Volume 74, Number 45 | March 16 - 22, 2005


Walter Thabit, 83, co-founder of Cooper Sq. Committee

By albert amateau

Walter Thabit, the urban planner and community activist who helped found the Cooper Sq. Committee 45 years ago and devised a model plan for the Cooper Sq. Urban Renewal Area, died March 15 at his home on E. 11th St. at the age of 83.

He had been in ill health for several years and died of a stricture of the throat, according to his son, Nick.

With fellow members of the Cooper Sq. Committee and his longtime companion, community activist Frances Goldin, he developed the Alternative Plan for Cooper Sq., which made existing residents the beneficiaries of urban renewal. The plan, involving staged construction to minimize disruption, called for 65 percent of new housing to be for low- and moderate-income residents The plan changed the way urban renewal programs are planned across the nation.

The author of more than 100 articles and reviews in major publications and in the journal of the American Institute of Planners, he taught and lectured on housing and planning at New School University, The Graduate School of Urban Planning at Hunter College, Long Island University and at many community and advocacy groups.

In 2003, New York University Press published his book, “How East New York Became a Ghetto.” As community planner for East New York from 1966 to 1972, he was instrumental in the creation of more than 2,300 units of low- and moderate-income housing sponsored by neighborhood churches and organizations.

From 1976 to 1980 he was senior planner with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. He worked for the Department of Transportation from 1980 to 1988, retiring as director of ferry planning.

He received the Elliot Wilensky Award for his pioneering study on single-room-occupancy hotels and rooming houses, “Desperately Needed Now: An S.R.O. Housing Revolution,” and in 1994, he won the Honor Award for Lifetime Achievement in Planning from Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility.

At the Cooper Sq. Committee’s 45th anniversary last year, he received the Hall of Fame Award along with Goldin and former Mayor David Dinkins.

Born in Brooklyn, he received a design degree from Brooklyn College, a sociology degree from the New School and a planning degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served as director of planning in Baltimore from 1954-’58 and established his own firm in 1959, which did work for Poughkeepsie and White Plains, as well as Cooper Sq., Morningside Heights and East New York. He also worked on plans for Powelton Village in Philadelphia and Clinton Hill in Newark.

In 1964, he was a founder of Planners for Equal Opportunity, with 600 members across the country, and served as president of the organization for eight years. In 2001, the American Institute of Planners honored him and P.E.O. with the designation “Planning Pioneer,” in recognition of work calling attention to segregation and racial discrimination and challenging planners to bring social justice to black and other minority communities.

In addition to his son Nick and his partner, Frances Goldin, three other children survive, Darius of Cambridge, Mass.; Alia of West Burke, Vt.; and Paavo of Gardiner, N.Y. His former wife, Frances Thargay, his sister Ethel and brother Robert also survive.
The funeral was Fri., March 18, at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Bay Ridge, and burial was in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn.

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