October 21, 2011
“I was there very early in the game and I was happy to see what was coming. I had a marvelous job and enjoyed it immensely. I’d like to see this generation have that opportunity.” — Arthur F. Loeben on the potential of Temple’s Community and Regional Planning program
If you’ve efficiently traveled from one location to another in the Philadelphia region; if you’ve enjoyed an unbroken stretch of beautiful open space, chances are you have Arthur F. Loeben to thank for it.
With 38 years as the Director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission, Loeben was a giant in the planning field. Many of his ideas were epic in scope, their impact far-reaching and always developed in the interest of helping make the lives of citizens in the region a little better.
On Tuesday, October 18, the planning community lost an elder statesman, friend and mentor. Temple University Ambler, and in particular the Community and Regional Planning program, lost a staunch advocate and champion. Loeben passed away at the age of 92.
Funeral services will be held Tuesday, October 25, at 10 a.m., at Emil J. Ciavarelli Funeral Home, 951 East Butler Pike, Ambler. Interment will be private.
“It is difficult to comprehend Art Loeben’s passing — he was so full of vitality that we were convinced he would live forever. His military service gave him an international perspective, but his nearly four decades at the helm of the Montgomery County Planning Commission reflected his profound commitment to one place, our place, metropolitan Philadelphia,” said Dr. Deborah Howe, Chair of the Department of Community and Regional Planning. “His legacy is reflected in the transit system, the road network, land use planning and the preservation of open space. His legacy can also be seen in the students who have benefited through his endowed scholarships at Temple University and Montgomery County Community College.”
Beyond his unwavering support for the Community and Regional Planning program and Ambler Campus in general, the loss of Loeben will be keenly felt by the people who knew him inside and outside of the profession, said Howe, who considers Loeben the “patron saint of the Community and Regional Planning program.”
“He was the consummate planning professional, inspiring generations of young planners to follow in his path,” she said. “He showed us how to live life to its fullest, still traveling the world at age 90. We have been blessed to be part of his life as colleagues and friends.”
Husband of the late Billie Joe Loeben, father to sons Arthur F. Loeben, Jr. and Jeffrey Loeben, and grandfather to one grandson and three granddaughters, Loeben served his country in the United States Air Force during World War II, instructing prospective navigators and flying 20 combat missions in the Pacific Theater as a navigator and bombardier in a Mitchell B-25. He also served with the U.S. occupation forces in Japan.
Returning home, he attended the University of Pennsylvania, earning a B.S. in Economics and a Master’s in Economic Geography. He also taught economics for a time at Penn’s Wharton School of Business before becoming a member and subsequent Director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission where he spent nearly 40 years of his professional career.
“I became Associate Director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission in 1957 fully intending to write my dissertation for my Ph.D. and go back into academia,” Loeben said in an interview for the School of Environmental Design alumni magazine. “But in 1962, there was a political revolution in Montgomery County, a new breed of leaders that wanted to do a lot of new things. I was asked to be Director of the planning commission and I said okay.”
Loeben served as the Director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission until his retirement in 1995 at the age of 76.
“There were so many significant changes during that time,” he said. “We successfully built the Blue Route, (Route 476 south of the Mid-County interchange) which took years of bitter battles that went all the way up to the Supreme Court. There actually were plans for a green and yellow route, but the Blue Route was selected.”
Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone‚ Director of Temple’s Center for Sustainable Communities and a research professor in the Department of Community and Regional Planning, said Loeben — who was also heavily involved in the formation and operation of SEPTA — was one of the first people he met when he moved from Minnesota to Trenton, NJ. Dr. Featherstone is former deputy executive director of the Delaware River Basin Commission.
“Everyone told me if you want to do anything in Pennsylvania, you need to talk to Art. Serving as executive director of a prominent planning commission for 38 years is incredible,” said Dr. Featherstone of his mentor. “Besides being a real smart guy, Art was one of the most politically adept people I’ve ever met. He was a major player in getting Route 476 built; he successfully built coalitions to move planning projects along. DVRPC (Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commissions) staff always appreciated his ability to get the other board members to come to agreement on various transportation projects in the region. He simply was the best at what he did.”
While fully dedicated to the betterment of Montgomery County for the sake of its residents, Loeben also was a global citizen in every sense of the word.
From India to Japan, Australia to South America, Loeben visited more than 55 countries, several more than once, and walked on almost every continent (he never quite made it to Antarctica, but probably not for lack of trying). Yet even with such wanderlust, Loeben’s heart remained close to home, as did his dedication to the profession he devoted most of his life to — planning.
