John William Reps
Ithaca - John William Reps died November 12, 2020, at his home in Ithaca, NY after a six-month decline caused by a cystic mass in his brain. At the time of his death, he was Professor Emeritus in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. Up until Cornell's shutdown in March, he went to his office in Sibley Hall every weekday, and was sometime even found there on weekends. John is survived by his daughter Martha of Ithaca, NY and son Thomas of Madison, WI; his wife of more than sixty years, Constance ("Connie') Peck Reps, died in 2009.
Born on Nov. 25, 1921 in St. Louis, John grew up in Springfield, MO, where his father ran a dry-goods store. In high school, he competed on the swimming and tennis teams. He attended Dartmouth College, where he studied geography and planning; he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1942, and graduated summa cum laude in 1943. After graduation, he spent three years in the US Army Air Corps, rising to the rank of Sergeant. During this time, he furthered his interest in planning by taking an evening course taught by the planning director of Denver, and a tough correspondence course through the Armed Services Institute. After the war, he studied planning at Cornell and the University of Liverpool. When he returned to America in Sept. 1947, he was appointed planning director of Broome County, NY.
In 1947, when John returned to his home town and was pressed into giving a talk about the Marshall Plan, he met Constance Peck, then an Assistant Professor of French at Drury College in Springfield, MO. After their marriage in 1948, they lived in Binghamton, NY for two years. In 1950-51, they lived in England, where John was a Fulbright Student studying public administration at the London School of Economics and town planning at University College. In 1951, they moved to Ithaca when John joined the Cornell faculty. Three years later, they moved into the Ithaca home where they lived ever since.
John served on the Cornell faculty until Dec. 1986. He was Chair of City and Regional Planning from 1952 to 1964. For a few of those years, he was the only full-time faculty member, which, he said, "made department meetings a breeze.' John started his career with an interest in land-use policy, particularly zoning and land-subdivision control. Later, his interest shifted to city-planning history, which complemented his long-time passion for collecting antiquarian maps and city views -- a collection he had started during his first stay in England.
During his career, John wrote fifteen books, starting in 1965 with "The Making of Urban America.' A later book, "Cities of the American West,' received the 1980 Beveridge Award from the American Historical Association for the year's best book on American History. All of his books were illustrated with his beloved old maps and views.
John took four sabbatical leaves from Cornell, including two year-long stays in Europe for the Reps family. Later sabbaticals took John and Connie back to London for a semester, and to the University of Georgia for a year, where he was the Bicentennial Distinguished Visiting Professor.
Six of John's fifteen books were written post-retirement. Among them was "Canberra 1912,' prompted by his discovery, during a visit to Australia, of 47 of the 137 entries from the competition of the design for the Australian capital city, most of them unseen since the competition itself.
John was awarded fellowships by the Guggenheim Foundation, Eisenhower Exchange, Fulbright Commission, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Australian National University. He received the biennial award for Distinguished Service to Education in Planning from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. In 1996, the American Planning Association, citing him as the father of modern American city-planning history, designated him a Planning Pioneer.
For thirty years (1964-94), he was the founder, owner, and publisher of Historic Urban Plans. The company issued facsimiles of more than 500 town plans, city views, and maps originally published from 1493 to 1894.
In addition to collecting maps and views, sailing and wine-tasting were two of his other enduring passions.
There will be no funeral. A gathering for family, friends, and colleagues to remember John's life will be held at later time. In lieu of flowers, any donations in his memory should be directed to the Hangar Theatre, Ithaca, NY 14850; the Kitchen Theatre Company, Ithaca, NY 14850; or to the John Reps Dissertation Prize, Society for American City and Regional Planning History (sacrph.org).