Judith Shuman Eden, a 61-year-old attorney, community activist and political player who was deeply involved in the long process of rejuvenation in Center City, died Aug. 8 at Pennsylvania Hospital, the result of a protracted battle with cancer.
Eden was an opponent of urban blight who used a prodigious knowledge of land-use law and an outsized personality to advocate for mixed-use development and a city that was truly hospitable to its residents. The native Midwesterner left an indelible mark on her adopted Philadelphia, first as a civic activist who, through her work with the Center City Residents Association and the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, often did battle with the city's zoning board and the powers-that-be.
In 2003, armed with her knowledge of the law and years of experience in zoning disputes, Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street appointed Eden to that same board.
Both Street and current Mayor Michael Nutter — who have had no shortage of public disagreements — were among the hundreds who attended Eden's Aug. 9 memorial service at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks on North Broad Street. Friends cited this as another example of the tenacious woman's ability to bring people on opposite sides of an issue together.
One such example came in the late 1990s, when she brokered a meeting between then City Council President Street — political observers said at the time that she was one of the few Center City activity who was close to the North Philadelphia politician — and representatives of the gay and lesbian community. The result: Street switched positions and supported a measure granting domestic partnership benefits to city workers.
Eden did have a partisan side; she served for a time as a Democratic ward leader.
She was also an unofficial adviser to the Center City Eruv Corporation and active with the city's Mural Arts Program.
Born in West Lafayette, Ind., Eden later moved to Defiance, Ohio. She grew up in a Protestant household and met her husband while a student at the University of Cincinnati.
The two moved to Boston to attend law school: in 1972, Avi Eden graduated from Harvard University and Judith Shuman from Boston University. Before they were married, she underwent conversion to Judaism. They moved to Philadelphia soon afterward.
Family members said that Eden was as devoted to her adopted faith as she was to her adopted city. Members for some time of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, Eden made sure that her children attended Jewish day school.
Her older son, Ami Eden, said that his mother possessed an inexhaustible intellectual curiosity, endlessly pouring over books, magazines and newspapers. Eden, currently editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and a former Jewish Exponent news editor, also described her as someone who could relate to people from all backgrounds and move effortlessly between different worlds.
In addition to her husband and son, she is survived by another son, Jacob Eden; a daughter, Carlie Seltzer; her parents, Richard and Marion Shuman; sister Rebecca Shuman; brother Chuck Shuman; and four grandchildren.