Mastering the metropolis through research and thought leadership.

It is with deep sadness that I write with news about the passing of our colleague and friend, Anita Arrow Summers, on Sunday, October 22, 2023.  Anita was instrumental in helping to establish Wharton’s real estate program over three decades ago. Our program will always owe her a great debt of gratitude.  Her contributions to economics, Wharton and Penn are much broader. 

Anita Arrow was born in New York City on September 9, 1925.  She was a very proud alumna of Hunter College and received an advanced degree from the University of Chicago.  It was at Chicago where she met the love of her life, Robert Summers.  They married in 1953 and had three sons—Larry, Rick and John.  Anita left the paid workforce to help raise their children.  She and Bob Summers justly were as proud of their family and their children as any of their significant accomplishments in the academy.

Anita Summers formally returned to the economics profession to teach at Swarthmore College in 1967.  She then joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, heading its urban economics group from 1971-1979.  She came to Wharton in 1983 to chair the new Public Policy & Management Department, the first of its kind at a major business school.  Anita would be the first to acknowledge the support of many colleagues in getting Public Policy off the ground and running, but it is fair to say that she was the key entrepreneur behind that effort, which ultimately led to what Wharton now calls its Department of Business Economics & Public Policy.   

What always amazed and impressed me was how Anita also was so instrumental in helping us achieve success in establishing a new real estate program at Wharton. After all, she was busy with a relatively new department that required a lot of her energy.  Whether it was helping us establish the initial faculty unit that became the Wharton Real Estate Department or in helping to establish the Real Estate Center, she was not just there, she was active in important ways.  Until her retirement from Penn, she was an active secondary member of the Real Estate Department.  Anita also was the first Research Director of the Zell/Lurie Center and was key in helping us think through what a good curriculum would look like.  She served as a Senior Research Fellow at Zell/Lurie for many years, and I was grateful to have the office next to hers for the last 15 years of her time at Wharton.

In her research, Anita Summers was most passionate about the economics of education.  A classic piece of hers (with Barbara Wolfe) is “Do Schools Make a Difference?” published in the American Economic Review in 1977 (vol. 67, no. 4, pp:  639-52).  What makes this a classic is that it was among the first to estimate an education production function.  Anita was ahead of her time in many ways, and this was just one example. This paper stands the test of time and still reads as very modern.  Anita’s other research interests include the measurement and determinants of urban change.  She was a contributor to and editor of a couple of important volumes of research into urban change in the U.S. and Europe in the 1980s and 1990s.  Fortunately for me, Anita’s interests turned towards housing affordability near the end of her career.  I had the good fortune to team with her (and Albert Saiz) in developing the first nationwide index of local residential land use restrictiveness (formally called the Wharton Residential Land Use Restrictiveness Index or WRLURI) in 2008.  This was the foundation of our subsequent indexes and has become an industry and urban economics standard in research and policy analysis.

Anita’s life was one of great accomplishment, and yet these accomplishments still do not fully capture her.  Her adult life spanned a time of transition for women in the labor force, and she was a trail blazer for women, although she did not see herself primarily in those terms.  Anita’s primary academic mission was to instill a respect for evidence-based research in public policy. She thought that was the only way to get to good outcomes on contentious policy questions, and it was self-evident to her that women and men could be good practitioners of that philosophy.

Anita Summers also believed in community and she was the best community builder I have ever known.  She was instrumental in helping create and grow two departments at Wharton.  Along the way, she also was a member of the Provost’s Academic Planning and Budget Committee for many years, was Ombudsman of the University of Pennsylvania from 2001-2003 and helped anybody in the university who asked for help.  In this sense, she was not just talk;  she did things;  others saw her and emulated her, expanding her influence.  Anita’s leading by example helped build community in Real Estate, BEPP, Wharton and Penn. As we face new challenges, we should keep her example firmly in mind.  Anita’s success in this regard was not just due to her high energy level (as important as that was), but because she had respect for others, while firmly keeping in mind that evidence mattered most.

On a personal level, she was a dear friend, professionally and personally.  I came to Wharton in 1984, just after she arrived.  She was a friend of my mentor, Peter Linneman, and any friend of Peter’s was a friend of hers.  Needless to say, I was incredibly fortunate to come under the wing of such a force of nature.  Not only did Anita Summers help me in so many ways, she made me better.  I will always be grateful for that.  If you knew her, you certainly feel the same;  if you did not know her, you really missed something.