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URBAN PLANNING 1794-1918: An Introduction to the Anthology

John W. Reps

Urban planning in the early years of its modern phase dealt largely with how to create a healthy, attractive, efficient, and safe community. Thus, most of the selections in this anthology focus directly on forms, patterns, locations, and interrelationships of streets, public and private building sites, parks and recreation areas, shopping and industrial districts, and other parts of the fabric of towns and cities. The authors of other papers explored closely related legal and social issues like public control of land use and building height and bulk and enactment and enforcement of housing standards.

Although these aspects of the urban environment were once the accepted domain of city planning, few of the writers whose works appear here would recognize today's expanded definition of the field. As presently perceived by its intellectual leaders, city planning now embraces virtually all aspects of urban public administration. Environmental protection, economic development, income redistribution, crime prevention, conflict resolution, prevention of gender, racial, ethnic, and age discrimination, allievating family disorganization--these and other topics in the economic, political and social arenas are regarded as the subjects planners should be concerned with.

Here and there, seemingly almost as an afterthought, some academic leaders of the field concede that urban planning should also concern itself with the physical framework in which the social, political, and economic life of the community takes place. Rarely, however, does the academic training of today's city planner provide him or her with more than the vocbulary of the subject and little other than a dilettante's smattering of knowledge. Indeed, in some circles, to confess a serious interest in this subject is to brand oneself as a hopelessly reactionary.

In the real world beyond the walls of the academy, most practicing city planners necessarily give a higher priority to these workaday elements of the modern city, leaving the academics to pursue the loftier and more imperialistic objectives that has captured their interests. In concentrating on the physical components of the city, these modern practical planners form a link with their predecessors in the early years of the twentieth century and the last quarter of the previous one. It was then that the modern field of city planning emerged as a separate activity--perhaps something that could even be called a profession.

This collection of readings takes us back to that earlier (some would say, more realistic, others, just simplistic) approach to city planning. Then the questions to be answered all revolved around the issues of how best to arrange land and buildings to meet the needs of a modern urban civilization. From the time of  city development in the Indus Valley, ancient Egypt, classical Greece, and the Roman empire, city planning had been defined in these terms.

Given the range of serious difficulties facing cities today, one would be foolish to maintain that this is the most critical urban issue to be addressed. Nevertheless, since at best our cities are far from perfect and at worst not even acceptable physical environments, we may be able to learn useful things from what utopians, theorists, and practitioners had to say on this subject before World War I. For however ranked in the hierarchy of problems in today's cities, physical planning and urban design remain important subjects that must be considered.

Quite aside from any lessons these proposals have to teach about modern issues, their value in tracing the development of modern thinking about city planning is unmistakable. It will surprise most of the readers of these documents--as it surprised the compiler--to find how widespread was the interest in planning during the period covered by the anthology.. Contributions by journalists, lawyers, writers of fiction, publicists, and others join with statements by architects, engineers, surveyors, public health experts, housing reformers, and landscape architects.

Even among those written by members of the land-based professions of architecture, engineering, surveying, and landscape architecture, a surprising number appeared in magazines or journals not devoted to design or municipal affairs but aimed at broader audiences. This is one indication that many persons of diverse interests and occupations shared a concern for how their cities might be better designed. This enthusiasm for city planning was but one segment of a larger effort to reform municipal government and civic life. This, in turn, was itself a major component of the progressive movement that--especially in the United States--aimed at even broader changes in society, politics, and economic affairs.

The past quarter century has seen the publication of a good many other books and even more articles and conference papers on American planning history. A very high percentage of these focus on the twentieth century and explore the city beautiful movement, trace the evolution of planning thought and practice in the early years of the modern period, examine the development of zoning and other land use regulations, survey the split between those concerned with housing conditions and those involved in other aspects of planning, and--more recently--move on to analyze developments in the post World War II era. Virtually all of these studies try to place their subjects within the context of American political, economic, and social trends. Much the same can be said for recent scholarship in other countries, although with inevitable differences in emphasis because of changed circumstances.

What readers will find here is a broad selection of writings on urban planning written--not by historians--but by those who were actual participants in a still-nascent field of endeavor. Although a few articles review the state of planning at the time the authors wrote, most concentrate on suggesting or proposing what might be--not reflecting on what had gone before. A few writings dating from before 1860 have been chosen to remind readers that there has always been continuity of planning thought. Just as present planners are the intellectual offspring of those who preceeded them, so, too, did early twentieth-century planning evolve from the beliefs, opinions, and proposals put forward by an earlier generation of those concerned with urban affairs.

Many--perhaps most--of these readings have not appeared in earlier anthologies, and several may challenge or modify interpretations by historians or critics of our own time. Several selections contain material that seems--at least to the compiler--essentially undated and still fully valid today. Other readings suggest that a little humility may be in order, for concepts and proposals that we think of as belonging to our own time have often been anticipated years earlier by planners whose names have now been forgotten.

The selections identified below provide a small sample of the diverse contents of the anthology. Use the author links to take you to the document, or return to the homepage or the list of bibliographies.

Adams, John Coleman, "What a Great City Might Be--A Lesson From the White City." The New England Magazine New Ser. 14 (March 1896):3-13.

Anon. "Architecture In The United States." The American Journal of Science and Arts 17 (January 1830):99-110; and (April 1830):249-273.

Baxter, Sylvester. "The German Way of Making Better Cities." Atlantic Monthly 104 (July 1909): 72-85.

Buls, Charles. "City Aesthetics." Municipal Affairs 3 (December 1899):732-741.

Bushnell, Horace. "City Plans." In Bushnell, Work and Play: Or Literary Varieties (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864):308-336.

Ford, George B. "The City Scientific." Engineering Record 67 (May 17, 1913):551-52.

Hughes, T. Harold. "The Principles to be Observed in Designing and Laying Out Towns Treated from the Architectural Standpoint." Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects  (7 December 1912):65-82; and (21 December 1912):125-132.

Knibbs, G.[eorge] H. "The Theory of City Design." Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales for 1901 35 (1901):62-112.

Lamb, Charles R. "City Plan." The Craftsman 6 (April 1904):3-13.

Marsh, Benjamin. "City Planning In Justice To The Working Population." Charities and the Commons 19 (February 1, 1908):1514­1518.

Olmsted, Frederick Law, Jr. "Introduction." In John Nolen (ed.), City Planning: A Series of Papers Presenting the Essential Elements of a City Plan (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1916):1-18.

Perkins, Lucy Fitch. "Municipal Art." The Chautauquan 36 (February 1903):516­527

Price, W.[illiam] H. "Town Planning: Laying Out New Towns and Cities." In Thomas Cole, ed., Proceedings of the Institution of Municipal and County Engineers 34 (1912-1913), 42-57.

Royal Institute of British Architects, Town Planning Committee. "Suggestions To Promoters Of Town Planning Schemes" Royal Institute of British Architects Journal 3rd ser. 18, (26 August 1911):661-668.

Stübben, F. [sic]. "Practical And Aesthetic Principles For The Laying Out Of Cities." trans. by W. H. Searles, Prepared for the International Engineering Congress of the Columbian Exposition, 1893 as an advance Copy of a portion of the Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers. [Originally presented at a meeting of the Deutschen Vereins für öffentliche Gesundheitspflege, held at Freiburg, Germany, September, 1885.]

Waring, J. B. "On The Laying Out Of Cities." Papers Read at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Session 1872­73. London: The Institute, 1873: 141­155. 

Written and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: 
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