Prof. Dennis Judd
The Faults and Failures of Urban Planning Theory and Practice
As Depicted by Peter Hall in Cities of Tomorrow
In Cities of Tomorrow, Peter Hall developed a comprehensive history of both the theory and the practice of urban planning. The "City of Dreadful Night" was a manifestation of intense urban poverty (Hall, p. 14). Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing to the present day, planners developed creative schemes to counteract, to avoid and to obliterate this urban existence, because the condition of cities was repugnant to the growing middle class. These plans often failed to improve the lives of the poor, because they failed to consider human desires beyond sustenance and survival. The plans were expensive to implement, both in fiscal and in human terms. Overall, the schemes for remaking the city forgot the role of real living people. Joe Frank.
The early theories of city redevelopment and replacement were distinctly utopian. "They resembled nothing so much as secular versions of seventeenth-century Puritans' " great city upon a hilltop (2). These grandiose ideas were corrupted by their implementation "in very different places, in very different circumstances, and often through very different mechanisms, from those their inventors had originally envisaged" (2). So, the results of these programs were "often bizarre, sometimes catastrophic" (3). The implemented methods of rebuilding and replacing the city were organized around two basic processes, each with two primary components: demolition of the old city, to be replaced by either monumental honorifics to the nation-state and to its guiding principles, or by multi-story hives housing the populus in exceedingly nondescript surroundings; and escape from the city, encompassing both suburban development and creation of smaller, separate Garden Cities. In practice, most great cities today exhibit the effects and defects of several of these strategies. Joe Frank.
The City Beautiful Movement
Chicago, Illinois is a classic American example of the City Beautiful, as executed by Daniel Burnham. The City Beautiful movement originated "on the boulevards and promenades of the great European capitals . . . [including the] reconstruction of Paris under Napoleon III, and the contemperaneous construction of the Vienna Ringstrasse" (175). In Europe and later in many European colonies, these monumental rebuilds of the city celebrated the ultimate supremacy of the rulers of the state (175). Yet in the United States, "civic leaders built [cities] to overcome collective inferiority complexes and boost business" (175). Joe Frank.
Burnham was first an architect, the designer of "several of the classic early skyscrapers" in 1880s and 90s Chicago, and chief of construction for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (175). The Columbian Exposition of 1893 was "was one of the definitive World's Fairs of all time" (175), and itself contributed to Chicago's boosters' sense that their city was destined for greatness. Burnham was ideally suited to the role of Chicago master planner, for he once said, " 'Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing . . .' " (174). Burnham regarded his noble, logical diagram for Chicago to be the penultimate exemplification of capitalist harmony enabled by a rigid segregation of social classes and ethnic groups. "The chaotic city, that had arisen through too-rapid growth and too-rich mixture of nationalities, would be given order by cutting new thoroughfares, removing slums, and extending parks" (179). Joe Frank.
Presenting his plan before a business group in Chicago, Burnham presaged a most appealing future:
" 'We have been running away to Cairo, Athens, The Riviera, Paris, and Vienna,
because life at home is not as pleasant as in these fashionable centers.
Thus a constant drain upon the resources of the town has been going on. No
one has estimated the number of millions of money made in Chicago and
expended elsewhere, but the sum must be a large one. What would be the
effect upon our retail business at home if this money were circulated here? . . . What would be the effect upon our prosperity if the town were so delightful
that most of the men who grow independent financially in the Mississippi
Valley, or west of it, were to come to Chicago to live? Should we not without
delay do something competent to beautify and make our city attractive for ourselves, and especially for these desirable visitors?' (180)." Joe Frank.
Burnham thus asserted that Chicago had an inalienable right to attain greatness, and to assert itself through domination of the Midwestern economy. Of course, the actual plan which followed "had a huge price tag attached" (180). Burnham's plan included " 'a stately white Museum, resting on the Grand Terrace called the Lake Front, and dominating all the elements of it; the lawns, the fountains, the monuments, all of which should be placed so as to have some reference to that particular building. No structure in the world has ever had a nobler setting than this would be' " (180). Burnham indeed was a great public relations poet. Joe Frank.
