History Of Urban Planning Research Paper

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The evolution of urban planning is inextricably linked with the processes of modernization and the nature of modernity. The emergence of planning was the most literal way in which the role of government expanded in response to the problems of accelerated urbanization from the end of the nineteenth century. The agenda and scope of urban planning have expanded and changed dramatically. At the start of the twenty-first century, urban planning is a multifaceted set of policy and administrative processes which resists easy categorization. Its forms have ebbed and flowed in concert with myriad social crises, economic changes, environmental and demographic pressures, political opportunism, and technological innovation, notably new forms of transportation and communication.

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While an early focus on reforming the physical framework for urban life has braided in various social, economic, and legalistic directions, some common threads have characterized the mainstream history of planning theory and practice. These include a pervasive ideology of holism and the benefit of the ‘birds eye view’ in directing urban development; a practical commitment to reconciling the diverse interests of stakeholder groups; an emphasis on order, scientific analysis, and rationality in public policy decision making; belief in the power of environmental improvement to invoke social change; and an ongoing faith in the potency of enlightened state intervention to secure the ‘public interest’ in the face of market failure.

1. Antecedents And Beginnings

For such a quintessential twentieth-century activity, urban planning has a remarkably long history. But this premodern planning invariably meant a rudimentary form of spatial layout or architectural setpieces disengaged from the broader policy vectors of the state. Indeed, planning was all too frequently coopted as a mere technical device for the imposition of authoritarian will. Planning as civic design stretches back to antiquity—to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome—with the organization of urban spaces manipulated to reflect the dominant political and social order. This thread continues through the grand public squares and piazzas of the renaissance city and into the planning templates for imperial expansion, notably the Vitruvian-inspired Spanish Laws of the Indies of the sixteenth century.

Planned towns were centers for government, displays of autocratic power, military footholds, and central places for land settlement schemes. Rectilinear, gridiron or chessboard street plans were the most time-honored morphology, but by the start of the nineteenth century these were studded with open spaces and enveloped by distinctive parkland belts. Back to antiquity, ideal cities assumed a variety of alternative geometries. Radial plans would decisively influence the first generation of early modern planners. Dating from the beginning of the eighteenth century, Karlsruhe in Germany became an enduring icon with its rigidly-ordered street pattern fanning out from a central palace.

A more modern urban planning emerged in the late nineteenth century to address challenges unleashed by industrial urbanization. Existing narrowly focused administrative procedures and primitive building regulations were ill-equipped to address unprecedented rates of urban population growth, new forms of economic enterprise, and accompanying housing demands and environmental pollution, a new geography of accessibility producing a chaotic competition for urban space, and a transition toward new social structures.

An amazing array of modes of thought and practical innovations was tapped to help shape the new discourse of planning. At the theoretical end of the spectrum, for example, a nexus was forged between a longer tradition of social and economic utopian thought and the notion of better cities through classic works like James Silk Buckingham’s National E ils and Practical Remedies (1849) and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1887). Other thinkers, like the influential anarchist Peter Kropotkin, looked toward a more decentralized society aligning village life with new modes of production. The most substantial experiments in industrial decentralization were more socially conservative. These were the planned industrial villages expressing an emergent form of welfare capitalism geared to educating and disciplining a productive labor force. What Walter Creese in The Search for Environment(Yale University Press, 1966) called the ‘Bradford–Halifax’ School of model village builders in the English Midlands developed into fullblown community building in places like Bournville, Port Sunlight and George Pullman’s eponymous suburb near Chicago. More romantic were planned low-density suburbs for the elite (also fleeing the city) such as Riverside (1869) near Chicago.

