Remembering Richard Bolan, Longtime Humphrey School Faculty Member

April 7, 2023
Head shot of Richard Bolan
Professor Emeritus Richard Bolan died late last month at the age of 95. He taught in the Humphrey School's planning program for nearly four decades.

The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is remembering the contributions of Richard Bolan, professor emeritus of planning, who died March 28 at the age of 95. 

Bolan joined the Humphrey School (then known as the Humphrey Institute) in 1985. He served as the Institute's acting associate dean from 1988 to 1990, and at various times directed the master of planning program. He also chaired the task force that designed the initial curriculum for the current Master of Urban and Regional Planning program.

Bolan’s expertise included planning theory and philosophy, housing, transportation, and environmental planning. He also became involved in working in central and eastern European countries in the early 1990s as they moved from Soviet-style communism to democratic, private economy societies.

Bolan’s two most recent books were Urban Planning's Philosophical Entanglements (Routledge, 2017) and Urban Planning in Planet Earth's Tragedy of the Commons (iUniverse, 2019).

Faculty in the urban and regional planning area described Bolan as a welcoming and supportive colleague who remained involved in the School – teaching courses in planning and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) each year – even after his ‘official’ retirement in 1998.

“Dick gave several guest lectures in some of my courses and helped me design course assignments,” said Professor Jason Cao. “I was amazed by his energy and wisdom, and I  appreciated his insights. This is a huge loss to the planning community.”

Frank Douma, director of State and Local Policy and Outreach at the School's Institute for Urban and Regional Infrastructure Finance, recalled taking a class from Bolan when he was a student at the Humphrey School, “and I still remember him critiquing my final presentation [on plastic slides] as ‘too wordy!’”

Later, when Douma joined the School as a full-time staff member, he and Bolan worked together on various research projects. "I came to appreciate his knowledge, eloquence, and grace even better then. Dick’s dedication to making the Humphrey School and the planning profession as strong as they could be was readily apparent and unflagging.” 

Bolan’s contributions to the field of planning were recognized in 2010, when he was named a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners. According to the citation, Bolan “exemplifies the characteristics of a committed and engaged teacher and mentor to planning students and a broader community of decision makers. … [I]n his more than half-century career, he has made ongoing and meaningful contributions to planning research and theory with a particular focus on the evolving role of the planner.”

Bolan’s generosity extended to Humphrey School students; several years ago he established the Richard S. Bolan Fellowship in Urban and Regional Planning, an annual award that provides scholarship support to a second-year planning student with an outstanding academic record and financial need.

Apart from his achievements as a planner and educator, Bolan was also quite an accomplished pianist, and often played at various School events.

Before joining the Humphrey Institute in 1985, Bolan was a professor of social planning at Boston College for 18 years. He earned his PhD from New York University, his Master of City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Yale University. 

His family asks that memorials be directed to the Bolan Fellowship. A memorial service is planned for later in June. 

Read Bolan's obituary in the Star Tribune.