Obituary: Janet Smith
Janet Smith, UIC professor of urban planning and policy and co-director of the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement, died Jan. 17 after a long battle with cancer.
For a quarter-century, Smith’s teaching, research and community service focused on equity issues in housing planning and policy. Her research and outreach activities were regularly conducted in partnership with community organizations and policy stakeholders through the Voorhees Center at UIC.
Her work involved issues that ranged from the transformation of public housing projects throughout the U.S. and the expansion of housing options for people with disabilities to the relationship between housing and health, and community-driven strategies to keep housing costs affordable.
UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis remembered Smith as a great scholar and leader committed to the well-being of the faculty she represented as president of UIC United Faculty.
“She was also an excellent faculty member who truly cared about our students, as well as the Chicago communities that she served through her research. She will be missed by all of us, but her legacy will remain in our campus for many years to come. We all lost a friend and a colleague,” he said.
The loss of Smith is deeply felt in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, said David Merriman, interim CUPPA dean and James J. Stukel Presidential Professor of Public Administration.
“Janet pressed us all to do better and relentlessly focused on making the world a better place for everyone. Our students, alumni, friends, and colleagues are richer in knowledge and justice because of her,” he said.
She has led several large-scale housing research projects in Chicago including a regional homeless needs assessment and a rental market study funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The impact of her work earned Smith several honors, including the Urban Affairs Association’s 2020 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Award for her “truly outstanding … contributions and commitment to activist-scholarship.”
Yittayih Zelalem, co-director of the Voorhees Center, said Smith’s energy, enthusiasm and determination was inspiring to all who worked with her.
“Janet was a relentless advocate for justice and fairness with deep knowledge of community development and affordable housing. Her conviction for the protection of the rights of the disenfranchised among us was unparalleled; she was an inspiration to us and to our partners,” he said.
Since joining UIC in August 1997, she served as a mentor to numerous doctoral and graduate students who have gone on to work for community organizations, the public and private sectors, and the academy.
“Their commitment to the principles Janet consistently espoused — social equity, community voice, and valuing community-driven solutions to enduring urban problems — is testament to Janet’s enduring influence on urban planning and policy,” said Nik Theodore, professor and head of urban planning and policy.
Her co-authored books include “Where are Poor People to Live? Transforming Public Housing Communities” and “Claiming Neighborhood: New Ways of Understanding Urban Change.”
Smith was also the lead researcher for a U.S. Economic Development Administration-backed program to develop a model to promote green economic development in the Chicago region with a focus on manufacturing and workforce development.
Smith received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UIUC before earning a PhD at Cleveland State University.
She is survived by her husband, James.
Plans for a campus memorial event will be announced at a later date.