More utilitarian issues consumed reformers within the cities proper, as the management of established infrastructure (transport, water supply, sewerage) showed the strain. Poor housing conditions in the form of high density slum and tenement dwellings became a major concern. Exposes by reformers like Jacob Riis in New York City in How the Other Half Li es(Scribner’s Sons, 1890), shocked middle-class sensibilities. Philanthropic model lodging houses and stricter regulations over space standards for rooms, dwellings, allotments, and, in turn, streets ensued. Provision of parks and open spaces was another preoccupation. Utilizing the organic metaphor so prevalent in early planning propaganda, parks were the ‘lungs of the city’ and needed to be secured in advance of development. Citizens improvement associations, the precursor to civic art and ‘tidy towns’ movements, provided a ‘bottom up’ chorus of concern. A major theme through all of this was the need to secure higher standards of public health and hygiene, a crusade which extended to cognate missions of social, moral and cultural cleansing.

The crucial intellectual breakthrough made simultaneously around the Western world in the 1880s and 1890s was a recognition of the limitations of piecemeal improvement, the interconnectedness of urban life, and the necessity for more coordinated intervention to avoid the undermining of the social order through outbreaks of disease, community dissent, and loss of economic competitiveness. The coining of the terms ‘town’ and ‘city planning’ reflected the emergence of the new approach.

Synthesizing ideas then in the air, the basic precepts of planning were expressed through a rich palette of modernist thought. An American contribution was the park system, the concept of interlinked networks of open spaces mixing formal and informal elements and parkways developed by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., which has given cities like Boston, Denver, and Kansas City a green legacy enjoyed by many generations. The enormously influential garden city idea was similarly associated with an individual, British shorthand reporter Ebenezer Howard, and advanced in his book To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), reprinted as Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902). At its most visionary, the manifesto called for clusters of new, self-contained ‘slumless, smokeless cities’ of limited size on community-owned land as an alternative to the sprawling urban-industrial city. Alternative new urban structures were mooted in the same era. In 1892, Spanish engineer Arturo Soria y Maya invented the idea of the linear city (La Cuidad Lineal ) which resurfaced in twentieth-century forms such as Edgar Chambless’ Roadtown (1910), the ideas of the Soviet deurbanists in the 1930s, and corridor city planning in the 1960–70s.

A string of seminal contributions signposting ways ahead emerged in Europe in the late nineteenth century. Town extension planning and land-use zoning were already accepted municipal practices in Germany before the turn of the century. Important texts were Reinhard Baumeister’s Stadterweiterungen in technischer, baupolizeilicher und wirtschaftlicher Beziehung (Town Expansions Considered with Respect to Technology Building Code, and Economy, 1876) and Joseph Stubben’s Der Stadtebau (1890). Baron Haussmann’s extraordinary transformation of Paris under the patronage of Napoleon III from a largely medieval city into a modern masterpiece of boulevards, star-points, and strategically located public buildings had begun in the 1870s. A competing aesthetic was that of Viennese architect Camillo Sitte whose Der Stadtebau (1889) helped codify more artistic, intimate, and historically sensitive techniques for the modern ‘art of designing cities and suburbs.’

International exhibitions provided unique opportunities to showcase new urban planning ideas as planned cities in microcosm. The most sensational synthesis was the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This collaborative integration of grand architecture, landscape design, public art and early amusement park was overseen by local architect Daniel Burnham, who was to emerge as the leading American architect-planner of the early 1900s.

2. The First Half Of The Twentieth Century

At the turn of the last century, modern planning goals crystallized around recurrent themes of convenience, efficiency, healthfulness, beauty, and order. The actual means to these ends were quite diverse, from totally planned landscapes through selective interventions in the urban fabric to new regulatory frameworks for private development. Certain kinds of planning assumed a cultural distinctiveness. House-and-garden were at the center of British concerns, France was known for its monumentalism, planning advocates looked to Germany for its innovative land management, and to the United States for the business minded aestheticism of city beautiful thought. The planning movement had become genuinely international. Even a relatively closed Asian country like Japan, in acknowledging the importance of modernization in economic and political advancement, had discovered Western planning ideas through study tours and private visits. The colonial ties of European powers saw many ideas imposed abroad as much as imported.

