Neil R. Smith, 1954 – 2012

It is with incredible sorrow that I write to share the news that we lost Neil Smith in the early hours of this morning. He had been hospitalized on Wednesday afternoon with organ failures, and despite some moments of hope, could not  greet another day with us. Words cannot describe this sudden tragedy. Neil was larger than life, brilliant, an inspiration and loved by so many.

I will provide the CPCP community with further updates as they are available. You can still share your thoughts at http://pcp.gc.cuny.edu/2012/09/neil-smith/.

With deepest regrets and many tears, Padmini

181 thoughts on “Neil R. Smith, 1954 – 2012

  1. I just heard about Neil.

    In my years working in the administration at The Graduate Center — a place that always offered an endless supply of ideas, provocations, new books to read and more — there were a very few people who embodied an almost perfect “harmonic convergence.” (forgive the new-age term, its the only one that comes to mind) 

    These were the special scholars/teachers/moral guides whose brilliance converged and aligned with sublime decency; those for whom brilliance and ideas  were gifts to selflessly and joyously share rather than conspicuously trumpet.

    These were the profoundly compassionate and humble people who, frankly, would even have have been excused a little arrogance and pretense had that been their bent. 

    Not Neil. 

    Neil was so unpretentious, so generous,  so fully engaged in the joy of curiosity and inquiry, that I’m not sure he would have known arrogance if it bit him in the behind! My guess is that he couldn’t have even FAKED being pompous.

    This is a real loss, not only for his field and his colleagues, but for every human being who won’t be able to see the magic that is possible when brilliance and compassion are so fully fused.

    Rest well, Neil.

    Steve Gorelick
    Department of Film and Media Studies
    Hunter College

  2. Tragic when people die young, especially when it’s such an ethusiastically life-affirming friend, thinker and activist as Neil. The amazing range and consistency of tributes say it all. I can think of few geographers or academics who better deserve the epitaph ‘Don’t mourne. Organize!’

  3. Neil was such an inspirational and incisive writer and speaker. He will be so sorely missed.

  4. With Neil’s tragic passing the geography profession has lost one of its best and clearest thinkers. I will miss him very much.

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  6. I was really shocked and saddened to hear this news. Neil was great intellectual and comrade. As these comments show, he will be missed by lots of people including me.

  7. Neil, I still can’t believe you’re gone. You were an anchor for me here in New York, and indeed much of the reason I came to the Grad Center. Like many others, I’d been inspired by your work for years–but little did I know I’d also find such a caring friend in you. From our first meeting in Budapest you’ve pushed me in my thinking and my research. This last year you’ve been constant sounding board for my ideas and analysis of Occupy and political practice. I still can’t quite grasp the scale(s) of this loss. Today, I just miss you, friend.

  8. You spent so much time supporting, mentoring, affirming. I should have spent more time telling you what a wonderful, humane, passionate, smart man you were.

  9. Rest in peace, Neil… I have learned much from your works, and you have been a true source of inspiration for me… Now I see, life distributes its justice unevenly…

  10. A free thinker, an activist intellectual, and a generous human being. Neil was a model for what many of us can only strive to achieve. He leaves a large legacy, and he will be missed.

  11. Really awful news… Sending my thoughts to all the cuny community his friends and family. A huge loss to geography but remembered and appreciated so sincerely by so many thanks for all the inspiration xxx

  12. Sad to hear this news. Somebody used the phrase life-affirming about his public life – I second that. As a geographer, he was someone who wrote about the present as if the past mattered, and about the past as if the future mattered but more so.

  13. I knew Neil during the mid-1970s when he was David Harvey’s graduate student at Johns Hopkins and I was a mere undergrad. Neil was generous in every way a person can be and he raised my political consciousness as a friend and comrade. In the last two years we had started emailing and I had asked his input into a manuscript I was writing about colonial cartographies. Once again, after all those years he was kind, generous and supportive.
    A superb scholar, a creative mind, a great person- – he will be missed!

  14. This is shocking, sad news. He was probably the most inspirational critical urban thinker I read and a solid base for my own work, also a generously supportive figure that always had encouraging words to many people I know, including me. Good bye, Neil Smith!

