis on this page. Please send your contribution (150-200 words) to and

(Simone Tulumello)

John Friedmann and Leonie Sandercock in Palermo in 2015. Photo by Johanna Holvandus

John is one of the scholars that have the rare ability to lead many generations toward innovations and critical thinking. Many years before the planning discovery of Habermas’ communicative rationality, he taught us about dialogue; at the time when planners were still learning and practicing under the illusion of certainty about the future, he started teaching about humility and empathy. Many years before the literature started noticing the growing impact of non-western planning, he had already shown us how to cross our cultural boundaries. Most importantly, ​even ​many years after all his first discoveries, he ​has still been passionate, curious, and generous with the many young minds have had the good fortune to meet him.

He will continue to ​inspire us: I am sure that for many years we will discover all the new ideas that his writings still contain and will keep wondering how he was able to get there first.

Laura Saija
University of Memphis, Department of City and Regional Planning


The one and only time I could see and hear “live” John Friedmann was back in 2015 in the frame of the YA-Network’s conference in Palermo; where I attended both the session and workshop he chaired.

Of all things he talked about, the one that struck me the most was, oddly enough, the anecdote about how he came up with the subtitle for his renowned book Planning in the Public Domain, From knowledge to action.

Echoing, unknowingly, Archimedes’ story, John mentioned the day of the workshop, I believe, that it was while showering that his insightful phrase came to his mind.

Not only because the “radical planning” formulation has been of great inspiration for both my dissertation and critical self-assessment of my limited experience in planning practice, but also because of the centrality it holds to constantly seek out for ways to move from knowledge to action (and vice versa) in order to enhance the theory, practice, research and education of planning, I am deeply grateful that John ever exclaimed: “Eureka!…From knowledge to action!”.

Ignacio Castillo Ulloa
Department of Urban & Regional Planning, Berlin University of Technology,


The YA conference in Palermo was my first international conference and to give my very first presentation in a session held by John Friedmann was an honour.

I remember thinking that this conference was like a rock concert for aspiring urban planners. The second moment I remember vividly was when just before my presentation Mr Friedmann turned to me and said: I really enjoyed reading your paper. You can only imagine how this feels for a first year PhD candidate.

I will cherish this moment dearly as well as the fact that I have had the pleasure to meet an urban planning legend John Friedmann in person.

Johanna Holvandus
Department of Geography, University of Tartu


June of this year, we saw not only the passing of a wonderful mind but a wonderful human. John Friedmann was long since a scholar and name I looked up to in my undergraduate and graduate studies. In Summer 2016, I had the pleasure of meeting John when I went back home to Metro Vancouver. At that time, I was tasked to pass on gifts and also birthday greetings from the Department of European Planning Cultures and the Faculty of Spatial Planning at the Technical University of Dortmund. Not expecting to much, I was surprised when John welcomed me into his home for tea and a chat only a day after his home had been burgled and his laptop stolen. In the shadow of such an event, John took the time to break from his morning literature review (multiple readings in multiple languages) to learn about me and my work while also recounting his life experiences, Leonie’s alternative and meaningful narrative research with West Coast first nations and pragmatically acquiescing to both the good and bad in life.

It became clear to me, that this man was not just a scholar and teacher but a kind human with more than enough patience for individual visitors (both wanted and unwanted), but more than enough love and dedication to his calling – both in old age and post-trauma.

Thank you for your wisdom and time, John. You will be remembered.

Robin Chang
Department of European Planning Cultures, Technical University of Dortmund

Photo by Robin Chang

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