Major conferences were important agents in the diffusion of knowledge. An arm of Howard’s Garden City Association (1899, and renamed the Town and Country Planning Association in the early 1940s) was the International Garden Cities Association (1913) which would evolve into the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning. Information sharing would be damaged by World War I, and never again capture the early excitement, but planning was well established as a global movement with astonishing commonalities of purpose and method in diverse settings. With that came moves to institutionalize the activity as a genuine profession occupying the interstices between the traditional built environment professions of architecture, surveying, and engineering. Urban planning was also developing its own methodology, with the accent on scientific civic surveys, an extension of settlement worker investigations. Scottish polymath Patrick Geddes supplied the requisite mantra: ‘survey-analysis-plan.’

In the English-speaking world, several interconnected events in Britain at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century would have reverberations around the world, and especially in the British Empire. In 1909, the first formal town planning course started with establishment of the William Lever-endowed Department of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool, and Raymond Unwin’s classic Town Planning in Practiceappeared. In 1910, the Royal Institute of British Architects organized an international conference which attracted the leading names in world planning, and the first planning legislation was passed in the form of the Town Planning, Housing etc Act. The British Parliament was told of the government’s intention to realize ‘the home healthy, the house beautiful, the town pleasant, the city dignified, and the suburb salubrious.’

The British law was initially restricted to zoning for new development but was later applied comprehensively. Land-use zoning also eventually established itself as the standard form of microregulation in the United States and elsewhere. A popular early mode of zoning was the residential district, a concept which was grafted readily onto existing local government regulations and widely invoked as a tool of social exclusion. A 1916 New York City zoning ordinance introduced novel controls on building height and shape that led to the Manhattan ‘wedding cake’ skyscraper form. It was not until the historic 1926 US Supreme Court case Euclid, Ohio s. Ambler Realty Co. that the legal validity of planning was finally confirmed in America. British and continental models interconnected planning and zoning, but in the United States city planning commissions and zoning boards could pursue independent agendas.

The early twentieth century is distinguished by some landmark plans which codified modernist planning ideas. The 1901 plan for Washington DC by the Senate Park Commission headed by Daniel Burnham reconfigured Pierre L’Enfant’s eighteenth-century plan into a monumental triumph for city beautiful ideas. Many plans for American cities would follow, but the most impressive was the privately sponsored Plan of Chicago (1909) by Burnham and Edward Bennett. Artistic in presentation and regional in scope, it set a new standard for comprehensive planning. Edward Lutyens’ New Delhi (1912) transplanted grand manner planning to an imperial context. The 1911–12 international competition for the new federal capital of Australia produced a unique survey of early modern planning thought. The winning scheme by Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin, both former associates of Frank Lloyd Wright, was a brilliant landscape synthesis of garden city, city beautiful, and deeper democratic ideals. The most idealistic plan of its day was the footloose World City for Peace (1912) by American sculptor Hendrik Anderson and French architect Ernest Hebrard. The multivolume Regional Plan of New York masterminded by Thomas Adams in the late 1920s was the archetypal pragmatic, professional, growth-oriented plan of the interwar period. A celebrated critique by urbanist Lewis Mumford branded the scheme as dinosauric in entrenching rather than curbing trends toward megalopolitan development.

Mumford was deeply influenced by the garden city movement and advocated a more organic, environ-mentally sensitive variant of regional planning. While stopping short of Howard’s dream of a ‘better, brighter civilization,’ garden city advocates campaigned tirelessly for new towns. Their successes were modest in the overall scheme of things but resulted in impressive showpieces of planning in practice. Two British garden cities were built: Letchworth (1904) designed by Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker, and Welwyn Garden City (1919) by Louis de Soissons. Welwyn was conceived as an overspill satellite community for London, and this concept was readily exported. An early German response was the fringe grossiedlung with apartment blocks of social housing. In the United States, echoes of the garden city notion can be read into 1920s speculative sunbelt ‘new towns’ such as those designed by John Nolen in Florida; the New Deal towns of the late 1930s such as Greenbelt, Maryland sponsored by Rexford Guy Tugwell’s Resettlement Administration; and Clarence Stein and Henry Wright’s Radburn, New Jersey, with its cul-desacs and ‘superblocks’ representing an experimental ‘garden city for the motor age’ stifled by the Depression.

