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Ernest Erber Papers

Identifier: MG Erber-(Offsite)

Scope and Contents

The collection includes correspondence; memoranda; working papers (i.e. handwritten/typed notes, rough drafts, reports, etc.); minutes of committees, various printed material including reports, policy statements, speeches, news releases, fliers, periodicals, pamphlets; news clippings; legal and financial documents pertaining to the environmental and social issues facing New Jersey in the second half of the twentieth century. They reflect the interplay between government and citizen in the areas of transportation, urban growth, government reorganization, zoning, public health, water conservation, open space preservation, etc. Documentation spans the years between 1949 and 1972, but the decade 1949-1958 is quite limited, and gaps do appear throughout the remaining time period. Themes from this early period include the development of the Hackensack Meadowlands, land subdivision, zoning and local government reorganization (New Jersey Statutes Annotated Title 40), and the establishment of a federal postal center in the Meadowlands.

Some of the more important topics within the Regional Plan Association files cover: the Bureau of the Census Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Citizen's Group on Water Resources, Citizen's Group to Review State Capital Needs, Green Acres, Meadowlands, Metropolitan Regional Council, New Jersey Statutes Annotated 40 County and Municipal Government Revision, Newark Medical Center, Newark Water Shed, The Palisades, Regional Advisory Board, Tri-State Transportation Commission. Most of the material of the Regional Plan Association is the product of its New Jersey Chapter. A few items—the news releases, conference reports, and some of the correspondence—were produced by the central office in New York City. The most important records of the subgroup, Appalachian Highland Association, relates to the Skyland Project or green belt, which was conceived as a swath of open land across northern New Jersey. Also included are materials on the Newark Water Shed.

Within the files of the subgroup American Institute of Planners there is also material on the Newark Water Shed, but by far the most important records relate to the lawsuit with the New Jersey Society of Professional Planners (this legal problem grew out of the opposition of the AIP to the proposed bill N.J. S 775 (1968) relating to the licensing of professional planners).

The remaining subgroups reflect importantly on Mr. Erber's work on environmental and social matters and on his efforts to influence government and to inform the citizens and elicit their participation. These subgroups include the Committee of Concern, which was formed in the wake of the civil unrest in the late 1960's, and the Majority Response Rally which sought to obtain more governmental response in meeting the needs of the urban poor.


  • 1949 - 1982


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.

Biographical / Historical

Ernest Erber was born in Chicago on 27 September 1913 from immigrant German stock, whose origins lay in the Polish province of the Russian Empire. His formal education was terminated early in his life, not quite completing the third year of high school. It was the winter of 1930-1931 and being a wage earner was more vital than study. He apprenticed with a newspaper, The Northwest News. The year after, following the presidential election, Erber became active in the Socialist Party.

At various times into the 1940's he chaired the Young People's Socialist League, edited several periodicals and organized and was a member of several labor unions. In the winter of 1932-33 the nineteen year old Erber led local 49 of the Chicago Workers Committee on Unemployment on a sit-in at the local relief station. He taught labor history under the WPA program and in 1936 was political representative of the American Socialists in Spain.

By this time he had become the publicist of numerous tracts, including "Plenty for all: the case for socialism." In 1946-1947, in New York City, he served on a citizen committee to save the subway fare. Also at the time he undertook research on real estate tax policy, land values, home-job locational factors, etc. He became involved with a group of young urban planners organized into an urban research group seeking an advocacy role.

In 1949, the Passaic Valley Citizens Planning Association was founded (currently the Planning Association of North Jersey). After reorganization the following year, Erber was made director. PVCPA sought to promote surveys and studies on population, employment, income, public service, housing, transportation, land use and subdivision, zoning and to encourage the coordination of good planning in these areas.

Early on, PVCPA was involved in the planning of such major projects as that of the New Jersey State Highway 21. Later, when New Jersey undertook to make a study of the potential uses of the Meadowlands, Erber and PVCPA pushed for the creation of a planning board to supervise overall direction. From this effort came the establishment of the Meadowlands Regional Planning Board, the first of this type in the state. Erber opposed the "wasteful" uses of land then (and still) common American development practice. He preferred a redevelopment of existing urban areas, describing the alternative "spread city" lacking complex civic centers and devoid of meaningful community life.1

The projects Erber worked upon required the cooperation of various levels of government, local, county, state and region. They give evidence of his concern for a unity of economics, environment and social well being.

