Remembering a giant: An MPC tribute to Elizabeth Hollander, 1940-2015 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Remembering a giant: An MPC tribute to Elizabeth Hollander, 1940-2015

George Thompson / Chicago Tribune

Elizabeth Hollander talks with then-Mayor Harold Washington during her time as Chicago's commissioner of planning and development.

On Oct. 14, 2015, Elizabeth Hollander passed away at the age of 75. She was a vibrant leader and a lover of cities, and she lent her energies and talents to Chicago first as Metropolitan Planning Council's (MPC) executive director and then as commissioner of the Dept. of Planning and Development at a time when the city most needed a strong planning voice: the 1980s.

I was just starting to be politically active during Liz Hollander's productive tenure as Mayor Harold Washington's planning commissioner. I recall being greatly inspired by a woman who held such a pivotal leadership role, and mildly amused by stories of Liz knitting during City Council budget hearings.

Her tenure as executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Council (1979-83) places her in an impressive chronology of (mostly) female leaders. I feel the hands of Elizabeth Wood, Dorothy Rubel and Liz Hollander (and Liz's successors) guiding me to be both consultative and bold, both analytical and visionary. Despite her health worries in spring 2014, Liz made the trip to Chicago to be part of our 80th anniversary celebration.

Below are reminisces from people who knew her: Larry Booth, long-time MPC Board member; John McDonough, MPC Board chair during part of Liz's tenure here; George Ranney, long-time MPC Board member and chair right before Liz's arrival; and Peter Skosey, current executive vice president of MPC, who lived down the street from Liz. Each describes how she reminded us all what a gift it is to be part of shaping the Chicago region.

Larry Booth, MPC Board member

Liz brought an intellectual approach to the politics of planning. I remember her focus on “view corridors” and the experience of the person on the street as critical issues.

She was a leader that continually looked at all sides of an issue—even when she had a power position as commissioner of planning. Liz set an example for public and private service to the community at large…and she enjoyed her job and enjoyed the people she led.

John McDonough, MPC Board chair 1982-84

When Liz Hollander was the executive director of the then-Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council (“MHPC”), I had the distinct pleasure of working closely with her, both as a board member and as president of the Board of Governors. She was a delight to work with. Liz was extremely bright and hard working with a wry sense of humor. She had a firm commitment to the principles for which MHPC stood and made it very clear she was going to follow those principles and lead others to do so as well. She was a match to any powerful developer or politician who disagreed with them.

At that time, MHPC was focused on three areas of public policy, which she worked tirelessly and deftly to promote. Liz advanced MHPC’s traditional commitment to improvements in public housing through the Chicago Housing Authority and by championing the preservation of single-room occupancy hotels to serve the displaced. She was also deeply committed to the preservation of Chicago’s lakefront. To honor the Montgomery Ward Court decisions regarding Grant Park, Liz worked with George Ranney and architects from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to develop the initial plans for Lakefront Gardens, the precursor of Millennium Park. Finally, the MHPC devoted much of its work to the improvement of the central city, and many large developers sought MHPC’s input on major planned unit developments because they valued the Council’s seal of approval under her leadership. I was constantly amazed at Liz’s command of the building codes, floor-area ratios and all the complexities of constructing high-rise buildings. She worked effectively with developers to achieve modifications to planned unit developments to enhance the urban landscape before their developments were submitted to the Chicago Plan Commission.

I will always remember Liz both as a skillful leader in the important developments in central Chicago at that time, a warm and funny person and a true friend who was committed to principles but flexible in finding the means to express them.

George Ranney, MPC Board chair 1976-77

I was Liz's first employer after she started a family. In 1977 I was working on the Task Force on the Future of Illinois, and Liz came on as the director fo research. She did a spectacular job. I was living in downstate Mt. Vernon, Ill., at the time, so she was incredibly important to pulling people together from across the state and spotting important trends.

There was a very broad background to this work, and she did a great job on writing, and getting meetings together, without a deep knowledge herself of the issues. I was impressed. Then she went on to MPC and worked with John Baird and Ferd Kramer on rejuvenating the South Loop, as well as on Lakefront Gardens, which was the precursor to the plan for Millennium Park, back when that land was all railyards.

Liz and I also did work on transportation. We put out a very authoritative piece of work that Liz was very involved in the Regional Transportation Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority.

Liz did her work herself and was able to win the respect of lots of different kinds of people, including Governor Thompson. Above all, I remember her having a very warm and open style.

MPC Executive Vice President Peter Skosey

During my final quarter at the University of Chicago, I took a couple urban planning classes and fell in love with the field. After graduation I called my then-neighbor whom I was told had a little knowledge in this area! My neighbor was none other than Liz Hollander who, of course, was planning commissioner for the City of Chicago. I asked her advice on some next steps to launch my career and I recall her telling me to “get a masters from the University of Illinois College of Urban Planning, because I find those graduates eminently hire-able.” I followed Liz’s advice and am greatly enjoying my career at MPC for almost 20 years now. Thank you Liz!

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