August 28, 2020

Visiting Lecturer in CRP Kirby Edmonds Remembered

A bearded man in a striped shirt against a yellow wall.

Edmonds accepted the the 2013 Cornell University Partners in Sustainability Award (CUPSA) on behalf of the Building Bridges Initiative. photo / Robert Barker, University Relations

Kirby Edmonds '73 '99, a visiting lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning, passed away on August 22.

Born in 1951, Edmonds was an important community leader in Ithaca as well as a longtime visiting lecturer in CRP. He will be remembered as a voice for justice and change among the scores of people he taught and worked with.

Professor Jeffrey Chusid, chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning, remarked on Edmonds's suite of classes titled Structural Barriers to Equity in Planning he cotaught with his partner Laura Branca. The class facilitates conversations on racial injustice and the implications structural racism has on current planning systems and practices.

"Since 2011, Edmonds's teaching provided CRP students some of their most focused and meaningful coursework on the critical topic of racism in America. The two classes in the Structural Barriers to Equity in Planning series were intimate discussion groups, with any potential tensions eased by food and drink," Chusid said. "Despite the seeming informality, the courses were powerful, even life-changing, for the participants."

Beyond classwork, Chusid said Edmonds and Branca collaborated with the department as facilitators for faculty retreats, and Edmonds served on the board for the Susan Christopherson Community Planning Center, an engaged-practice arm of the department. "His judgment, encouragement, and dedication to our community will be sorely missed," Chusid said.

Edmonds earned a Master of Professional Science in 1999 from the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with a major in community and rural development. In the early 2000s, he chaired the City of Ithaca's Comprehensive Planning Committee, overseeing the passage a plan in 2015 that guides development and budget priorities to this day. In tandem with this work, Edmonds gave a TEDxCornellU talk in 2014 about the planning process, titled "How we can eliminate structural poverty?"

Recently, Edmonds was a managing partner for Training for Change (TFC) Associates, an Ithaca-based training and consulting firm founded in 1982. He was a senior fellow and program coordinator for the Dorothy Cotton Institute, a project of the Center for Transformative Action in Ithaca. He also worked as the network manager for the Building Bridges Initiatives, a county-wide project working for social justice and an ecologically sound local economy. 

Edmonds left a profound impression as a mentor to Cornell students working on community-based projects in Upstate New York for Design Connect, a multidisciplinary, student-run, community design organization. According to recent graduates Elizabeth Fabis (M.L.A. '19), Sonora R. Rodríguez, (M.R.P. '19), and Leigh Scudder (M.R.P. '19), Edmonds challenged their conceptions about design and systemic racism and offered an opportunity to do the emotional and intellectual work toward social justice.

Fabis said Edmonds's and Branca's classes on structural inequity in planning, and on facilitating conversations about race "continue to influence my design ethic and professional and personal actions in profound ways. Kirby fundamentally changed how I view the role and responsibility of designers. Whenever he said, 'I'm going to challenge you on that' you knew that the lens through which you saw the world was about to be brought into a clearer focus."

"He was a true leader as well as a mentor and a friend," Rodríguez said. "From the start of class I knew that his courage, strength, and knowledge were consistent with the fight for justice. He is the kind of teacher you remember and forever hold close to your heart."

Scudder recalled her experience working with Edmonds and how he invited students to 'speak their truth.' "I began to really understand better the fear and exhaustion racism puts on some of my peers every day," she said.

Rodríguez's words may stand as a testament to the impact Edmonds had on his students, colleagues, and friends. "May his beautiful and powerful soul rest among the ancestors. Que descanse en poder, maestro Kirby."

By Patti Witten


Kirby Edmonds's passing noted by the Dorothy Cotton Institute

AAP Communications

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