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Rob Mier Award

UPP annually awards a $1000 scholarship in honor of Rob Mier to a UPP student who exemplifies the qualities and commitment of Rob's commitment to UPP, CUPPA, and Chicago, its neighborhoods and citizens.


Rob Mier, activist and professor of urban planning and public affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, died in February, 1995, at the age of 52 as a result of exposure during the Vietnam War to the exfoliant Agent Orange. He founded the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University in 1978 to help communities help themselves through technical assistance and research. He served as Chicago's director of development under Mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer, and was the chief architect of the city's highly regarded 1984 Chicago Works Together development plan, which emphasized jobs, neighborhoods, and the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities to combat racism and poverty. Mier was a nationally recognized expert on urban economic development and equity planning, and served as a consultant for numerous cities, including Oakland and Los Angeles, California, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. He published several books, the most recent of which was Social Justice and Local Development Policy (Sage Publications 1993). In the years preceding his death, his interests turned to regional antipoverty coalitions and global networking of equity planners.

The Rob Mier Scholarship Fund has been established in his memory. The award consists of a $1,000 cash prize, which is paid into your student account.


Currently enrolled MUPP student who will return to study in the fall of 2013.

Application Process

To apply for the award, please submit the following materials, as a package, to Ann Barnds (Room 225):

Minority applicants and those who can provide evidence of financial need are especially encouraged to apply.

The application deadline is to be announced.

Please feel free to contact Ann Barnds if you have any questions about the award or the application process.

"Chicago Mourns Loss of an Original"

The death of Robert Mier marks the passing of Chicago's most articulate and creative voice for neighborhood-based economic development.

Mier died at home Sunday of lymphoma, a result of exposure to Agent Orange. He was 52.

A social activist and urban planner, Mier served as the city's development director from 1983-1989 under mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer. After leaving city government, Mier returned to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he had founded the Center for Urban Economic Development in 1978. In that role, Mier placed a generation of dedicated students into the world of government, not-for-profit organizations, foundations and businesses.

A champion of the underdog, Mier's vision of city life was shaped by three powerful traditions: community organizing, black political empowerment and grass-roots capitalism.

Mier, who was white, attempted to meld together these disparate forces during the mayoralty of Harold Washington. Mier openly acknowledged both his successes and failures.

"The idea that winning an election is a cakewalk compared to governing was one that we grasped immediately," Mier and colleague Kari Moe wrote in a 1991 article. "We were humbled by the extreme difficulty we encountered every single minute of every day in office."

Mier was architect and chief implementer of Chicago's 1984 economic development plan. It emphasized a central role for neighborhood-based businesses, especially manufacturing, non-profit community development organizations and minority entrepreneurs. It demanded equal distribution of city resources.

Known as Chicago Works Together, execution of the plan tripled the number of community-based development organizations the city did business with, it established a small business loan program and it increased by six-fold the number of financial transactions with minority-based firms. It also prepared the city for a manufacturing revival that didn't take hold until the early 1990s.

None of Mier's innovations have been reversed by the Daley administration. And many of Mier's ideas have been replicated by mayors across the country.

Still, Mier's tenure was not universally admired. Despite Mier's rhethoric, the city's manufacturing base actually eroded under Washington and Sawyer. It subsequently rebounded.

Meantime, Mier's sharp wit and social activism frequently got him into hot water with the city's business establishment. Mier criticized state Enterprise Zone legislation, which was passed in 1980, as "tax giveaways." Mier dismissed the relevance of entry-level, minimum wage employment in the service sector as "McJobs." And Mier harangued previous Chicago mayors for an obsession with big-ticket development projects that he derisively called an "edifice complex."

Mier loved the city's neighborhoods and its people. More than anything, he wanted poor people and disenfranchised minorities to feel they owned Chicago.

John Glennon, an advisor to former Gov. James Thompson, recalls a lengthy negotiating session with Mier over a city-state development project. After hours of back and forth talking, an impatient Glennon finally asked Mier: "Do you want to pass a bill or do you want to have a discussion?" Mier responded: "I'd like for as many people as possible to have this discussion."

Mier graduated from Notre Dame in 1965 and served in Vietnam with the US Navy until 1969. He received a PhD in Urban and regional planning from Cornell University in 1974.

Copyright Chicago Sun-Times
February 8, 1995

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