ACCESS Special Issue, Winter 2006-2007

Introduction: Mel Webber (1920–2006)

Melanie Curry

With this issue, the University of California Transportation Center marks the fifteenth year of publishing ACCESS magazine. However, our celebration is tinged with sadness, because the founder and editor of ACCESS is no longer with us: Melvin M. Webber passed away on November 25, 2006. We miss him.

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A Legacy of Skepticism: Remembering Melvin Webber

Martin Wachs

A month before his passing I had the pleasure of meeting Mel Webber for lunch, as I had done many times before, at his favorite table in the corner of the bar at the Faculty Club on the Berkeley campus. Over his left shoulder was the large window through which the landmark campanile clock was clearly visible in the bright blue sky over the deep green of the trees that line Strawberry Creek. Mel was like no other person I knew well. After decades of warm friendship he still surprised me at every meeting by asking questions I never anticipated. This visit was no different. He took out a small notebook and a worn, stubby pencil, and placed them on the table. He ordered a modest, healthful lunch and when the waiter departed he leaned forward and in a voice made husky by his illness he asked me to tell him what he had contributed to the world. His life was ending, he said in a tone not so different than the one he used when he had ordered his sandwich, and he wanted to know how his friends would remember him. He picked up the pencil, opened the notebook to a blank page, and awaited my reply. Overwhelmed by the question and thoroughly intimidated by the realization that it was deeply important to a man who had given me so much, I did my best to reply sincerely.

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2017-05-30T22:05:28+00:00Categories: ACCESS Special Issue, Winter 2006-2007|Tags: |

Flexible Transit, the American City, and Mel Webber

Robert Cervero

Melvin Webber was one of the original “bus guys” in the transportation planning field. He was one of the few to show respect for that Rodney Dangerfield of public transportation, the one that gets very little respect: the rubber-tire bus. But Mel’s vision of public transit was not stodgy old buses lumbering along city streets. He had in mind a more nimble, versatile form of transit—one that could compete with, and sometimes even mimic, the private car.

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Skeptical Optimism in Transportation and Planning Research

Brian D. Taylor

I suspect that every one of Professor Melvin Webber's colleagues experienced The Furrowed Brow at one time or another. Offer an assertion on almost any topic, and Mel would employ The Furrowed Brow—an exceedingly earnest and quizzical expression he wore while peppering you with questions challenging your proposition in a methodical point-by-point fashion. Conventional wisdom of any sort was especially likely to elicit The Furrowed Brow—“good planning requires public participation,” “we can’t build our way out of congestion,” “urban travel is underpriced” or any similar statement was vulnerable. “Why?” Mel would ask. “How do we know?” “Are you sure?” On a few occasions he asked me “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” so many times in a row that I thought that he was pulling my leg. But he wasn’t.

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Melvin M. Webber: Maker and Breaker of Planning Paradigms

Sir Peter Hall

Melvin M. Webber died two days after Thanksgiving in the Berkeley home where he and his wife Carolyn had lived peaceably for nearly half a century; they would soon have celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, but at the age of 86 his multiple myeloma cheated them of their festival. With him passed an era in the history of Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning, where he had spent nearly all his long academic life and to whose international pre-eminence he had so profoundly contributed.

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Teaching With Mel

Elizabeth Deakin

Mel Webber taught both planning theory and transportation policy to graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning. I had the good fortune to co-teach the transportation policy class with him in the late 1980s, shortly before his retirement from the department. We each took responsibility for some of the sessions, but both of us participated in nearly every class. When it was Mel’s turn, he rarely lectured. Sometimes he started the class with a slide show or a few transparencies, then opened up the session to discussion. At other times he came to class with brief introductory remarks and an example or two, plus a list of questions to debate.

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Learning From Mel

Jonathan Richmond

I first encountered Mel Webber during a brief stay at Berkeley. I had left MIT with a trail of debt and unwisely registered for a PhD at Berkeley with only partial financial aid. Rather than worry about the unpaid rent at International House piling up on top of the five months of unpaid dorm rent I had left at MIT, I became utterly absorbed in the two most astonishing courses I have taken anywhere. One was taught by C. West Churchman, the other by Mel Webber (very ably assisted by Karen Christensen).

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Melvin Webber and the “Nonplace Urban Realm”

Michael B. Teitz

The question of what constitutes “urbanism” has vexed thinkers for as long as cities have been written about, but few have contributed more profound insights than Mel Webber. Over his fifty-year career, he distinguished himself as a teacher, researcher, builder of institutions, editor, and professional planner, but it is as a theorist and analyst of deep urban social changes that he may have made his greatest contribution. His theoretical insights have shaped the development of many ideas in planning, transportation, and spatial analysis, but none has had more influence than his idea of the “nonplace urban realm.”

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Beyond ITS and the Transportation Monoculture

Daniel Sperling

Mel Webber wrote and thought a lot about cars. He frequently pointed out that cars remain the first choice for transport for most people because their convenience and door-to-door accessibility are unmatched by any other mode. However, many cities are headed toward traffic paralysis because cars are so popular. Car ownership and use continue to increase, but there is little expansion in road capacity.

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