Morton B. Gulak, Retired Urban Planning Professor, Dies at age 73
University Public Affairs
Morton B. Gulak, retired urban planning associate professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, died Monday after a long bout with cancer. He was 73.
Gulak had retired from VCU’s urban and regional planning and urban studies and geography programs in 2010, following a career that lasted nearly four decades.
Gulak’s VCU career began in 1972 when he was hired to teach in the undergraduate urban studies program. With the exception of a few years when he left to earn a doctoral degree, his entire academic career took place at VCU.
Gulak played an instrumental role in founding the department of urban studies and planning (now the master of urban and regional planning and bachelor of urban and regional studies programs).
“As a professional architect and planner, Mort's philosophy of planning education set the course that our program would follow for the next 40 years -- a focus on training planners who not only have a solid understanding of the world of professional practice, but who embrace it and who are eager to contribute to it; a focus on revitalizing mature communities,” said longtime colleague and friend John Accordino, Ph.D., professor of planning. “Mort started and directed the Richmond Revitalization Program for many years and possessed a strong commitment to community engagement and service that inspired everyone around him.”
Accordino remembered Gulak as a kind and thoughtful mentor to hundreds of students over the years and a positive personality among faculty.
“As a colleague, Mort was quick to laugh and he had a great sense of humor. I've never known a more optimistic person and that's what it took to withstand recurrent bouts with cancer for more than ten years,” Accordino said. “But what I loved most about Mort was his creative spirit: his wonderful ideas about city development and design, about how to educate students, about everything. I learned a great deal from him and I will miss him very much.”
Gulak taught courses in urban design, urban revitalization, physical planning and the application of professional planning methods. He also coordinated the Studio II program, in which graduate students apply the methods and skills they’ve learned in their courses to solve an actual planning problem.
His research interests have focused on neighborhood planning, high-speed and commuter rail impacts on local community development, crime prevention through environmental design and international planning and education.
He helped to develop a number of neighborhood and community plans in Central Virginia over the years.
Gulak was born in Pittsburgh. He earned an undergraduate degree in architecture from Penn State, a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Virginia Tech and a Ph.D. in urban design from the University of Pennsylvania.
Gulak was a professional architect in Washington, D.C. and in Florida. He also served as a lieutenant for four years in the U.S. Navy.
Gulak is survived by his wife of 45 years, Paula; son Loren Gulak and his wife, Kristin, of Wilmington, N.C., and daughter Misha Amy Wolfe and her husband, Geoffrey, of Lafayette, Calif.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, at Bliley’s-Central, 3801 Augusta Ave., Richmond. Interment will be at Richmond Beth-El Cemetery at Forest Lawn.