Carolyn Konheim, whose sons’ soot-specked white snow suits transformed her from a high school history teacher into a crusading New York environmentalist who targeted water and air pollutants, congested streets and other scourges of modern urban life, died on Nov. 25 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 81.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease and dementia, her husband, Brian Ketcham, said.
The couple were partners in Konheim & Ketcham, a consulting firm that prepared environmental impact statements and conducted pollution-abatement surveys for governments and private clients from 1981 to 2007.
They also volunteered their expertise to civic groups concerned about the effects of development in their neighborhoods, operating through a nonprofit group, Community Consulting Services, from 1993 to 2012.
In the mid-1960s, after she grew concerned by the dark flakes of ash raining onto her sons’ winter wear during their walks in Riverside Park in Manhattan, Ms. Konheim joined the nascent green movement, which had been galvanized largely by Rachel Carson’s seminal book on environmental threats, “Silent Spring,” published in 1962.
In 1964, Ms. Konheim became a founder of Citizens for Clean Air, a groundbreaking New York environmental group, which helped persuade Mayor John V. Lindsay’s administration to reduce smokestack emissions, in part by imposing a surcharge on power plant owners to discourage them from burning dirty fuel oil. (Even so, two years later, New York City would be enveloped in what was called a “killer smog” over the Thanksgiving weekend, leaving about 200 people dead.)
Her advocacy led to appointments as assistant commissioner in the city’s Department of Air Resources, from 1967 to 1971, and as regional director of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation under Gov. Hugh L. Carey, from 1976 to 1977.
In between, she headed a civic group that campaigned, unsuccessfully, to turn sections of Madison Avenue into a permanent pedestrian mall, and ran the Scientists’ Committee for Public Information, an advocacy group whose agenda included energy conservation, waste management and water pollution.
Ms. Konheim’s activism was broad and, at the same time, focused. She was a staunch opponent of Westway, the proposed federally-funded tunnel that would have been excavated under landfill in the Hudson River to replace the rotting West Side Highway. She was a forceful advocate for improved mass transit, serving at one point as the first chairwoman of the Permanent Citizens’ Advisory Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. And she was an early supporter of a congestion pricing levy that would have included tolls on all of the East River bridges. (By contrast the latest proposed incarnation would affect vehicles that enter Manhattan below 60th Street, except for through traffic on the West Side Highway and Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.)
Among the many public and private analyses conducted by Konheim & Ketcham, one assessed the expansion of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital over the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive; others examined the city’s Solid Waste Master Plan and its Medical Waste Management Plan. All of those projects were ratified.
Carolyn Salminem was born on Jan. 20, 1938, in Queens to Scandinavian immigrants. Her Swedish father, Carl, was an architect. Her Finnish mother, Irene (Ahti) Salminem, worked part-time at her husband’s firm.
After graduating from Bayside High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Skidmore College in 1959 and a master’s from Columbia, both in history. She later taught history at White Plains High School in Westchester and the private Walden School in Manhattan.
In 1962, she married Bud Konheim, who later became chief executive of the fashion design company Nicole Miller. They divorced in 1978. She married Mr. Ketcham, an engineer and a founder of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, in 1984. They had met while she was working for the city. The couple lived in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by a son, Alex Konheim, from her first marriage; her stepchildren, Christopher and Eve Ketcham; and two granddaughters. Another son, Eric Konheim, died in a kayaking accident in Utah in 1991.
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