The ‘garden city’ label and concept was translated to many countries: cite-jardin, gartenstadt, cuidad jardin. The most ubiquitous application was to suburban rather than new town settings, becoming more popular and prolific through the prosperous 1920s with privately master-planned elite communities leading the way. These ventures refined further an enduring amalgam of site planning ideas revolving around house-and-garden living, hierarchical street systems, provision of open space and public facilities, and attention to landscaping and streetscape qualities. The low density suburban ideal reached its zenith in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre Citydream of the early 1930s.

Other expressions of modernism were more vertiginous. New York City’s Rockefeller Centre in the 1930s foreshadowed the penchant for large-scale urban redevelopment. The most startling theoretical schemes were those of European theorists like Auguste Perret, Ludwig Hilbersheimer, and most famously the messianic Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Through the 1920s, Le Corbusier worked his way through a succession of urban utopias—‘La Ville Contemporaine,’ ‘City of Three Million Inhabitants,’ and the ‘La Ville Radieuse’—to perfect a design vocabulary of towers-in-parkland, multilevel transportation systems, and functional land-use segregation. His Plan Voisin applied these ideas to a portion of central Paris, sweeping away narrow streets and ‘diseased quarters’ for a forest of cruciform high-rise tower blocks. The legacy of these ideas can be seen in large-scale state housing programs and planned capital cities such as Chandigarh and Brasilia. The guiding spirit here was architectural modernism, and emerging out of the deliberations of CIAM (Congress International d’Architecture) was the ‘Athens Charter,’ the definitive town planning manifesto of the 1930s for ‘the functional city’ distinguished by specialized transportation and freeway systems, high rise buildings, extensive open spaces, and planned dormitory communities.

3. Post-War Master Planning

World War II delayed implementation of this blueprint but unleashed a universally strong planning impulse under the banner of ‘postwar reconstruction.’ In many European cities, the necessary reconstruction was as much physical as ideological. But in most Western nations cross-political agreement on the relevance of at least some state involvement in urban development processes moved planning decisively beyond the rhetoric, experimentation and broad theoretical acceptance attained by the 1930s into the realm of implementation. Through the 1950s the scale of planning activity grew significantly as planning settled comfortably into the policy machinery of the welfare state. The bureaucratization of planning was underpinned by a steady professionalization and growth in tertiary education to train the larger numbers of experts required.

The dominant discourse was of urban planning as an unambiguously beneficent activity of government: comprehensive, technocratic, scientific, and socially progressive. More was better if cities were to remain healthy, efficient, prosperous, and beautiful. The major focus was on land-use planning. The elements of modernist planning had surfaced before the war and were now synthesized into a total package embracing master plans; comprehensive redevelopment of the innercity; mono-functional land-use zoning; high rise social housing towers, low density middle-class suburbs; planning and replanning of residential areas as neighborhood units; freeways, ring roads and pedestrianized town centres; green webs of open space, industrial decentralization, and new towns. From midcentury, these planning ideas, variously interpreted and combined, but broadly accepted by architects, developers and government, made decisive impacts on the urban landscape.

All-encompassing metropolitan blueprints assumed a central status. Three early master plans from the mid-1940s which set moulds for many which followed were those for London, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. Patrick Abercrombie’s definitive plans for the city and county of London 1943–44 were built around a cellular community structure, an encircling green belt to contain suburban sprawl, and a ring of new towns. Sven Markelius’ general plan for Stockholm 1945–46 skillfully integrated transportation, land use and environmental planning, with new subcenters developed around railway stations. And the first Copenhagen finger plan of 1947 also anticipated the transportation corridor planning which would gain popularity from the 1960s when the cordon sanitaire of the green belt concept was doomed by escalating suburbanization.