The master Burnham indeed convinced the bourgeoise to approve his plan for Beautiful Chicago. But how was it to operate? The concept was simple enough--one today called Reaganomics. "Trickle-down urban development" was the fiscal key to Burnham's plan, under which the conspicuous consumption of the well-to-do would ensure a ready money supply for the sustenance of the lesser classes (181-2). "Beauty clearly stood supreme for Burnham" (183), while he ignored "housing, schools, and sanitation" (182). Burnham's plan for Chicago was a big plan, from a big man, for a big city, with big dreams emenating from its civic progressives. Although almost entirely implemented by 1925, at a cost of over $300 million, it ultimately was overtaken by the need for intense commercial development in the core (183). Although the greenways and museums remained, the vast symmetrical, but desolate, civic center was mercifully never created. In Chicago, poverty was unsolvable by the City Beautiful plan simply because it was not addressed. Needs for human companionship, and the growing lack of civility in that urban complex, were ignored likewise. Monetary gain, through bourgeoise capitalism, authoritarianism, or imperial colonialism, and its beautiful symbolic representation were the real objects of the City Beautiful movement. Joe Frank.
The Corbusian City of Towers (or, The Disaster of Pruitt-Igoe)
Le Corbusier was indeed a strange man with strange ideas. Unfortunately, his plans for cities were widely adopted; plans which had no underlying benefit for human relations. Joe Frank.
Le Corbusier was actually Swiss, and his real name was Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (204). Swiss cities "are models of neat self-control, with not a blade of grass or a stray hair out of place. All Corbusier's cities would be like that" (204). His family was one of watchmakers, thus he declared "a house is a machine to live in" (205). "The tradition, of crowding thousands of minute components into a planned harmony, came out of a long hereditary tradition. But people are not escapements, and society cannot be reduced to clockwork order; the attempt was an unhappy one for humanity" (205). Curiously however, the watchmakers of Corbusier's region " were sturdy guardians of their local liberties. . . Corbusier soon put that behind him" (205). Joe Frank.
Equally, Corbusier's vision was shaped by his life in Paris. "The history of Paris has been one of constant struggle between the forces of exuberant, chaotic, often sordid everyday life and the forces of centralized, despotic order. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was clear that chaos was winning and order had been in long retreat" (205). "Paris, the young Corbusier concluded, could be saved only by the intervention of . . . men without remorse" like Louis XIV or Napoleon (207). Joe Frank.
So Corbusier was a fanatic of authoritarianism. He had little understanding for the Parisian city council "where he was called a barbarian" because of his plan to obliterate the historic core of Paris north of the Seine, and replace it with eighteen, 700-foot high towers (207). He said, " 'the design of cities is too important to be left to the citizens' " (207). The key lay in this great paradox: "we must decongest the centres of our cities by increasing their density. In addition, we must improve circulation and increase the amount of open space. The paradox coulc be resolved by building high on a small part of the total ground area" (207). Thus " 'WE MUST BUILD ON A CLEAR SITE!' " according to Corbusier (208). Joe Frank.
The Contemporary City planned by Corbusier "was to have a clearly differentiated spatial structure. And this was to correspond to a specific, segregated social structure: one's dwelling depended on one's job" (209). The center of the city would be the office towers of the elite, including industrialists, scientists and artists (209). "Twenty-four of these towers would provide for between 400,000 and 600,000 top people's jobs at 1200 to the acre, with 95 per cent of ground space left open" (209). Outside this zone, the residential areas would be of two types: six-storey luxury apartments" for the elites, "with 85 per cent of ground space left open, and more modest accomodation for the workers, built around courtyards, on a uniform gridiron of streets, with 48 per cent left open" (209). Joe Frank.
Corbusier modified this idea slightly when depression enveloped the world, and the capitalists could not finance his plans (210). He developed the Radiant City, with "centralized planning, which would cover not merely city-building but every aspect of life. The way to this would come through . . . an ordered, hierarchical system, having some close affinities to the left-wing variety of Italian Fascism" (210). Everyone "will be equally collectivized. Now, everyone will live in giant collective apartments called Unites; every family will get an apartment not according to the breadwinner's job, but according to rigid space norms" (210). Joe Frank.
Under both the Contemporary City and Radiant City schemes, apartments "would be mass-produced for mass-living. Corbusier had no time for any kind of individual idiosyncracy; well did he call them 'cells' " (209). Likewise, the units "would all contain the same standard furniture. Possibly, he admits, 'my scheme . . . at first might seem to warrant a certain fear and dislike.' But variations in layout, and generous tree-planting, would soon overcome this" (209). Quite fortunately, "the remarkable fact about Corbusier is just how phenomenally unsuccessful he was in practice. . . His simple-minded egomania and his total political naivety made it difficult for him to understand his failure" (211-12). Joe Frank.
