Jerry Kaufman was born in 1933, in Middletown, Connecticut. He is the son of immigrant Jews from Lithuania and Belarus. At the age of two the family moved to Corona, Queens and he grew up there in a small two-bedroom apartment. His father was a housepainter and the house was often filled with arguments. Arguments between his combative brother and his mother and arguments between his mother and father over financial matters. Jerry would try to escape the strife by heading for the street to play baseball. He was a fierce competitor his whole life, as many of his former squash partners will attest. His family’s conflicts taught him to be a good listener and fed a longstanding desire to resolve conflicts in a pieceful way. His father’s financial struggles gave him a deep, unshakable empathy for those that have little.

He enjoyed a free college education at Queens College, commuting from home, while working summers as a waiter in the Borscht Belt to pay for his books and other expenses. Throughout his undergraduate years Jerry was mostly adrift, searching for a direction and receiving little attention from faculty in this large commuters’ college. During his senior year he approached a sociology professor of his, asking him for advice on what he should do with his life. The professor pulled a book of his shelf and said, “what about planning?” That book was Lewis Mumford’s “The City in History." Jerry was smitten with Mumford’s critique of the direction of American life and Mumford's vision for a more humanistic society. He went on to study with Mumford at the University of Pennsylvania and afterward began a long and fruitful career as a planning visionary.


One of his first jobs took him to Champaign-Urbana. Shortly after his wife completed college they moved to the southside of Chicago. Jerry began working for the American Society of Planning Officials and most importantly was taught by a kind and demanding boss named Dennis O’Harrow how to write well. Writing was a skill he cherished and later taught to his students. His own prose style was clear and void of academic jargon. In 1971 he was offered a job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, though he had only a masters degree.

In the nineteen seventies the focus in his work turned more and more towards addressing ethical, moral, and political questions. In the late 70s, with his colleague  Beth Howe, he wrote the first paper that dealt with the ethical considerations of city planners. He later helped draft the first code of ethics for members of the American Planning Association, which posits that residents of communities should have the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on the development of plans and programs that may affect them. This was a radical departure from the top-down days of Robert Moses and urban renewal.

The last phase of his professional career starting in the late 90s was dedicated to food systems. Much to his surprise Mumford never addressed food. He wrote in a paper that Mumford’s vision of a city as a place for “vivid and autonomous personal life” was not realizable without “secure, ongoing access for all citizens to high quality, nutritious food.” He has been called, rightly, “the father of food systems planning.” He did not limit his work to academic paper writing but got involved in many projects such as Troy Gardens project in Madison (Wi). After his retirement from the university in 2001 he remained hard at work as president of the board of Will Allen’s non-profit urban farming organization Growing Power. He formed a close partnership with Will and an even closer friendship. He admired Will’s vision and work enormously and admired him even more as a person.

In the last twenty years Jerry visited Amsterdam (Netherlands) frequently. He spend a full year with his wife in the Dutch capital as a visiting professor in the social sciences department of Amsterdam University. The couple took a course in Dutch. Judy his wife successfully completed the course and managed to write poems in Dutch. Jerry for his part could say hello and goodbye. He didn't have a knack for foreign languages. Being a charming person and a brilliant teacher Jerry was admired and praised by his Amsterdam colleagues and students. One of them was inspired so much by his pioneering food studies that he decided to explore the opportunities for a European food planning group. This initiative produced the AESOP sustainable food planning thematic group. Jerry was invited as a guest of honour October 9, 2009 at the founding session in the newtown of Almere in the Netherlands. The organisers were not unaware that Jerry was willing to risk his life to go there. He was on the brink of a life threatening operation and had undergone multiple heart surgery in the preceding year. The doctor obviously could not stop him, Jerry was a renowned charmer in this type of situations. His concerns were always outward, towards others. He never saw people as a means to an end, but rather as an end onto themselves. Jerry will be remembered as a warm and caring colleague and tutor with a magnificent Jewish sense of humour.

Thanks to Daniel Kaufman who wrote a touching personal obituary on Jerry's Caring Bridge site.