Graham S. Finney

Anne d’Harnoncourt
Cecilia Moy Yep

An outspoken city planner and civic leader, Graham S. Finney won the Philadelphia Award for having, over four decades, “guided many decisions and institutions that continue to shape Philadelphia as a renewed and vibrant city.”Throughout his career, Finney promoted cooperation between government, corporate, and non-profit organizations, resulting in improvements in the lives of residents of the greater Philadelphia area, with a special focus on the disadvantaged.

F inney was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended school there. He received an undergraduate degree from Yale University (1952) and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University (1954). He worked in city planning in Portland, Maine, and in Boston, before becoming the second-ranking member of the Philadelphia Planning Commission (1961-1966).

As deputy superintendent for planning and later deputy superintendent for the School District of Philadelphia (1966-1969), Finney brought attention to the decades of neglect of the public schools. By the time he left, the school district had implemented a massive building program, providing for 25 new schools and the expansion of numerous others. Finney’s ability to bring people to consensus was a major factor in Philadelphia being the only city in the United States to pass three consecutive school bond issues.

After a stint as commissioner of the Addiction Services Agency in New York City, Finney returned to the city in 1973, to be the managing director of the Greater Philadelphia Partnership, a business-led civic group. In 1977, Finney founded and became president of the Corporation for Public/Private Ventures, a national non-profit research and development organization, which deals with issues of unemployment, social services, and economic development. The organization directed two nationwide projects for the U.S. Department of Labor, building public and foundation support for the development of national programs to prepare at-risk youth for employment.

In 1980, Finney founded the Conservation Company, a consulting firm that he headed as chief executive officer until 1997. The firm assisted tens of thousands of low income Philadelphians to maintain heat, water, and light in their homes by creating a mechanism for utility providers to resolve customers’ unpaid bills, while instituting conservation practices that reduced consumption when costs were escalating. The program became a model for cities across the nation.

As chairman of the City Planning Commission (1983-1988), Finney steered the city through the complex process of removing the height limit barring buildings taller than the William Penn statue, enabling Center City to expand commercially. He spearheaded the creation of long-range plans for Center City and North Philadelphia.

During this period Finney often clashed with City Council over budgetary priorities. In Finney’s view, the maintenance of existing buildings (especially the deteriorating city hall tower) and repair of the city’s decaying infrastructure were priorities that City Council was neglecting. His call apparently was partly heeded—a renovation and beautification of City Hall undertaken in 1988 led to a substantial restoration of the historic building.

In 1988, Finney cofounded the 21st Century League to influence Philadelphia’s long-term future. During the 1990s Finney and the league accomplished much, including setting up the Delaware Valley Mortgage Plan, facilitating 763 million dollars in mortgage loans to low and moderate income home buyers; coordinating the implementation of an immunization campaign that served approximately 6,000 disadvantaged children in a single month, becoming a model for the city; and through an informational campaign helping thousands of working poor families receive an average of $850 each by taking advantage of the federal earned income tax credit.

“Graham has spent his entire career creating institutions or programs of value to society at large and Philadelphia in particular,” remarked Nelson Harris, former CEO of the Tasty Baking Co.

Ann S. Nista

Sources: The following are all articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer: Frederick Cusick, “Planner Finney wins Philadelphia Award,” April 7, 1999; Alan J. Heavens, “20 Years Giving Hope with Mortgages,”Feb. 5, 1995; Marc Kauffman, “Bringing Vaccines to City Children,” May 1, 1991; Hank Klibanoff, “Plan for Center City Unveiled Envisions a Boom in Commerce,” May 19, 1988; Vernon Loeb, “Planners: City Needs a Fix-up, Buildings, Sewers Badly Deteriorated,” Feb. 1, 1985; Loeb, “Planning Panel Urges Rejection of Council Cuts,” May 16, 1986; Loeb, “Panel Bows to Council, with a Kick, May 6, 1988; Loeb, “Planners Propose, and Decry, a New Capital Budget,” Feb. 24, 1987; Loeb, “At the City Capital Budget Hearings: Outlines of an Enormous Problem,”April 12, 1987; William W. Sutton, Jr. “City Council, Planner Trade Barbs,” April 15, 1986; Mark Wagenveld, “Planners to Advise on Height Limit,” May 3, 1984; “Rewarding work: If You Work Full Time, You shouldn’t be Poor,” Jan. 5, 1993; Ginny Weingard, “Steps to a Bright, Clean City Hall,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 12, 1989. Graham S, Finney, Drugs: Administering Catastrophe (Washington, D.C.,1975). The following collected from the Philadelphia Award Records: Series 2 (Recipients and Nominees), Box 7, folder 24 and 25, Box 8, folder 1: newspaper clippings, nomination materials, resume, support letters, press release.