Lawrence Orson Houstoun, Jr. died May 5 in Philadelphia after a long illness. He was 89, a New Jersey native and resident in Cranbury since 1982.
After a career in the federal civil service spanning five presidents, and six federal departments, in 1982 he embarked in a second career consulting with local governments and private sector leaders envisioning new futures for urban centers of all sizes. He became a national leader in the formation of special improvement districts, and was a prolific writer, publishing numerous articles and, in 1997, Business Improvement Districts, the authoritative volume on the creation and operation of such districts. Among those he advised or helped create were Philadelphia’s Center City and University City Districts, Red Bank, Trenton, Long Branch, Millburn, Perth Amboy and South Orange in New Jersey, and dozens of others in five states and three countries. He was a founding member of Downtown NJ.
His work and writing also included planning of urban public spaces. His work was greatly influenced by William (Holly) White, and his work on BIDs and redevelopment by James Rouse, with both of whom he had the pleasure of working.
Mr. Houstoun was born in Montclair on March 13, 1929, and attended Blair Academy, Lafayette College and Catholic University where he received a master’s degree in planning. He served in the administration of Governor Robert Meyner, and moved to Washington to join the Kennedy Administration in the Department of Labor. He held executive positions in the Area Redevelopment Administration, Office of Economic Opportunity, and Departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development. In the last he headed the comprehensive planning program and was staff director for a blue-ribbon committee, Development Choices for the 80’s, which was the first public expression of what became the smart growth movement of the 1990’s.
Mr. Houstoun returned temporarily to New Jersey in 1972 as a mid career fellow at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson school. He resettled permanently in Cranbury in 1982 when his wife Feather O’Connor accepted a position with Governor Tom Kean. He formed a consulting practice with Pat Henry as The Atlantic Group, based in Cranbury and Philadelphia.
A lover of opera, cities, big band jazz, trains and the outdoors, Mr.Houstoun recalled his introduction to Verdi by two Mississippi recruits at basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and the excitement of his train tour through Europe after his discharge from the US Army in 1955. These passions continued through his life including numerous hiking trips in the Alps and sampling of opera in European capitals. His first stop when visiting New Orleans was Preservation Hall, and his friends recall him swinging out onto dance floors -or sidewalks - when the right beat struck. He could recount the path and history of every rail line criss-crossing New Jersey.
He is survived by his wife of 42 years Feather, two daughters Alex and Kate, son in law John Lisko, and grandchildren Lauren and Jack.