John Hirten, FAICP, a charter member of the American Planning Association (APA), died September 18, 2016, at the age of 90. Hirten was the executive director of the American Institute of Planners (AIP) from 1977 to 1978. That year, AIP and the American Society of Planning Officials (ASPO) consolidated to create the American Planning Association.
Quoted in the August 1978 issue of Planning, Hirten said of the consolidation vote:
"I am impressed and pleased with the decisiveness of the vote. We have a clear mission to develop a new and hopefully effective national organization. It is an exciting and historic moment."
John Hirten, FAICP, in an undated photo provided by the Hirten family.
Throughout his career, Hirten was an advocate for urban transportation. His distinguished career took him around the world — Iran, Southeast Asia, and China. The U.S. Information Service programs also took him to India, Mexico, and Europe. Within the United States, Hirten served as the director of Honolulu’s transportation department; headed RIDES for Bay Area Commuters, Inc., San Francisco’s regional ride-sharing agency; and worked for urban renewal agencies in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Stockton, California.
Hirten was one of the founders of the nonprofit SPUR — San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. He became the group’s first executive director of 1959. In an interview in 1999 with Gabriel Metcalf, SPUR's then deputy director (now the president and CEO), Hirten spoke about the first decade of SPUR’s existence and his role as a national spokesperson for enhancing cities.
In 1971, Hirten went to Washington, D.C., as the assistant secretary for environment and urban systems at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Two years later, he was named deputy administrator of the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, which then made him the highest ranking certified planner in the federal government.
Hirten was inducted as a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2000. He served in the U.S. Army's 66th Panther Division in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and received his degree in public administration from New Mexico State University.
His legacy is long-lasting within APA. In fact, one of the conference rooms at APA's Chicago office is named in his honor.
In a 2004 Planning magazine article interviewing APA charter members, Hirten — always an advocate of planning — said:
“We’ve got to recognize that there are large social and cultural problems that planners alone can’t solve. What we should concentrate on is reinforcing the communities where people live. One thing hasn’t changed: We still need a good comprehensive plan.”