  15. Neil, you’ve been an amazing inspiration, co-conspirator and organiser. There would be no International Critical Geographers without you. Agreeing to serve as co-editor of Society and Space (a bold step at the time) was a refusal of non-negotiable rifts among radical geographers, an invitation to debate and dialogue. You were there, seeing the bigger picture, drawing factions together, building communities and friendships through your networks of networks, within and across disciplines, inside and outside the university, and around the globe. So much achieved in such a desperately short time.

  16. Like so many that Neil has touched, this news has left me shocked and deeply saddened. I can remember my fear and trepidation the first time I met *the* Neil Smith, which was only too quickly to washed away by his warm spirit and gentle demeanor. In so many ways, he will always remain an inspiration to me.

  17. Thank you Neil for helping us understand the world. Your inspiration, ideas, and passion for life live on through all those you touched.

  18. A day after Neil’s untimely passing,… images of Neil are more powerful in my head than words: from seeing him singing in Ed Soja’s backyard in 1992 to sharing the panel at the last AAG in NYC, from hanging out with him in Berlin and Toronto and other urban places, we lost an inspirational thinker and a wonderful human being! Let’s try to advance collectively his agenda of justice.

  19. Neil, fellow eastern Torontonian and citizen of the world. Your presence will be immensely missed in the ‘hood and across the globe. You were a true inspiration in so many ways. Farewell.

  20. Neil was my mentor, advisor, and friend, a person of extraordinary intelligence, generosity, commitment, and conviviality. Like many of those posting here, my academic life would not have been as successful, gratifying, or meaningful if Neil hadn’t done the big and small things that he did. His absence is already deeply felt.

  21. I’ve been floored for a day about this. Neil was such a great guy and one of the most engaging and entertaining raconteurs I’ve ever been around. Warm, biting, and full of life.

  22. Jurgen and I have been talking about Neil since we heard the devastating news yesterday. As many have said, Neil was brilliant, generous, cared deeply about social justice, had a wonderful sense of humor and knew how to have a good time. We will miss him but continue to be inspired by his words and deeds. Our sympathies to those closest to him.

  23. Neil, we hardly knew each other…you came up to me in the hall outside the Antipode lecture by Laura. Back in San Francisco, 07. I was feeling pretty alienated from it all. You must of caught my name tag and you recognized me. You said a lot of nice things, none of which I can remember in detail, but then I looked at your name tag: and it said Neil Smith.

    Wait a minute! He’s the guy who, with Harvey, wrote that line about geography being revolutionary and divide and conquer which I plan to quote in the paper I am giving. I just didn’t remember your name. So I gave you an invite, and you showed up to hear me do my Roots of Radical Geography. On the last day of the conference in the afternoon.

    What a mensch.

    In solidarity forever

  24. Neil, we hardly knew each other…you came up to me in the hall outside the Antipode lecture by Laura. Back in San Francisco, 07. I was feeling pretty alienated from it all. You must of caught my name tag and you recognized me. You said a lot of nice things, none of which I can remember in detail, but then I looked at this strangers name tag: and it was you: Neil Smith.

    Wait a minute! He’s the guy who, with Harvey, wrote that line about geography being revolutionary and divide and conquer which I plan to quote in the paper I am giving. I just didn’t remember your name. So I gave you an invite, and you showed up to hear me do my Roots of Radical Geography. On the last day of the conference in the afternoon.

    What a mensch.

    In solidarity forever

  25. The long life I wished for you –and for the benefit of all of us — was not to be. But you lived it to the fullest and left so much behind in the record of your scholarship. You and I shared an interest in U.S. and European gentrification studies. I cherish to memory of our walks in the East Village, the friendship that started wayback in Baltimore, and your last bearhug at the AAG in New York …

    Utrecht, Jan van Weesep

  26. A decent, decent man. I treasured his scholarship and his laughter. Gone much, much too soon.

  27. A decent, decent man. I treasured his laughter as well as his scholarship. Gone much, much too soon.

  28. This news comes as a shock, and Neil’s premature departure was never expected. A great loss to all those who fought for a better world. I’ve only had a couple of encounters at academic gatherings, but I’ve always kept his writings close to me. They will surely continue to be with us… Thank you Neil for what you left behind.

