Henry L. Lennard, social psychologist, medical sociologist and urban scholar died in Venice, Italy, Thursday June 23rd, shortly after being admitted to hospital. He was 81.
The International Making Cities Livable Conferences were his idea. He had organized several conferences in his own professional field before 1985, but two – on the subject of Ethics in Health Care – were held in Venice in 1977 and 1978. These were also interdisciplinary and international, and structured on the model of the Macy Foundation Conferences, designed to stimulate dialogue and discussion. Even though the topic was health care we often found the subject of Venice, its social and physical organization, used in discussion as a metaphor for a healthy organism.
Henry's field, for which he was already internationally acclaimed in the 1960s, was the study of social interaction. His early ground breaking work examining patterns of interaction in families and therapeutic settings won him the coveted NIMH lifetime award “Career Research Scientist”.
Born in Vienna in 1923 he came to New York in 1939 as a poor refugee. At 19, as a college student, he was already publishing articles in professional journals such as the Psychiatric Quarterly. He received a B.A. (College of the City of New York, 1945), M.S. (New York University, 1949), and Ph.D. (Columbia University, 1955). Over the years his work was supported by awards from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund, the William T. Grant Foundation and Russell Sage Foundation.
Fascinated by Talcott Parsons' observations about interaction and response he studied human interaction, its forms and functions, its benevolent or malevolent character. He was the author of 14 books dealing with social interaction in numerous contexts and under varied conditions.
The Anatomy of Psychotherapy (1960), reflected both social science and psychodynamic perspectives and introduced the idea of “interactional trajectory” in families with a mentally disturbed member. In 1962 the National Institute of Mental Health awarded him the lifetime Research Career Scientist award, first at Columbia University, then at Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California, San Francisco, where as a Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry he established the Family Study Station and the Center for the Study of Drugs and Social Behavior.
Drawing on concepts in several different behavioral sciences, Patterns in Human Interaction (1969) provided new insights into the nature of the schizophrenic process.
Challenging the drug industry in articles and in his book Mystification and Drug Misuse (1972), he documented the permanent neurological damage (tardive dyskinesia) being caused by psychoactive drugs. This was described in a review in Transaction as “a brief, amazingly unassertive, even gentle book (that)… ends up being an intellectually explosive, trail blazing work”. Psychiatric News called the book “Social dynamite”. And the library review journal Choice described it as “a courageous attack on the pestilence delivered on mankind by the drug conspiracy. The authors authoritatively slam legal drugs, doctors who overprescribe, companies who oversell, and users who rely on them.”
He was offered, and declined, research facilities within the pharmaceutical industry, and soon found the Research Career Scientist award and his Professorship at the University of California withdrawn.
Undeterred, he returned to New York as a Senior Researcher at the Center for Policy Research where he organized conferences on Ethics of Health Care (1977, 1978); and to the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy where he helped to establish a focus on chronic illness and family therapy.
It was at this point that Henry and I began to work together, and he turned his attention more and more to studying patterns of social interaction in urban settings that created a sense of well-being, rather than the pathological interaction patterns he had studied before. My contribution, as an architect/urban designer, was to clarify how the built environment helped to account for the observed differences in quality of interaction.
Henry believed, with Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber and De Crescenzo, that only through discourse do we become human; and with the urban scholar Lewis Mumford that “the greatest function of the city is to encourage the greatest possible number of meetings, encounters, challenges, between varied persons and groups, providing… a stage upon which the drama of social life may be enacted”.
In 1985 in Venice we founded the International Making Cities Livable Conferences to bring together mayors, city officials, urban planners, architects, and social scientists from around the world to draw attention to these issues and to influence priorities in urban planning.
About our first book written together, Public Life in Urban Places (1984) Lewis Mumford wrote “this is just the kind of book… I have been impatiently waiting for: concise, penetrating, stimulating, revealing.” Henry's examination of social interaction in multifunctional urban places (in Livable Cities Observed, 1994) revealed its essential functions for community, socialization, and social health.
In our most recent book, The Forgotten Child (2000) he again challenged invested interests and accepted practices to speak out on behalf of a population unable to fight for themselves, children and young people. He revealed the devastating effects of modern planning practices on the social, emotional, intellectual and physical development of children, and proposed planning principles for making child- and youth-friendly cities.
Influenced by his childhood experiences in Nazi Vienna, Henry always sought for ways to protect those who could not protect themselves, such as psychiatric patients and children. In the end his compassion and great heartedness placed too heavy a burden on him. He died of a greatly enlarged heart during the 20th Anniversary of the IMCL Conferences at which the focus on “Celebrating the European Square” was intended to draw attention to the social functions of this unique urban form.
Henry L. Lennard's remarkable intellect, compassion, and insights into the human condition have inspired city leaders, scholars and professionals from fields as varied as psychiatry, family therapy, social psychology, pharmacology, medical ethics, architecture and urban planning from around the world. He will be sorely missed.
Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard Ph.D.(Arch.)
Co-founder & Director,
International Making Cities Livable Conferences