Although Corbusier never designed any buildings in the United States, and indeed few projects he designed were ever completed, the progress of urban renewal in the U.S. enabled developments which greatly mirrored his style in their density and open space characteristics. The urban renewal program began "with the Housing Act of 1949 and the amending Act of 1954, . . . [which] represented a strange but successful coalition of conservative and radical interests" (227-28). On one side "were liberal housing experts" and the construction trade unions (228). On the other "was the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) and its research arm, the Urban Land Institute (ULI). NAREB and ULI were all for federal mortgage insurance . . . they were all against public housing" (228). Joe Frank.
"The resulting compromise established public housing as a temporary expe-
dient for the deserving poor: the newly unemployed, who could be expected
to buy their own homes as soon as the economy lifted off again. It would
exclude the old poor: the predominantly black, really poor underclass.
The means to discriminate lay in the finances of the act: federal funds
would pay for land acquisition and development, not for running costs,
which must be met from the rent. Really poor families would thus never be
able to get in. At the end of the 1940s, that barrier fell: welfare families
began to enter the projects. But, since the financial arrangements
stayed unchanged, the resulting contradictions soon after produced
catastrophic consequences (228)." Joe Frank.
The most catastrophic consequences were at the Pruitt-Igoe developments just northwest of downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Pruitt-Igoe was "an award-winning 1955 project in St. Louis, which achieved notoriety by being blown up seventeen years after it was built. That day, the demolition preserved for posterity on film, it became an instant symbol of all that was perceived as wrong with urban renewal, not merely in the United States but in the world at large" (235). Joe Frank.
"When the Captain W.O. Pruitt Homes and the William L. Igoe Apartments
were unveiled in 1951, the experimental high-rise design by the distinguished architect Minoru Yamasaki--a design never before used in the city of St. Louis--
was the subject of a laudatory article in the magazine Architectural Forum. The thirty-three identical blocks, containing over 2800 apartments, were completed
in 1955-6. They were on a bare site open to transient traffic. To keep within
cost limits, huge and arbitrary cuts were made during construction. Space
inside the apartments, especially for the large families that came to occupy
many of them, 'was pared to the bone and beyond the marrow.' Locks and door- knobs broke on first use, sometimes before occupancy. Window panes blew
out. One lift failed on opening day. 'On the day they were completed, the
buildings in Pruitt and in Igoe were little more than steel and concrete warrens, poorly designed, badly equipped, inadequate in size, badly located,
unventilated, and virtually impossible to maintain' (237)." Joe Frank.
"That would have been bad enough. But in addition, the tenants who came
were not the ones for whom the blocks had been designed. The design, like
that of most public housing down to the 1950s, was for the deserving poor.
Most heads of households were to be employed males. St. Louis in 1951 was
a segregated city: Pruitt was all-black, but after public housing was deseg-
regated by decision of the Supreme Court, the authority tried to integrate Igoe.
To no avail: whites left, and blacks--including many welfare-dependent, female- head families--moved in. By 1965, more than two-thirds of the inhabitants were minors, 70 per cent of them under twelve; there were two and a half times as
many women as men; women headed 62 per cent of the families; 38 per cent contained no employed person, and in only 45 per cent was employment the sole source of income (237)." Joe Frank.
The deterioration continued. "Occupancy rates in Pruitt, 95 per cent in 1956, fell to 81 per cent six years later and to 72 per cent in 1965; Igoe started at less than 70 per cent and stayed at that level. The development began to deteriorate: pipes burst, there was a gas explosion" (237). "In 1969, there was a nine-month rent strike, the longest in the history of American public housing. At one point, twenty-eight of the thirty-four elevators were inoperative. By 1970, the project was 65 per cent unoccupied. In 1972, accepting the inevitable, the authority blew it up" (238). Joe Frank.
Pruitt-Igoe failed its poor residents both in the design and in the management. " 'The architect was concerned with each building as a complete, separate, and formal entity, exclusive of any consideration of the functional use of grounds or the relationship of a building to the ground area it might share with other buildings' " (238). The design was based on a superblock, "of between four and twelve ordinary street blocks . . . within which the high-rise blocks--in the Pruitt-Igoe case, eleven-storey [sic] slabs at an average 50 units to the acre--were freely positioned in the landscape, invariably with entry from the grounds, not from the street" (238). According to federal rules, rents had to cover building maintenance. However, tenants could not pay the rent, so the city simply cut maintenance (239). Further deterioration occurred "after the Department of Housing and Urban Development changed its rules to admit problem families, many from rural backgrounds, into public housing, in 1965" (239). Systematic decimation occurred. Its root cause "was that very poor welfare families, with large numbers of children, with a deep fatalism about the power to influence their environment, could not cope with this kind of building, nor it with them" (239). The failure of Pruitt-Igoe came in the breakdown of planning, coupled with inappropriate regulations, which resulted in a lack of maintenance. Joe Frank.
