The Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning was founded by the visionary planner-architect Hermann H. Field. Mr. Field had a distinguished career in urban planning before he envisioned a new master's degree program that responded to the needs of urban development, land use planning, architectural design, as well as social and environmental concerns. Mr. Field was born in Zurich, Switzerland and was a graduate of Harvard College, the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute. He directed the urban development program of Cleveland College before becoming planning director at the Tufts School of Medicine from 1961 through 1972.
In 1972 Mr. Field taught a path breaking course in environmental planning and design at Tufts and developed the framework for a new interdisciplinary program, called the Program in Urban, Social and Environmental Policy (PUSEP), which enrolled its first class in 1973. The program was originally housed within the Department of Political Science in the School of Arts, Science and Engineering at Tufts University. In 1980 PUSEP was elevated to departmental status and became the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP) and in 2000 the department's name was changed to reflect its growing orientation to the field of planning. In 2004 UEP became an accredited planning program, with that designation granted by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB).
Mr. Field taught and directed the program until his retirement in 1978. He continued to provide guidance and vision to the program until his death at age 90 in 2001. In 1982, he wrote in the 50th anniversary report of his class at Harvard: "I was appalled by the mindless despoiling of the physical environment essential to any quality of life, urban or otherwise, in which my profession was a key participant." Mr. Field's vision of higher education for planners and policy makers embodied a holistic view of planning encompassing a sensitivity to community participation, social justice, and environmental concerns. This is the legacy that he has brought to Tufts and to UEP. Shortly before his death he was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
Through the generous contributions of the friends and family of Hermann Field, the Hermann and Kate Field Education Fund was established to support the education and professional goals of UEP students.
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After its founding in 1973 as the Program in Urban, Social and Environmental Policy, the program was housed for a few years in the Political Science Department before moving into its first home at 38 Professors Row. The white Victorian house, which it shared with the Experimental College, was called "Brown House," named after Benjamin Graves Brown, who held the first endowed chair at Tufts (in mathematics) from 1865-1903. Brown's daughter, Henrietta Noble Brown, received the first baccalaureate degree conferred on a woman by Tufts College. In 1980, the program became the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP). In 1983, 38 Professors Row was razed to provide land for the new Elizabeth Van Huysen Mayer Campus Center, and UEP took up residence in its new home at 97 Talbot Avenue, also called "Brown House". As for the history of 97 Talbot Avenue, from 1915 through the 1920s, 97 Talbot was the home of English Professor Charles H. Gray and his wife Laura Gray, whose popular essays appeared on campus under the pseudonym Sam Pepys. From the late 1970s through 1983, the 97 Talbot residence was the home of the Decision Making Center and the European Center. When UEP took occupancy of 97 Talbot in 1983 as its new faculty and administrative offices, it re-adopted the name "Brown House" both to honor its first home and to reflect its elegant "brown-shingled" architecture. Although the color of the building subsequently changed to red, the name remained. In 2023, UEP moved to the Bromfield-Pearson Builiding at 503 Boston Avenue.