Obituary ˆ Britton Harris 1914^2005 by tyl42823


									Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 2005, volume 32, pages 475 ^ 476


ObituaryöBritton Harris 1914 ^ 2005

Britton Harris was the man who laid out the map that many of us are still using to
navigate our way through the turbulent waters of applying computers and mathemat-
ical models to cities and city planning. When I first met him in April 1970, he was
already a living legend. Brit had given this emerging field a focus as early as 1959, but it
was the special issue of the Journal of the American Institute of Planning in May 1965
on ``Urban Development Models'' which Brit edited that had defined the field. I had
absorbed all this as a planning student at the University of Manchester, even acquiring
copies of Brit's mimeographed papers from the Penn ^ Jersey Transportation Study.
Little did I think that just a handful of years later would I get the chance to journey
to America to meet the man who made the map. But circumstances meant that in the
early Spring of 1970, Eric Cripps and I found ourselves on a tour of the modelling
groups in America, first visiting Brit at Penn whom we had already consulted on where
to go and whom to see. For some inexplicable reason, we flew to New York and then
immediately took the Metroliner to Philadelphia where we met Brit. Or rather where
we first failed to meet him. To us young men in our twenties with little experience of
the wider world, America was a foreign land and it was easy to misread the signs.
Instead of taking the escalator, we took the freight lift to the station concourse, missing
Brit completely. We then took a cab, only to realise subsequently that the University of
Pennsylvania is adjacent to the station. Brit was amused, we were embarrassed, the cab
driver delighted, but it broke the ice. Of course, Penn is a powerhouse in City Planning
and Regional Science and it was the place to start.
    I subsequently met Brit many times over the ensuing years and I was always in awe of
his intellect. He wrote incessantly about how to use models in planning, producing many
key essays and reviews, peppered with insightful technical papers, commentaries, algo-
rithms, and computer code. His work with Alan Wilson in the 1980s on the mathematics
476                                                  Obituaryö Britton Harris 1914 ^ 2005

of the retail trade model is an outstanding example of how he continued to grapple
with conundrums that he himself had defined in an earlier era. But it was not until
I worked in America in Buffalo between 1990 and 1995 that I really got to know him.
These were the years when GIS had finally come of age and Brit's own contribution
was to adapt these technologies to the wider context of the plan-making process,
broadening the concept of decision support systems to planning support systems (PSS),
a term that has subsequently been very widely adopted to refer to the constellation of
techniques and technologies that define the use of computer models in planning. His
paper ``Beyond geographic information systems: computers and the planning professional''
(Journal of the American Planning Association 55 85 ^ 92) in 1989 is one of the defining
links between the urban development models of the mid-20th century and the new
technologies that now help us to make these models operational.
    Brit was a really quite amazing man. At the World Planning Schools Congress in
Shanghai in 2001, he and his wife Ruth journeyed up the Yangtze before the meeting
and then flew back to San Francisco, then immediately to Hawaii so they could attend
CUPUM'01. He travelled widely, religiously attending American Collegiate Schools of
Planning and Regional Science meetings. He continued working right up until he died.
I do not know if his last publication was in Environment and Planning, but his paper
``Zipf's rank-size rule: a comment on Chen and Zhou [Environment and Planning B
31(6) 931 ^ 932] was published in November 2004. I last saw him in late October 2004
when I stayed with him and Ruth for a couple of nights. He was as fit as ever,
notwithstanding the illness from which he was then recovering. As usual when visiting
Brit, I lost my way, circling around Germantown several times before being directed
by Brit over the phone. As usual, he was still working on various papers. In fact one
of the most humbling things about Brit was his apparent obliviousness to the `publish
or perish syndrome'. Years ago, Peter Haggett said to me that when he had visited Brit
in Penn, Brit had opened a draw in his desk where there were countless unpublished
gems. Nevertheless, many of these gems which were presented at conferences or
handed out to visitors leaked into the wider field and a trip to Google Scholar
illustrates their impact. His ideas, his message, and his map echoed down the years
and will be with us for a while yet.
    Brit was an editorial board member of Environment and Planning A from 1969 to
1987 where he published ten papers. He also published five papers in Environment and
Planning B (including one in the 1998 anniversary issue, volume 25). Issue 11, volume
16 of E&P A and issue 3, volume 11 of E&P B, both in 1984 were special issues in his
honour, both edited by Alex Anas and Lew Hopkins, his former PhD students, to mark
his retirement. This obituary is published in both journals.
Mike Batty

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