December 1993: Sylvia Lewis, editor of Planning magazine, interviews APA Executive Director Michael Barker in APA's former offices at 1313 E. 60th St. in Chicago. Photo by Richard Sessions/APA.
APA recently learned of the passing of former Executive Director Michael Barker. He died in late December 2015 at age 77, and a memorial service was held last month in Vermont.
Barker served as executive director of APA from January 1994 to October 1995. Outside of urban planning, he was an avid sailor and skier and a fierce tennis competitor.
Barker began his planning career in Berkeley, California, helping to design part of the city’s portion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. He worked for the Greater London Council in England; and as a planner for Palo Alto, California, where he explored using the city’s baylands as an asset for recreation. At the American Institute of Architects, he organized urban planning programs and worked as a private planning consultant before coming to APA.
“Appropriately for a sailor, Mike Barker’s favorite phrase was the 'dinghy in the sea,'” said Carolyn Torma, APA’s director of Education and Citizen Engagement. "By this he meant the American Planning Association was a small boat in the larger world ... of economics, world events, politics, finance, and even city building.”
“He challenged APA leadership, members, and staff to think about that larger world and how we should respond, shape, and think about important issues," Torma continued. "From civil protest and unrest in Los Angeles to more personal issues, such as how do we cultivate more jobs for planners, Mike made us think. He led a major effort to bring APA into the online world by instigating the website, networking our computer system, introducing many new technology tools for managing interactions with members, and encouraging staff — often with humor — to meet the challenge of a new technological world by improving our tech skills and understanding.
“Reading his obituary reminded me of his unique approach to life and made me smile in memory.”
In a Planning magazine interview in January 1994, Barker stated, “I devoutly believe that planning is a body of knowledge, an art, and a science. Sometimes we move too far away from that and we get downtrodden and forget the powerful tools we have. We must always remember them and use them to make better communities.”
Read more from former APA publications director Sylvia Lewis’s interview with Michael Barker.