  29. Neil you are missed. Your sense of humour, your warmth, intellectual brilliance and unique ability to make people around you feel valuable and important. The world seems less without you but your work is still here to inspire and lets us continue your struggle for a better world.

  30. Neil, I am cherishing the moments you showed me around your New York, your New Jersey. So sorry this was not meant to be in Athens. All the laughters and the good cheer, all your deep thinking and the heartfelt words exchanged. Grateful to have met you. Argyro.

  31. Neil, you were a singular talent who inspired our hearts and minds in so many ways. You were too important to leave us so soon. We’ll miss you so very, very much.

  32. I’m sorry and shoked to hear of Neil. We lost a friend and comrade. Farewell Neil.

  33. Neil had a major impact on me as a graduate student, both through his writings (especially Uneven Development) and in person (as a visiting speaker he recycled much of his honorarium on being continual drinks for the grad students at the local pub, being the first person in history to cause Moynihan’s Guiness supply to run dry before midnight. Somewhere along the way, he assured that me that it was ok to be a political geographer because, deep down, we are all political geographers. His warmth and wisdom will be dearly missed.

    • Dear Phil,
      Three years ago, this fall, Neil introduced me to your work, The Social Construction of the Ocean. It was tremendously influential on my thought and research on ship breaking. Your book inspired the first paper I ever wrote for Neil and the paper showed Neil a political yet poetic side of me that rarely finds an outlet. Ever since then Neil has supported, encouraged and believed in me like no other before. I began working with him in 2009 and as had continued as my advisor and mentor into my PhD which I am not yet in the middle of. I thank you so very much for writing your book. I hope someday we may get a chance to meet. Perhaps the AAG in LA 2013
      Elizabeth Sibilia

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  35. Such a devastating loss. He inspired so many of us, and will continue to do so indefinitely. His kindness, his generosity, and his unwavering commitment to progressive social change always left me nothing short of humbled. We will never forget what he fought for.

  36. From the very very first time I met you when I was a grad student, you welcomed me with such friendship, and you have been so supportive over the years since then. We have lost a brilliant geographer, but more than this, an incredibly generous, caring and mischievous friend.

  37. I finished grad school in 2011 where I was introduced to Neil Smith’s gentrification and Uneven Development contributions. At the AAG in February 2012, I thought I recognized him in the hallway. The first session of Right to the City was full and I suspect he was walking away from it, just as had done. I ask, “Are you Neil Smith,” and he said, “Hi, how are you, what’s your name?” He took a couple minutes to talk to me about his students and the Occupy Movement. I didn’t get a chance to see him speak at the second session of Right to the City because I had to leave early for my volunteer shift, so I’m glad I had the brief chance to meet him. I’m sure his contributions in geography will speak to many for a long time.

  38. Oh Neil.
    So as i awoke this morning to discover that the wisdom and challenges you have shared and instilled into my dissertation, my activism and my life will all now be in the past tense, I headed off to my morning Occupy Sunset Park meet
    ing. A meeting I considered skipping to be able to contemplate what new horizons are now presenting themselves. But I went and your voice emerged and was spoken by others at the meeting. The revanchist city, urban revolution, and gentrification were discussed and directly referenced by a dedicated group of community members in Sunset Park.
    Your impact was deep and will be lasting…

  39. Such devastating news – I cannot even imagine his incredible vitality gone. I first met Neil more than 30 years ago, as an undergraduate at Columbia. He was my advisor, collaborator, mentor and most of all my very good friend.

  40. I took classes with Neil when I was in graduate school at Columbia. He had incredible enthusiasm for Marxism and geography and his passion drew you into his way of seeing the world. That way of seeing the world has stayed with me through decades of teaching and I still find myself drawing on it today. Neil was one of those larger than life characters who gave his students the courage to make the world a smaller and more humane place.

  41. Neil’s death is so extraordinarily sad and and his life so beautiful and full of joy. I mourn the loss and treasure the memories. He will continue to be with us.

  42. It is a sad day indeed. I will miss Neil’s generosity, humor, and knack for telling a great story. Rest in peace.

  43. I’m so sorry and shocked to hear of Neil’s passing. I have never met him, but I was impressed with his Uneven Development. His writings will influence future generation.

    In deepest sympathy,
    Sadaharu OYA, JAPAN

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