Today, the Pruitt-Igoe site at Jefferson and Cass Avenues in St. Louis is half vacant, and half occupied by an 'educational park' consisting of three public magnet schools clustered together. So even twenty-five years after its demolition, a satisfactory use for half of this property has yet to be found. More significantly perhaps, there has been a gradual decimation of the residential stock of the surrounding area. Yet there is hope: the former high-rise Vaughn Apartments public housing complex, immediately east of the Pruitt-Igoe site, is being redeveloped as a mixed-income, low-rise complex consisting of subsidized and non-subsidized residents. In the end, perhaps this sort of planning can work--actually enabling people on government assistance to live next door to those who are working, and may even approach a middle-class lifestyle. Yet the enduring problem of poverty will remain for a noticeable percentage of the population even in a mixed-income environment. That is the chief problem, which Corbusier simply ignored, and pretended uniformity and conformity would make the lower classes unaware of their relative inferiority. Indeed, high-rise apartment buildings are amenable to the lifestyles of upper middle-class and wealthy individuals who wish a carefree lifestyle and thus are willing to pay the high rents necessary to have a building staff catering to each and every detail. Although there is no such thing as 'the culture of poverty,' poverty is enduring; design can only improve or degrade the conditions of life for the impoverished. Joe Frank.
Of course, the middle class desire to flee from the nasty, industrial city with its poor residents. Middle class people want to avoid the lower classes, and generally can by moving to the suburbs. Joe Frank.
Study of the suburb in planning really begins in 1900. Even as planners began to try to react to and change the horrifying conditions in the cities, these very cities began to change (48). "The city dispersed and deconcentrated. New homes, new factories, were built at its suburban periphery" (48). Along with mass transportation improvements, cheap labor, cheap materials, and development regulations combined to enable "an extraordinary and quite sudden improvement in the housing standards of a wide spectrum of the population" (48). Joe Frank.
As this process occurred, the largest of the great cities spread. Even if neither the boundaries nor the populations of these cities grew, their populations spread over a growing territory. Yet this development, especially in London, was distinctly transit-based (53). London likewise attempted to plan for this spread, "by gaining agreement between the public and the private sector" (55). Joe Frank.
In New York City and Chicago, the commuter railway and streetcar lines formed the basis for an expansion of public services, under "a conspicuously high standard of design" (57). New York and Chicago, however, "were already too big for effective streetcar access; . . . the future would depend on subway or commuter lines" (58). Planning and zoning also was embraced by residents of these new suburban communities, because it "stabilized property values" (61). "Far from realizing greater social justice for the poor locked in the tenements of New York and Chicago, the planning and zoning system of the 1920s was designed precisely to keep them out of the desireable new suburbs that were being built along the streetcar tracks and the subway lines" (61). Joe Frank.
Meanwhile, suburbanization in the late 20s in many U.S. cities was marked primarily by automobile-based sprawl. Thanks to Henry Ford, "by 1927, building 85 per cent of the world's cars, [the U.S.] could already boast one car for every five Americans: a car-ownership level of one to approximately two families" (276). By the end of the 1920s, "already in some cities--Washington, Kansas City, St. Louis--downtown commuters by automobile outnumbered those coming by transit" (276). Although the Great Depression and World War II virtually halted the progress of suburban escape by the middle class, the middle and late 1940s saw the most rapid and widespread expansion of the urban territory. Joe Frank.
"There were four main foundations for the suburban boom. They were new
roads, to open up land outside the reach of the old trolley and commuter rail
routes; zoning of land uses, to produce uniform residential tracts with stable property values; government-guaranteed mortgages, to make possible long-
repayment low-interest mortgages that were affordable by families of modest
incomes; and a baby boom, to produce a sudden surge in demand for family
homes where young children could be raised. The first three were already in
place . . . a decade before the boom began. The fourth triggered it (291)." Joe Frank.
So the suburbs grew. However, comprehensive planning was almost entirely ignored throughout the 1950s and 60s. "Land use control in the United States, . . . came to be divorced from any kind of land-use planning; it could not be used to raise the level of design, which had to be secured--on the model of Kansas City's Country Club District and its imitators--through private restrictive covenants" (293). Joe Frank.
