Charles M. Haar: 1920-2012

A Pioneer Who Explored New Lands in the Law

Charles Haar

Credit: Charles Haar J. COHEN 1970

Professor Emeritus Charles M. Haar ’48, a pioneer in land-use law whose scholarship focused on laws and institutions of city planning, urban development and environmental issues, died Jan. 10, 2012. He was 91.

During his more than five-decade career, Haar influenced urban policy and planning throughout the country, drafted key legislation for inner-city revitalization, developed influential legal theories to support equality of services for urban dwellers and access to suburbs, contributed to the creation of the modern environmental movement, and mentored a generation of scholars and activists.

“Charles Haar was a genuine pioneer who created new ways of making scholarship relevant to the improvement of the human condition through the improvement of the environment,” observed Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow.

Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Haar came to the United States with his parents when he was 6 months old. Raised in New York City, he earned an A.B. from New York University and an M.A. in economics from the University of Wisconsin. Before attending HLS, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, in the Pacific as a Japanese language specialist in naval intelligence, assigned to the headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Brisbane, Australia, and New Guinea.

Haar joined the Harvard Law School faculty as an assistant professor in 1952. He was named a professor three years later.

Jerold S. Kayden ’79, professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, called Haar “an enormously influential scholar in land-use and urban development law” and noted that, “increasingly over his career, his scholarship was incomplete if it did not influence public policymakers, and his teaching was incomplete if it failed to incorporate the realities of making public policy.”

Early in his career, Haar served as an adviser on urban policy during John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. He went on to serve on several important presidential commissions during the Johnson and Carter administrations.

In 1964, he served as chair of Johnson’s newly formed National Task Force on the Preservation of Natural Beauty. The task force’s report—which discussed cleaning up waterways, access to seashores, improving the availability and design of public transit, and cities as a new focus for the Department of the Interior—was described by Haar in a 1998 interview as “a forerunner for the environmental movement.” He was also an organizer of the first White House conference on the environment.

A noted expert on inner-city revitalization, Haar was appointed by President Johnson to chair a commission on the formation and organization of a housing department. He also served on a task force for, and was a primary architect of, the Model Cities Program, an initiative developed by the Johnson administration as a response to the urban riots of the mid-1960s. He went on to serve as the first assistant secretary for metropolitan development in the newly formed Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In the late 1960s, Haar helped draft important legislation, including Title IV of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 (New Communities), and the Section 236 Affordable Housing Guarantee Program. He also worked on the creation of the Federal National Mortgage Association in 1968.

A prolific author, he wrote many legal briefs and books, including “Land Planning Law in a Free Society” (1950), “Land and the Law” (1964), “Property and Law” with Lance M. Liebman ’67 (1977), “Cities, Law, and Social Policy” (1984), “Landmark Justice: The Influence of William J. Brennan on America’s Communities” with Jerold S. Kayden ’79 (1989), “Zoning and the American Dream” with Kayden (1989) and the award-winning “Suburbs under Siege” (1996).

In “Mastering Boston Harbor: Courts, Dolphins, and Imperiled Waters” (2005), he chronicled his involvement in a major 1982 environmental case, City of Quincy v. Massachusetts District Commission, which eventually led to the creation of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and the successful cleanup of Boston Harbor.

After taking emeritus status at HLS in 1991, Haar taught at the University of Miami Law School, where he was instrumental in the creation of a graduate program in real property development.

In a festschrift published in 1996, then Columbia Law School Dean Lance M. Liebman and then University of Richmond Professor Michael Allan Wolf described Haar as “one of our great scholar-entrepreneurs.” They wrote, “During five decades, the professional work of Charles Haar has investigated the ways in which the words formally uttered by judges, legislators, and regulators shape and affect the lives, fortunes, and minds of Americans.”