News & Opinion

Rich McLaughlin, pioneer new urbanist

Issue Date:

Mon, 2007-01-01

Page Number:


Richard McLaughlin, a Minneapolis-based architect and town planner known for his work on public-sector charrettes and for his efforts to systematize New Urbanism, died on New Year’s Eve of pancreatic cancer. He was a former principal of the Town Planning Collaborative in Minneapolis, and worked with John Anderson and Jason Miller on the first Traditional Neighborhood Development house plan book, the TND Series published by HomeStyles beginning in 1997. McLaughlin, 52, was one of the first two urban designers Dan Cary hired at the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, in 1991, before the term “New Urbanism” had been coined, recalled Ramon Trias, the other urban designer in that path-breaking planning agency. Trias, of Trias & Associates planners in Fort Pierce, Florida, said McLaughlin drew some of the earliest diagrams differentiating traditional neighborhood development from conventional suburban development, and worked on some of the earliest public-sector charrettes. “He was definitely trying to apply a systems approach to what we were talking about at that time,” Trias said. “He was very helpful in that regard.” McLaughlin, born in Grafelfing, Germany, and brought up in Naperville, Illinois, had recently been working to establish a design center in Madison and Dane County, Wisconsin. He had also developed a neighborhood modeling system, with small blocks of wood cut to scale, called “modelblocks,” which he was marketing and perfecting. Earlier known as N-vision, it had been used in several charrettes. “I suggest that if we can get two closely connected things right — scale and time — we will have it made,” McLaughlin wrote in 2004. “Everything else flows from these.” He continued: “To me, communicating scale and density in an understandable language is the ultimate key … In this way, all the issues of style become secondary.” McLaughlin was known nationally for his attention to the design of new neighborhoods at the metropolitan edge as well as redevelopment and infill projects in more mature areas. He was educated at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota, and Arizona State University.