Postwar city strategies targeted both ‘obsolete’ inner areas and planning opportunities on ‘greenfields’ sites. Urban renewal schemes involving high-rise housing, upgraded transportation infrastructure, private and public sector offices, and other new uses sought to modernize the late industrial city, frequently doing so at the expense of existing community structure and historic building fabric. The garden city dream was kept alive in new towns. The most heroic program was in the United Kingdom, with the New Towns Act 1946 facilitating construction of over 30 new towns by public corporations between 1947 (Stevenage) and 1970 (Milton Keynes). This model of growth management also found favor in the Third World, while private sector new towns (such as Reston, Virginia and Columbia, Maryland) were more common in the USA. Everywhere, however, and even if it did not look like it, considerable planning energy was devoted to the processes of suburban development.

4. Postconsensus Urban Planning

The highpoint of technocratic master planning allied to ‘scientific’ methodologies and modernist architectural solutions was the late 1960s. But the new world order which emerged in the 1970s constituted a markedly different context. The notion of the centralised, benevolent state crumbled. Economic policy was forced to look beyond the industrial fordism which had been the touchstone of social progress in the first half of the twentieth century. Dissent about unpopular wars and civil rights spilled onto the streets. More frequent calls were heard for greater community participation and self-help. The environmental movement awakened. In the face of these challenges, even if planning seemed to be realizing prewar dreams in physical terms, it was not always delivering attractive, equitable, and environmentally sound outcomes.

As the world changed, urban planning came under attack on many fronts: for standardized formulaic solutions, freeway proposals slicing through established neighborhoods, destruction of historic buildings, minimal attention to social issues, facilitation of suburban spread, and so on. A famous critique of mainstream planning ideology was Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Random House, 1961). Robert Goodman portrayed planners as the ‘soft cops’ in After The Planners (Simon and Schuster, 1972). If the demolition of the award-winning planned housing project Pruitt-Igoe (1972) in St Louis was symbolic of the end of architectural modernism, it also represented the loss of faith in the ‘brave new world’ international-style planned landscapes of the postwar era. Many unpopular grand redevelopment plans for Western cities were scuttled by citizen action during these years.

The political consensus which had been the platform for the rise of urban planning after the World War II had broken down. This did not so much destroy planning as fragment it into many specialties: advocacy planning, participatory planning, cultural planning, economic development planning, transportation planning, historic preservation, urban design, etc. A growing complexity and uncertainty about planning’s mission mirrored wider social tensions and crises. In recent decades, the contours of urban planning have shifted still more, as cities have become more competitive, socially fragmented, and unmanageable. It is surely not coincidental that the scholarly pursuit of urban planning history burgeoned in the last quarter of the twentieth century, with an International Planning History Society formed in England in 1974.

5. The Achievements And Legacy Of Urban Planning

Urban planning ranks as a significant social movement which came of age in the twentieth century. Its modern history is a complex and ongoing story of achievement, failure, resilience, and redemption. Over time, chameleon-like, its role has been constantly adapted to place, culture, and circumstance. It is a history of both continuities (the quests for health, justice, efficiency, environment, amenity) and discontinuities (in response to global technological, economic, and political shifts).

Planning thought has experienced its greatest periods of innovation in response to periodic social crises—explosive population growth, war, global economic shifts. Planning’s aspirations have always soared above the practicality of their comprehensive realization, being buffeted and reshaped continually by broader social constraints. At times, planning has been a deeply flawed practice, with outcomes often the reverse of those intended (destruction rather than enhancement of community, promotion of segregation rather than social cohesion, dreary townscapes rather than inspired urban design). This is planning’s noir side. Always more political than mere technical, it has been exploited as a tool of social control to pursue policies of exclusion, segregation, and marginalization.

At the same time, there is a raft of value-adding achievements in such areas as open space provision, affordable housing, mass transit, public infrastructure, the development of live-able, new communities, the injection of sanity into myriad land use determinations, and the protection of natural and cultural resources. There is general community acceptance that constraints on individual freedoms and property rights may be warranted for collective benefits. On balance, urban planning initiatives have meant that a significant proportion of humanity on every continent found itself living in better circumstances at the end of the twentieth century than at the beginning. World Town Planning Day, an initiative launched in the late 1940s, is now celebrated worldwide every November.


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