The Federal Housing Administration was likewise created. with "the notion of appraising whole neighborhoods, and thereby redlining those deemed to be undesireable; in practice, this meant the whole of America's inner cities. Further, the 'FHA exhorted racial segregation and endorsed it as a public policy' " (293). This power ensured the creation of exclusive suburban communities. "The 1950s, as the 1960 Census showed, was the decade of the greatest suburban growth in American history . . . ominously, for the first time, some of the nation's greatest cities recorded actual population decline: Boston and St. Louis each lost 13 per cent of their population" (294). In St. Louis, the short-sighted 1876 governmental reorganization, which made the city of St. Louis a county unto itself, ensured fixed geographic boundaries for a city busily building public housing complexes to increase the density of its poor population within specific boundaries in the heart of the city. Although some suburban-style development occurred within the city of St. Louis in the 1950s, much of the new tract housing came in wide swaths outside the city limits, within St. Louis County, connected to the city gradually by four radial expressways. So indeed, "the automobile allowed the suburbs to sprawl more freely, and farther, than mass transit could ever have done" (315). Joe Frank.
The Garden City
One attempt to counteract the spread of suburbs was the garden city movement. The great visionary of this idea was Ebenezer Howard. He was both a physical and a social planner--"his garden cities were merely the vehicles for a progressive reconstruction of capitalist society into an infinity of co-operative commonwealths" (87). Howard, in 1898, joined together various ideas previously developed, and established the concept of "the Three Magnets [City, Country and his merged concept] . . . to square the circle, by combining the best of town and country in a new kind of settlement, Town-Country" (92). A group of people would join together, form a corporation, buy some inexpensive agricultural land, and "get agreement from leading industrialists to move their factories there; their workers would move too, and would build their own houses. The garden city would have a fixed limit--Howard suggested 32,000 people" (93). "It would be surrounded by a much larger area of permanent greenbelt, also owned by the company--Howard proposed 5,000 acres--containing not merely farms, but also all kinds of urban institutions, like reformatories and convalescent homes, that could benefit from a rural location" (93). Over time, "there would develop a vast planned agglomeration, extending almost without limit; within it, each garden city would offer a wide range of jobs and services, but each would also be connected to the others by a rapid transit system . . . Howard called this polycentric vision Social City" (93). Do note, however, this vision was not of a colony for the undeserving poor, but instead for "the stratum immediately above . . . who were thereby to be freed from the thraldom of the urban slum" (90). Joe Frank.
Alas, although several communities were built upon this model, including Greenbelt, Maryland, none could attract industry to establish factories independent of the proximity to a large worker base and to forward and backward connecting industries, proximity attained only by clustering of industrial activity in a large city. Freight transportation technologies were insufficiently developed, so that the costs associated with relocation to such an initially isolated place ruled out the possibility of industrial relocation. Cities like Greenbelt instead became attractive, albeit not always especially functional, suburbs. Joe Frank.
So in the end, enduring poverty is the one major problem of urban life which the various urban redevelopment plans did not address, because these plans largely ignored its presence. Instead, they chose to focus on the uplifting of middle-class and working-class groups, who needed relatively little aid and who composed a substantial portion of the population of the United States; indeed they were quite willing to be aided in avoiding the perils of the dreadful city. So a largely black and immigrant permanent underclass (363) came to dominate in many cities, while the vast majority of those fleeing to the suburbs were white, native-born, and from at least a marginally working-class ancestry. Even as the price of gasoline rose, few could be coaxed from their vehicles or their climate-controlled homes, offices, and shopping centers. Although the children of the suburbs have often moved into the once genteel urban neighborhoods like Lafayette Square in St. Louis, these individual rehabilitation projects have merely shifted the poor into more and more substandard housing in the poorest areas, or concentrated them in inner-suburban section-8 voucher apartment complexes where they are isolated socially and physically from the tract houses and working-class families just across the roadway. Joe Frank.
As actually implemented, the schemes for remaking the city have failed to uplift the underclass, which is itself growing in population as low-skill, industrial jobs disappear in favor of high technology. Planners today search for the elusive goal called sustainability, and still wrangle with how to handle the poor. Meanwhile, the people who can afford it move further and further from the urban core, in order to be closer to the very natural environment which had to be destroyed to create their new homes. Average commuting times increase, large commercial interests abandon the inner suburbs in favor of the ex-urbs, and congestion soon follows on selected routes. Thus more money is spent on improving the roadways, which encourages new development even further away from the city center. Planning has not been employed in a systematic, logical way when such processes occur. However, this result predominates in the U.S. because of market demand. The chief motivation has been monetary gain, at the expense of the needs of the lower class. Joe Frank.
Hall, Peter. Cities of Tomorrow. Updated Edition. Blackwell Publishers: Cambridge, MA, 1996.
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