Peter Marcuse

Date of Birth

November 13, 1928

Date of Death

March 4, 2022

City of Death

Santa Barbara

Peter Marcuse passed away quietly at home at Vista del Monte in Santa Barbara on March 4, 2022, attended by his wife Frances and sons Andrew and Harold.

Peter was born in Berlin in November 1928. Shortly after Hitler came to power the family relocated to Switzerland, then in 1934 immigrated to the United States. Peter attended Harvard College, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. That same year he met his future wife at a May Day rally in New York.

He attended Yale Law School, earning his J.D. in 1952, and practiced law for 20 years in New Haven and Waterbury, Connecticut, where his three children were born in 1953, 1957 and 1965. He served as the Majority Leader of the Waterbury Board of Aldermen from 1959 to 1963, and was a member of the Waterbury City Plan Commission from 1964 to 1968.

Participation in the “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi in July 1964 focused his engagement even more strongly towards social justice issues. He earned a Masters at Columbia in Public Law and Government in 1963, and at Yale in Urban Studies in 1968. He earned his PhD at Berkeley in 1972 with a thesis on the implications of home ownership for low income families.

He then taught at UCLA and was president of the Los Angeles city planning commission. In 1975 he became the director of Columbia’s planning program. He dedicated his legal expertise to social justice causes, advocating radical solutions to realize a more just society. He combined his academic work with civic engagement, serving on a community board in Manhattan, and on the board of the ACLU.

After retiring from teaching in 2003 he continued to publish. In 2010 he began a blog, “Critical planning and other thoughts,” which grew to 150 posts by 2021. Since 2005 he was also involved in a professional society interested in developing and disseminating the ideas of his father, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, critiquing capitalist systems and exploring ways an equitable, non-utopian utopia could be realized.

In 2017 he and Frances moved to Santa Barbara, where they found a welcoming community at Vista del Monte. Peter was an engaged participant in several weekly discussion groups. He sought occasions to discuss solutions to social problems, and enjoyed expressing himself in poetry and limericks. One of his last poems mused about the purpose of life: “Is life just there to light a fire and then go? Or must it be blow after blow? To tell the truth we’ll never know. And life won’t stand still and let you parse its flow.”


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