“Art was a planner before people really knew how important planners were for a community, a region, a city. Art often referred to himself as a member of the ‘Dinosaur Club,’ a membership which consisted of planners who became planners before planning became a degree program,” said Linda Lowe, Director of Development and Alumni Affairs at Temple University Ambler. “He would love to talk with the Community and Regional Planning students about his life and how he himself got into planning — he happily became the Commencement speaker at one of our School of Environmental Design graduation ceremonies. He often offered insightful advice to our students.”
In an effort to support future planners, Loeben generously endowed the Arthur F. Loeben Scholarship in Community and Regional Planning for undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Community and Regional Planning. It was the first scholarship created specifically for the CRP program. After the creation of the scholarship, Loeben remained one of the program’s strongest supporters and a member of the School of Environmental Design’s Board of Visitors. He also sponsored a scholarship at Montgomery County Community College for students interested in pursuing a planning degree.
In establishing the scholarship at Temple, Loeben said his hope was that it would help produce professionals “that are able to advance and promote sensible planning.”
“We used to have to hire three to four new planners on average every year; we were always recruiting,” he said. “Often we had to hire ‘related professionals’ and train them ourselves. It is extremely important for universities to produce good planners who know how to write and speak effectively.”
Loeben, Lowe said, “respected higher education and knew that our future lies with these new planners.”
“Art Loeben was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met. He was intelligent, caring, adventuresome, funny and most of all generous — generous with his time, his knowledge and his philanthropic giving. Thanks to Art, outstanding students enrolled in the CRP program receive tuition assistance and in today’s economic economy, this type of scholarship is not only appreciated it truly does allow students to continue with their higher education,” she said. “Art often said ‘These students will be faced with many challenges but thanks to their education through Temple they will be well prepared for what lies ahead.’”
Loeben was a member of a variety of professional and community organizations including the American Planning Association, American Institution of City Planners, Chapter President of the Pennsylvania Planning Association, Community Leaders of America, Lamda Alpha, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Clean Air Council Board, Montgomery County Lands Trust, Community Development Corporation and the Pennsylvania Resource Council. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, American Man of Science and listed as Who’s Who in the East.
In 2009, Loeben spent his 90th birthday at Temple University Ambler where he received a commemorative crystal presented by the Ambler Campus and the Montgomery County Lands Trust and received a Citation from the State House of Representatives for his years of dedication and service.
“I am blessed, and life is good, believe me. Life is very good,” said Loeben during the special reception attended by dozens of friends, family, and colleagues, many of whom Loeben had hired “right out of school.”
“His foresight and has ability to work with diverse groups to achieve real, concrete change arguably did more than any other planner in this region or any other public servant in Montgomery County,” said Dr. James W. Hilty, Professor of History and Community and Regional Planning. “The cross-county expressway and the county open space program were just two of his important contributions. Moreover, Arthur was instrumental in the training of hundreds of planners and public officials.”
For Loeben, preservation of open space was always one of his top priorities. Even in retirement he served on the Montgomery County Lands Trust and remained heavily involved with the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association, which he helped to found.
“We started an open space grant program in the 1960s and started open space preservation in earnest in the late 1980s with a bigger program and the appointment of an open space committee,” Loeben said. “In the early 90s, that led to a $100 million open space program, which helped a lot of townships, boroughs, and the county to buy and preserve farmland and protect significant areas in the Wissahickon, Pennypack, and Perkiomen watersheds. We were also able to develop Evansburg State Park — 3,300 acres preserved.”
Loeben will be missed “for his stories, his expert advice, his dedicated professionalism and the way he approached life,” said Lowe.
“He always had a smile and a special twinkle in his eyes,” she said. “He would ask people he met ‘Do you think you are lucky?’ and then say ‘I consider myself to be lucky, but then I also seized the opportunities when they arose; I hope you do the same.’”
To leave a remembrance about Arthur Loeben, visit www.tributes.com/show/Arthur-F.-Leoben-92575732.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Arthur Loeben’s name may be made to the following: Department of Community and Regional Planning, Temple University School of Environmental Design, 580 Meetinghouse Road, Ambler, PA 19002; Montgomery County Lands Trust, P.O. Box 300, Lederach, PA, 19450; or Montgomery County Community College, 340 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.
Our thoughts and prayers go to Arthur Loeben’s family at this time. Knowing him made each of our lives richer; his easy smile made each of our days brighter; his knowledge and keenly observant mind gave each of us more insight into the world around us. We and the region are better for having him in our lives. He will not soon be forgotten.
CONTACT: James Duffy, 267-468-8108, firstname.lastname@example.org