MAPLEWOOD, NJ — At the age of 53, the real-estate world says a fond goodbye to Alexander Cruz, who died in a freak accident involving his son’s skateboard. A piece of gum was found in his hair and his sweater was wet, leading some to think there had been some sort of altercation with his son, Nick, who was named after Cruz’s brother who died in a similarly shocking incident at the cereal factory where he was a foreman.

Cruz’s childhood, spent in Maplewood, New Jersey, was complicated. “I was a difficult kid,” he told the Herald Sun, an Australian newspaper. “Always getting into trouble with my teachers, my brothers. My mom was always very kind to me, but she was pretty much a hippie whose only advice was deal with it, bad things happen. Which is true, right? But you don’t tell a kid that, do you?” The Herald Sun reporter wrote that after this statement, Cruz lapsed into a long, contemplative silence. The reporter assumed Cruz was thinking of his own recently born son.

Very smart but fiercely independent, Cruz attained his GED rather than finishing high school, and moved to Australia, where he attended the University of Melbourne and obtained an undergraduate degree in Agriculture. During his final undergraduate year, he applied and got into UniMelb’s graduate degree in Urban Planning. “I’ve always been fascinated by spaces and how people interact with them,” Cruz said in the same Herald Sun interview. “Selfishly, I think this also stems from my childhood where I always seemed to be banging into things or falling over. I wanted to learn how to make space more easily accessible and less dangerous for people everywhere.”

Once he finished his degrees in Australia, he stuck around for another year, observing Melbourne’s spaces and putting together a pilot program for improving elderly care facilities. He dedicated the project to his mother, who was in an assisted care facility at the time. Her illness prompted Cruz’s return to the United States and to New Jersey in particular.
After his mother died, Cruz began to realize how much poverty existed in neighboring New Jersey and New York and he formed a for-profit company that would help design and finance affordable housing for people in need. Soon his partner, the famed Australian architect Francis Wilson, moved from Australia to the United States and joined the company as well. The company flourished, and soon Cruz, Wilson, & co. were helping build apartment complexes that were efficient, included solar power, and that were surprisingly partially funded by several states along with the company, allowing for the housing to remain truly affordable for those in need.

Last year, Cruz published Urban Spaces and the Wonderful, Spectacular, Very Good, Little Bad Life, part memoir, part architecture book, that was due to win this year’s Lewis Mumford Prize from the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (or SCARPH), but Cruz’s now-husband Wilson requested that the prize be given elsewhere. SCARPH issued a statement regarding the matter, quoting Wilson as saying that it would be “simply too sad to receive Alexander’s posthumous prize.”

Wilson says that he will be taking over Cruz, Wilson, & co. after a period of mourning. He will not be changing the name.