Peter Marcuse is a serious looking man, still sitting with his back straight at 77. His gray hair and receding hairline reveal his age, which is not shown in the intensity of his eyes nor the clarity of his voice. He answers questions with careful wording, perhaps with a streetwise awareness born of his many diverse experiences as a teacher of Urban Planning at Columbia for thirty years.
Marcuse has had a distinct impact on the direction of the urban planning department at Columbia.
"His key concerns are the key concerns of the program," said Johannes Novy, a Ph.D. student who was a TA for Marcuse's class about tourism in Berlin and Harlem last semester.
Marcuse's longevity has given him the opportunity to see a lot of change within his department.
Looking back over his long involvement with both Columbia and Community Board 9, which began in 1979, he said, "Columbia is much more active in soliciting community support now" than when he first came.
But "there is still a good bit of distrust of Columbia in the community," he said. "Columbia should provide the assurances and guarantees necessary to assuage that distrust."
When he first arrived at Columbia, the architects within the school had little to do with the planners. Marcuse was quick to add that he believes Mark Wigley, the new Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, is working to change the outlook and provide a better relationship between the schools' programs.
Far from being a isolated academic, Marcuse began his career as an attorney in Connecticut in the '50s. While involved in community-based programs there, he soon realized that tax and real estate law were not the activities he wanted to which he wanted to devote the rest of his life. By 1972 he had earned two masters degrees and a Ph.D. and decided to enter academia.
But Marcuse stays true to his non-academic origins, said Novy. Marcuse "manages to bridge the divide between academic work and direct activism," he said.
Marcuse has been active in CB9 since 1979, serving as Chair of the Housing Committee between 1983-1989.
"There was serious concern about Columbia's buying up housing and displacing residents," Marcuse said. "I was more often on the side of those with the concern," he said.
Since he believes "that ultimately a constructive compromise will be reached" regarding Columbia's expansion plans in Manhattanville, Columbia should discuss community benefits, facilities, and efforts to ensure affordable housing.
Marita Dunn, former CB9 chairwoman, recalls Marcuse as the first person to take her under his wing on the community board. She described him as, "quiet, laid back, and astute," with a strong ability to explain complex issues to other CB9 members.
Even after so many years, Marcuse remains a vital contributor to the University.
"He is a wonderful colleague. Instead of the normal chitchat one gets between faculty members his conversations are always intellectual and enlightening," said Susan Fainstein, Acting Director of the Program in Urban Planning.
Marcuse also travels to Europe frequently; most recently, he was a visiting professor at the Technical University of Vienna in 2002.
"Planning in Europe is in far better shape and it is useful to see what can be done and see it being done," he said.
Marcuse is currently teaching a doctoral colloquium on urban planning.