Image courtesy of Danny Wu

Cal Poly Pomona remembers Professor Richard Willson

By Billy Huang and Lann Nguyen, March 7, 2023

The Cal Poly Pomona community mourns the loss of faculty member Richard W. Willson, a professor and department chair of Urban and Regional Planning, who died unexpectedly Dec. 6, 2022. 

The commitment and effort Willson put into addressing parking and transportation policy as well as environmental designs around the CPP campus touched many of his students and colleagues. 

“I couldn’t tell you just one fond memory of him, I knew him for 30 years,” said Gwen Urey, department chair of Urban and Regional Planning. “He was more than a colleague. He was a friend, moving forward there is a huge gap without Willson in the department.”

Willson’s research involved parking policies, climate change planning, land use transportation relationships, travel demand management, transit-oriented development, planning theory and practice, and professional development, according to his biography. He’s recognized as an effective teacher and Outstanding Faculty in the College of Environmental Design.

Inside the classroom, Willson taught his students how to guide change in the natural and built environment, while addressing a wide range of issues regarding Urban and Regional Planning through a learn-by-doing educational philosophy. He encouraged his students to learn and experience their field of profession first-hand according to his students.

In addition to in-class lectures, Willson brought his students on a field trip to downtown Los Angeles every year.

“He was so passionate about planning as a practice and the good it could do in the world,” said Jared Knight, Willson’s previous student in Urban and Regional Planning who recalled fond memories of the trip where they learned to reflect on different ways to view the world as planners. “I think that was what made me love it so much right from the beginning.”

One of Willson’s most notable achievements was being a part of the Fellows of American Institute of Certified Planners, which requires a nomination and selection by peers honoring their outstanding contributions as a professional planner. 

“He really opened up the students’ eyes to the challenges that we will face as professional planners in the future,” said Danny Wu, CPP executive director of Transportation and Planning. 

Image courtesy of Danny Wu

According to Wu, Willson was the one who championed the creation of his position as executive director of Transportation and Planning at CPP. He hoped Wu would help plan for more sustainable transportation projects and teach students how a transportation system integrates into our campus land usage.

As a strong advocate for the new all-electric bus, Willson worked alongside University President Soraya M. Coley as her advisor on parking management to secure the Class Pass for CPP students to get unlimited free rides on all Foothill transit lines and the Silver Streak line. 

The Silver Streak is a prime example of what Willson stood for, and he hoped to be one of its first riders when the bus stop was implemented, according to Wu. Although he did not get to see the day Silver Streak opened, he paved the way for making education more accessible for future students. 

Willson’s decades of determination to improve the environment on campus prompted students to find a passion in becoming planners themselves.  

Similarly, Rebeca Gutierrez, an urban and regional planning graduate student, is one of many students who pursued a higher degree after attending Willson’s courses because she felt inspired by him to do her part in preserving the environment. 

“You can see his charisma, his passion, his devotion to the planning world, and you know, trying to see it through a technical, analytical and very personal view of a city or any community to address certain issues,” said Gutierrez.  

In commemoration of the late professor, his book “Guide for the Idealist” will be available in the University Library. To be part of the open access project to support Willson’s book, contact the URP department chair Gwen Urey at, and donations can be made online. 

Feature image courtesy of Danny Wu

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