Wilbur ‘Bill’ Woods, former Director of City Planning for the boroughs of Staten Island (1974-1977), Brooklyn (1977-1989) and, until 2011, head of the city’s Waterfront and Open Space division, died this past weekend at his home in the Catskill mountains. Woods defined what it meant to be a dedicated civil servant and—in his quiet and thoughtful way—did as much as any person to create a workable vision for the nearly 550-mile waterfront of New York City. He not only helped conceptualize this important city edge but worked with politicians and other decision makers to see it through to implementation, even if in an abbreviated form.
Born and raised in Tennessee and Alabama, places that defined his soft vocal cadences, he studied architecture at Cornell and came to New York where he dedicated himself to regional and city planning. Woods was also a teacher at Pratt Institute and Hunter College where he taught planning surveys and a course Planning for the Waterfront to future professionals and architects. He was a planner/architect of the old school of physical planning that worked directly with the city. He created a thorough survey course, nearly from scratch, that taught all the aspects of the profession, from zoning to housing and open space development. Thus two generations of New York–educated architects learned all they knew about planning and how it effected their profession from Woods’s required course.
In the late 1990s, Bill attended a family reunion in South Carolina and invited me to join him in Knoxville where we began a week-long tour of Tennessee Valley Authority dams and adjacent landscape and planning developments. It was exciting to see these developments through his eyes and have long discussions about regional planning in America. We had the added benefit of traveling with his sister who, as a liquor salesman, had whiskey samples in the trunk that allowed us to have an evening sip at the end of the day.
This past weekend his wife Deborah Freedman reported they spent a blissful weekend in the country and Bill happily worked in his garden and suffered a stroke in his sleep on Sunday night. Wood’s graceful and informed manner in everything he did made an impression on his many colleagues, students, friends, and family. His family is planning a memorial in the near future.