By Hooper Brooks, Program Coordinator for Northeast Funders Network  

Henry (Hank) Eric Dittmar, passed away Tuesday, April 3, 2018, at the age of 62. Hank was well known to many of TFN’s early funders for his leadership in transportation reform and transit oriented development and was involved and helpful to TFN in its early days, especially at the time of the 2005 Annual Conference held in Albuquerque, New Mexico where Hank lived.

In recent years Hank had served as the Chief Executive of The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community (from 2005 to 2013) and had been living in London since 2005. He led an international consulting practice, Hank Dittmar Associates, for the past five years, as well as serving as an advisor to the Foundation.

In the early days of his career he was 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 to see the possibilities of transit and its role in building community – something already practiced in Europe. In 1993 he 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.

From 2000 to 2005, Dittmar was the founding president and CEO of Reconnecting America, a not-for-profit organization that integrates transportation and community development, advising community leaders on how to overcome development challenges and create better and more affordable communities. Reconnecting America grew out of another not-for-profit that Dittmar directed: The Great American Station Foundation. Its goal was to renovate old train stations in the hopes of stimulating rail and public transit and transit-oriented development. Hank served as co-founder of the Center for Transit Oriented Development (CTOD), 2003-2015, whose mission was to make “TOD” a preferred development form in US cities, something that succeeded.  From 2003 to 2008, Dittmar also served as the Chairman of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a leading organization promoting walk-able, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities, and healthier living conditions.

I first met Hank as he became Executive Director of STPP, when I was Program Director at the Surdna Foundation. Surdna, as a founding and long term funder of STPP, came to know Hank as a highly effective advocate for transportation reform and stayed with him as he transitioned into the Great American Station Foundation, Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit Oriented Development. In roughly the same time period Surdna broadened its focus from transportation reform to address the complexities of Smart Growth. Hank was smart, creative and knew how to get things done. It was a pleasure for the Foundation to support his work.

As we met to review grant progress, on site visits and at conferences, Hank and I became friends. About a year after he had moved to London to be Executive Director of the Prince’s Foundation, he reached out to me to consider applying for the newly created position at PFBC of International Programme Director. I applied and soon was hired. In June of 2007, I moved to London to begin a new chapter and a deep dive into the field of sustainable urbanism and global diversity.

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 wrote a regular column 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. Dittmar was finalizing DIY City – Making Small Possible Again, at the time of his death. This latest book 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. Another book ready for production is a photography book: Out the Hotel Window. A collection of speeches and columns from 2011 to 2018 titled Ancient Lights was also made ready for distribution.

He was active in diverse professional and civic organizations in the UK. He was visiting fellow at Kellogg’s College, Oxford University, had served as an advisor to then-London Mayor Boris Johnson and on the advisory panel for Terry Farrell’s review of architecture and the built environment in 2013. He was also an honorary fellow of the Islington Play Association helping to retro-fit earlier Adventure Playgrounds to serve children of today’s central London neighborhoods.

Hank’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.”

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Kelle Dittmar (nee Jackson), and their twin children, Clara and Cole, who are at University in Wimbledon and Brighton UK, respectively Dittmar was born in Oklahoma, and found himself in such disparate places growing up as Spain, France, California, Oklahoma and Texas, as the son of a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He is also survived by his sister, Susan Dittmar Lough, three nieces and two grand nephews, all residing in Oklahoma.

Recent tributes can be found here, here, and here.

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