In 1960, the Regional Plan Association (RPA), an organization formed in 1930, decided to open a chapter in northern New Jersey. Erber was offered the position, which he accepted, as Area Director of the New Jersey Chapter.

In this period Erber served as an Associate Director and Technical Advisor to the N.J. Federation of Planning Officials. He was faculty member of Fairleigh Dickinson University and served as consultant to the Urban Studies Center at Rutgers, the State University. He was also consultant to the N.J. Department of Community Affairs, to the Committee to Study County and Municipal Government in New Jersey, Technical Advisor to Mayor Kenneth A. Gibson of Newark, and to the staff of Senator Harrison Williams.

In 1968, he organized the Minority Response Rally in Trenton designed to demonstrate to the legislature that urban housing and education programs had the support of the affluent white citizenry. He was also a founder of the Appalachian Highlands Association (AHA). This organization constructed an ambitious plan to check urban growth by controlling development rights in open areas of the Appalachian range around the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan region. The plan was to bring private lands as well as public under control. Unfortunately, it met the determined resistance of opposing groups—local governments, business concerns, and land owners.

From the early 1950's Ernest Erber has contributed to numerous publications: master plans, municipal codes and ordinances (involving zoning, subdivision housing and building), studies in urban renewal, transportation, land reclamation, flood control, etc. His background study and position paper on New Jersey's total capital needs led to the appointment of the Governor's Capital Needs Commission and the passage of the $900 million bond issue in 1968. Another on the need for state long-range planning of water supply and pollution control led to the appointment of another special commission and passage of a state bond issue the following year. Aside from numerous brochures, article and professional papers he is the author of the book entitled: Jobs and Housing: A Study of Employment and Housing Opportunities for Racial Minorities in Suburban Areas of New York Metropolitan Region, Interim Report (1970), the co-author of Urban Planning in New Jersey (1968), and editor and contributor to Urban Planning in Transition (1970).

In 1953, Ernest Erber became a member of the American Institute of Planners. He assisted in the formation of the organization's New Jersey Chapter. He was also a member of the New Jersey Economic Roundtable, the American Institute of Urban and Regional Affairs. He served on the Board of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing (on the staff from 1969 and after until 1980 served as director). Erber was a member of Newark's Committee of Concern, an organization formed in the wake of the 1967 riots seeking ways to rebuild the framework of community life. He also founded and assisted in chairing the Urban Problems Luncheon Group, composed of professional staff personnel from private corporations and public agencies.

Since leaving RPA Mr. Erber has acted as consultant to government and private agencies in urban affairs.

1Newark Evening News, November 18, 1964 and September 30, 1966.


22.26 Linear Feet (16 Paige boxes, 15 Hollinger boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of the personal records of Ernest Erber, which were formed while he served in the capacity as director and/or member of the executive board of several planning organizations located in Northern New Jersey.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ernest Erber.

Processing Information

The original arrangement of these records was by topic, with the files of the several organizations which compose the collection interfiled. These records have been rearranged to reflect provenance.

At the series level the most important files relate to correspondence. This is true for the records of the Regional Plan Association but also for the several other subgroups within the collection. A subseries entitled "carbon copy" relates to correspondence sent by the correspondents to Mr. Erber. Another, entitled "speeches" reports on talks delivered by Mr. Erber before various groups and organizations. Some of this material cannot be dated, probable years have been penciled on some with a question mark (?) added.

Very little exists on the committee minutes series; practically none exist within the subgroup Regional Plan Association. More numerous are policy statements, and committee and conference reports. There are also miscellaneous fliers, pamphlets, news releases, and periodicals. These items are listed under the series entitled "printed material." Other important files can be found under the series entitled "working papers"; these are the notes of Mr. Erber on loose and variable size paper, typed or handwritten and often containing marginal commentary. There is an extensive file of newspaper clippings, and also membership files, for many of the subgroups. Finally, there is a good amount of material produced by organizations in which Mr. Erber was not associated but whose activities interested him. These remain with the collection because they reflect on Mr. Erber's work in environmental matters; some of this material might be unique.

Additional unprocessed and uncataloged papers of Ernest Erber exist in the Library’s collections and are not inventoried here. Interested patrons should inquire at the New Jersey Information Center reference desk.

James Stuart Osbourn
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Revision Statements

  • 2008: Chad Leinaweaver.

Repository Details

Part of the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, Newark Public Library Repository

3rd Floor
Newark Public Library
5 Washington St.
Newark NJ 07102 United States