Amanda M. Burden
It is fitting that we honor you at a moment when so many in New York City and beyond have turned their attention to the viral role of urban planning in modern society on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Jane Jacobs's birth. Jacobs appreciated the art no less than the science of the calling you share, describing the cityscape as "an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other." Given the opportunity by Mayor Bloomberg to choreograph Gotham's ballet to a 21st-century score, you grabbed hold of the responsibility with both hands, leaving a mark on the city that has already become and will forever remain a part of its narrative. The chapter bearing your name tells of a modern renaissance. On the Brooklyn waterfront, the abandoned rubble of forgotten industrial piers became a sleek public park where families now sprawl on clipped grass, one of many welcome greenspaces of all shapes and sizes that have proliferated across the five boroughs. On a oncederelict railway line on the West Side of Manhattan, children dance amidst landscaped bushes and flowers as music plays. Across the city, newcomers nest in rezoned developments with plazas, pocket parks, and ready access to public transit. The city stretched to use neglected but invaluable parts of its urban domain, becoming more sustainable even as it expanded, and through this ambitious balancing act and your enthusiasm for innovation, you provided leadership to colleagues in cities around the world. The planning effort you led as the New York City Planning Commissioner was the largest in sixty years, rejuvenating thousands of blocks across 124 different New York City neighborhoods. Your rigorous attention to detail, from the placement of benches to concern about unintended consequences affecting shopkeepers, became a source of authority and respect in the contentious world of New York development. Your training at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, in combination with the opportunity to learn from William H. Whyte and other masters of the craft, made you ideally suited for this role. Columbia University in the City of New York has for more than 260 years understood that our fate is inextricably bound to the fortunes of this metropolis, the greatest the world has ever seen. We have, over that time, proudly contributed a mix of new knowledge and public service to help our home city prosper. It is therefore a special privilege through this honorary degree to recognize you as a worthy addition to the roll call of Columbians who planned New York's street grid, subway system, and much more. With pride, we welcome you back to Columbia and honor you with a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.