World-renowned psychiatrist, author, professor and social activist, Leonard J. Duhl, M.D. died on December 28 at 93 years of age.
Recognized as the pioneer of the healthy cities and healthy communities movement in the 1970s, Len Duhl championed the concept that creating livable cities – with decent housing, clean air, potable water and strong communities – produces healthy people and healthy societies. Duhl’s Healthy Cities movement was adopted as a project by the World Health Organization and scores of municipalities worldwide.
A self-made success, Duhl was born on May 24, 1926, in New York City and received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1945 and a doctorate in medicine from Albany Medical College in New York in 1948. He was an intern at the Jewish Hospital in Brooklyn in 1948 and 1949, a fellow of the Menninger School of Psychiatry in Topeka, Kansas, from 1949 until 1951, fulfilling his residency at the Winter (now Colmery – O’Neil) Veterans Administration Hospital in Topeka. He also graduated from the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute (now the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis) in the District of Columbia in 1964.
And Len Duhl had an amazing life.
Over his seven-decade-long career, Duhl traveled around the world, lectured at dozens of universities and consulted with governments and international organizations on mental health and urban social policies, sociology, Healthy Cities, public health, psychiatry, and poverty.
Duhl believed activism could change the world and his passion for social justice and health care reform led Dr. Duhl to work in the government. This provided him opportunities to write speeches for Bobby Kennedy, organize hearings on the health of cities for Senator Abraham Ribicoff and consult for WHO and UNICEF.
From 1951 through 1953, he was a senior assistant surgeon in the United States Public Health Service assigned to the Contra Costa County Health Department in Martinez directing tuberculosis control work. While there, he also led a study of the emotional impact of a community X-ray survey.
From 1954 through 1964, Duhl was a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In 1966, he became chief of the Institute’s Office of Planning. Two years later, he was named a special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs in Washington, D.C.; he served in that capacity until 1968.
Duhl and his family moved back to California in 1968 when he was appointed as a professor of public health and city planning at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. He also worked as a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.
During this chapter of his life, Duhl was active in the experimental schools programs for the Berkeley Unified School District and worked in the health and medical sciences program at UC Berkeley. Dr. Duhl was also an adviser, chairman, or expert member of international and governmental boards, committees, and organizations.
A prolific writer, Dr. Duhl published 15 books, hundreds of contributed articles and scores of papers on communities, urban conditions, health services, health planning, social change, health care reform, mental health and urban social policies and much more.
Duhl is survived by his children, Pamela Duhl Zbesko (John Zbesko), Nina Duhl, David Duhl (Kathy) and Susan Duhl, grandchildren Sophie Zbesko, Emily Zbesko Zarefsky (Marc Zarefsky), Joseph Zbesko, Maya Duhl, Gabbi Duhl, Madeline Berger, and 3 great-grandchildren.