This week the nation’s mayors lost a very special friend, one who gave voice and example to what we all seek: places that are more connected, hospitable, and enduring.
Hank Dittmar, an American first and an Oklahoman as well, was one of this nation’s premier transportation reformers whose personal leadership and vision helped all of us (even detractors) find our way to smarter and more balanced transportation practices and investments.
Many of us knew Hank from his early days and his role in enacting and later implementing the landmark 1991 federal transportation reform law – the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act or ISTEA – called “Ice Tea” in transportation parlance.
To prepare for the looming debate on what became ISTEA, mayors, regional officials and other transportation leaders gathered in Denver where they adopted principles, known as the “Denver Accord,” that underpinned the work of Congressional reformers like New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Rhode Island Senate John Chafee as they moved their reform legislation forward. The ISTEA law was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, reminding all of us what is possible through bipartisan action and consensus.
It is rare in life that one has a chance to know someone who at first glance seemed so single purpose in his work – Hank’s specialty was reforming our nation’s outdated transportation practices – and yet he was so much more.
He documented the virtues of transit adjacency, or what we now commonly call transit-oriented development or TOD. Hank talked about building smart cities before we even used the phrase “Smart Cities.” He reminded us that it was important to connect places together, such as through passenger rail. On this issue, particularly, Hank joined with us in 2001 for the Mayors Summit on A National Rail Policy for the 21st Century, a first of its kind convening at Washington’s Union Station.
His talents didn’t go unnoticed as Prince Charles asked Hank to come to the UK to run his Prince’s Foundation for Building Community where he served for nearly a decade as the Foundation’s CEO.
In recent years, Hank focused his work on what is called Lean Urbanism, a multidisciplinary movement to lower the barriers to community-building, to make it easier to start businesses, and to provide more attainable housing and development.
There is much more I could say about Hank, our friend, and an ally of the nation’s mayors. For me, I will simply marvel at the progress we continue to see in our cities, whether it is how we move about or the look and feel of our neighborhoods, as a testament to his legacy. He will be missed greatly by those who knew him as well as so many others who will continue to reap the benefits of his work.