Friends remember Phil Herr, housing advocate and longtime city planner

Phil Herr, a longtime city planner in Newton, died on April 16.

He played a key role in many Newton planning initiatives, particularly the Comprehensive Master Plan that was adopted in 2007.

Herr was born in Lexington and attended Lexington High School, and he then earned a bachelor’s in architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

After service in the Korean War, he earned a master’s degree in city planning from MIT. He married the department secretary, Dulcie Jones, and moved to Newton, where he ran a land use consulting firm.

Crucially, Herr also provided services for free to the city of Newton.

“I don’t know of anyone who gave more of his or her time to the city in a quasi-professional role out of the goodness of their heart,” said Deb Crossley, an architect and former Newton City Councilor.

Josephine McNeil, executive Director of Citizens for Affordable Housing in Newton
Development Organization, spoke about Phil’s work on affordable housing. The two served together on the Newton Housing Partnership and later the Fair Housing Committee that grew out of it.

“He had a vision for an underutilized parking lot,” McNeil said. “He came to the conclusion there could be a better use.”

That parking lot became the first new rental building permitted in Newton in 12 years and has 68 units, of which 23 are priced at below-market rates (deemed “affordable”).

“He was good at steering people toward consensus, which is hard to do in a place like Newton,” said Alice Ingerson, the former staff manager of Newton’s Community Preservation Program.

“Phil believed in community participation, but as Newton has become more expensive, community participation led to conclusions he didn’t agree with,” she added, and that he always
tried to push towards including those with lower incomes.

In addition to consulting, Herr was also an adjunct professor of city planning at MIT for 30

“His real love was teaching. I felt like I got a free graduate education while serving on the
Comprehensive Plan committee,” said Crossley. She added that as an architect she was familiar
with zoning as the book of rules she had to follow, but not until she worked with Phil Herr did
she appreciated the real importance of zoning as a tool for shaping a place to benefit the

Herr is predeceased by his wife, Dulcie, and is survived by his children, Karen and Greg. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.