Remembering David Godschalk

Submitted by: Roger Waldon, FAICP, and friends, students, and admirers of David Godschalk


David Godschalk, former professor at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill Town Council member, passed away on January 27, 2018.

Affiliated with the City and Regional Planning department at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill for nearly 40 years, Dr. Godschalk influenced generations of planners and academics and received the highest honors in the field including the ACSP Distinguished Educator Award, the APA President’s Award, and induction into the AICP College of Fellows. He authored many books and articles including Urban Land Use Planning; Natural Hazard Mitigation: Recasting Disaster Policy and Planning; and Sustaining Places: The Role of the Comprehensive Plan (Planning Advisory Service Report).

An urban planner intrigued with design, Godschalk shaped his life and work in response to outside events and emerging needs. Increasing natural hazards and climate change impacts inspired him to propose ways to build community resilience to flooding, sea level rise, and other shocks and disasters. He also focused on local issues, elected to a seat on the Chapel Hill Town Council and serving on numerous advisory boards. Through decades of service to campus, community, state, and nation, he displayed a remarkable capacity to inspire, collaborate and build consensus. Additional biographies can be found here and here.

In addition, David was a mentor and friend to many students and professionals. Below is a collection of comments and remembrances from planners.


Thank you and farewell to a great mentor who taught us, challenged us, and brought out the very best in his students.


Dr. Godschalk was the professor I admired most. He had such an intelligence and personal grace that separated him out from the rest. I will forever be grateful for his wise teachings as part of his Conflict Negotiation class. Those lessons have guided me professionally and personally throughout my adult life.  He will be missed, but never forgotten.


A great mind and person.


A profound loss. Dave leaves a lasting legacy for planning. 


Affiliated with the City and Regional Planning department at UNC Chapel Hill for nearly 40 years, Dr. Godschalk influenced generations of planners and academics and received the highest honors in the field including the ACSP Distinguished Educator Award, the APA President’s Award, and inducted as a charter member into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of City Planning.


A great teacher and a giant in the profession – Prof. Godschalk will be greatly missed!


It is a loss for many of us personally, and all of us professionally.  Dave had a huge impact on the practice of planning through his teaching, writing, speaking, mentoring, and advising.  He also served as an elected official on the Chapel Hill Town Council, sharing his expertise and insight within the governance process.


I learned so much from him during my time at DCRP.  I am grateful to have known him.


Intelligent, practical, focused, dedicated to the profession and the greater good.


Dave meant so much to so many of us educated at DCRP. Initially it was as a teacher and mentor; as our careers blossomed, it was a thought leader and colleague. For me he has been a life-long role model, both as a professional and person, a mentor, and a friend. He not only had a brilliant mind, but was insightful to the degree he could sift through “all the noise in the planning profession,” and lead us as professionals in the right direction — about what is important and what should be important to us as planners. He did this with his writings, but also through his actions. He was grounded in the practice of planning; consequently, his ideas were relevant and insightful to all of the thousands of planners “in the trenches” working in local communities.  He served as a soft-spoken conscience that pushed me personally to reach for new heights throughout my professional career, to make a difference in the world.  He was one of a kind. He will continue to inspire me. He is a part of who I am as a professional planner. Moving forward I will always be asking how would Dave approach this problem?


A fine teacher and a fine man, I still appreciate his gifts of learning.


One of the things I found most amazing about Dave was that, in a field built around looking forward, he would always be a step ahead of everyone else.  I can’t count how many times, Dave would say, “You know, planners really should be paying more attention to X’” – and then he would craft a concept paper or case statement on “X” and three to four years later “X” would be the “hot emerging topic” in the planning field.


He was an amazing teacher and a great listener.  His legacy will live on in all of us.


Great man.  He had as big of an impact on the planning profession as anyone.  Good person too. I learned a ton from him.  Many have benefited from his work—directly and indirectly.


Included in David’s exemplary and lengthy list of contributions is his service on the Chapel Hill Town Council.  Serving as an elected official at a critical period in Chapel Hill’s growth, he applied his planning knowledge and wisdom to a complicated set of circumstances and helped negotiate an intergovernmental agreement that has held in place for 30 years.  


What an inspiration he has been to practicing planners and elected officials.  


One of the founders of the greatest graduate program for city planning.


DG was a wonderful scholar. I apply what I learned from him every day.


He influenced many lives through his work and contributions. He will be remembered.


The most impactful professor I ever had and a tremendous person and mentor. His Regional Planning Methods got me hooked on planning practice and academics. 


I had the joy of co-authoring a book with him on a topic that was way ahead of its time, typical of Dave’s curiosity and practical know-how.


It was an honor and a pleasure to be his teaching assistant, to work with and learn from such a great mind, to have such a great man help shape my career.


He was a brilliant teacher who was able to help us, his students, achieve what at first glance seemed beyond our capabilities. He and DCRP are inseparable in my memories.


Dave worked tirelessly for our profession and for DCRP. I am lucky to have known him.


David Godschalk’s books and writings were my introduction to planning in school.  I’ll always remember his name because so many important planning texts and writings are his.  He had and will continue to have an influence on my career and life.  


Dave was a brilliant planner, an inspired educator, and great advocate for the planning profession.  He will be dearly missed.


A summer internship with Dave turned into a full-time job upon graduation, and launched me in a wonderful way on my planning career.


I haven’t met a planner who loved the profession more than Dave.  He believed whole heartedly in the work we do and wanted to elevate how our profession was perceived by people outside of the field. 


What I admired most about Dave was just who he was at his core.  He was humble and modest, always giving other people credit and compliments.  He tackled challenging issues – social, environmental, economic – with excitement because he knew that without hard work we cannot positively affect change.   


Dave was always such a positive and inspiring person for me.  He always had time to talk, and had a great dry wit and wry sense of humor.  Most of all, he was passionate about Planning, and about the essential value of good planning for communities.  He was an enthusiastic learner as well, always seeking out new approaches, learning about the experiences of communities across the country, and eager to help advance Best Practices in the profession. 


David was an inspiration and mentor to me from my days as a planning student and neighbor in Chapel Hill in 1961.   He was always on point in identifying new community issues and needs and defining the language of our generation of planners.  Character Preservation, Creating Place, Disaster Mitigation,


Sustainable Communities, Resiliency, Negotiated Understandings, Dispute Arbitration, etc., etc.  We all cherish his memory and contributions. 


Dave will always serve as a model to me on how to live a full life.