“He infused vast youthful energy (only 34 when he was appointed chair) into reforming the City Planning Department,” Judge Marrero said by email. “To do so, he recruited an impressive cadre of young planners and architects from outside the framework of civil service, which meant making some bureaucratic interests very unhappy.”
Paul Goldberger, the former New York Times architecture critic, said in an email: “Donald Elliott was a realist who believed in making a more livable city, and he used inventive legal tactics to try to balance the forces at play in New York. New York’s entire approach to planning changed, and he played a key role in almost every innovation.”
Donald Harrison Elliott was born on Aug. 20, 1932, in Manhattan to Harrison Sackett Elliott, a professor of religious education and psychology at Union Theological Seminary, and Grace (Loucks) Elliott, the national president of the Y.W.C.A.
After graduating from the New Lincoln School in Manhattan, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Carleton College in Minnesota and a law degree in 1957 from New York University.
In 1956, he married Barbara Ann Burton; she died in 1998. In addition to their son Drew, he is survived by two other sons, Steven and Douglas, and six grandchildren.
A Reform Democrat, Mr. Elliott was an urban renewal administrator on the Upper West Side in the early 1960s. He worked on the successful 1965 mayoral campaign of John V. Lindsay, a liberal Republican congressman from Manhattan, after specializing in land-use regulation in Mr. Lindsay’s law firm. He then handled the transition from the administration of Mayor Robert F. Wagner and oversaw antipoverty and housing programs for the new mayor until he was appointed to the planning commission and named director of the City Planning Department in November 1966. He served until 1973.
In that position, he established an urban design task force composed of several architects — Jaquelin T. Robertson, Richard Weinstein, Myles Weintraub and Jonathan Barnett — that Mr. Lindsay authorized to “advance the cause of aesthetics in every area the Planning Commission can influence, from street signs to skyscrapers.”