Thesis – Chapter 2 Planning Today
“The great cities of Europe, long abuilding, were at once centers of political, commercial, ecclesiastical, and military power, and they showed it not just in their finely grained urban fabrics—their plazas, forecourts, esplanades, and galleries— but in the overarching civic consciousness with which buildings were tied together as an organic whole, reflecting the idea of civilization as a spiritual enterprise” (Kuntsler, 1993, p.33).
John M. Levy writes, “Cities develop over time because of the conscious and unconscious acts of people” (2000, p.138). Because of our acquired lack of connectedness, both conscious and unconscious acts create great cause for concern.
Planning history is littered with legislation which seemed to have had great merit at the time but turned out to impose less than optimum side effects on the built environment. Zoning and urban renewal are two of these. In the 1920’s, when development was largely lot-by-lot, the popularity of Euclidean zoning spread, separating incompatible uses and protecting homeowners from the negative aspects of manufacturing locating in the lot next door. Today our definition of incompatible in this regard has changed as we have witnessed, and continue to live with, many of the ill effects that well-intentioned zoning has imposed. “Suburban communities have misused zoning to exclude low- income and minority families, most effectively by limiting multifamily and other affordable forms of housing, creating one of the principal legal devices for segregation by income, race, and ethnicity” (Frumpkin, Frank, Jackson, 2004, pp. 37-38). In Urban Sprawl and Public Health the authors write, “The modern America of obesity, inactivity, depression, and loss of community has not “happened” to us. We legislated, subsidized, and planned it this way. Through zoning, we separated different land uses—a sensible idea when tanneries and foundries were close to homes, but an idea that has left us, nearly a century later, unable to walk from homes to offices or shops”(Frumpkin, Frank, Jackson, 2004, pp. 37-38).
“One of the first clear articulations of the neighborhood concept in the United States was that of Clarence Perry in work done in the 1920s for the RPA (Regional Plan Association). A neighborhood is a unit that matches the daily scale of most people’s lives. Traditionally, the neighborhood planning unit is the area that would contain a population sufficiently large enough to supply the pupils for one elementary school” (Levy, 2000, p. 152).
In one example, Clarence Stein and Henry Wright applied Perry’s concept to the design of Radburn, New Jersey. The notion of a homogeneous neighborhood population to foster face-to-face contact, socialization, and social participation has . . . been criticized on several counts. First, such a neighborhood encourages income and class exclusivity as well as racial, ethnic and economic segregation (Isaacs 1948). In addition, by being incorporated into the Federal Housing Administration guidelines, the concept encouraged the production of vast areas of look-alike subdivisions (Issacs, 1995).
Up until World War II, neighborhood development was largely organic, responding to specific needs. Even though zoning played a major role in the homogenization of neighborhoods, there still existed a degree of differentiation and connection to the city and to the earth. “Following WWII, a complex human tradition of settlement was replaced with a rational model that could be easily understood through systems analysis and flow charts. Town planning, until 1930 considered a humanistic discipline based on history, aesthetics, and culture, became a technical profession based upon the numbers” (Duany, Plater-Zyberk, Speck, 2000, p. 11).
“These postwar suburban developments were located at the periphery of the cities, had relatively low density, were architecturally monotonous (both within developments and across the nation), and were economically and racially homogeneous. They offered the promise of readily available housing, within reach of working-class and middle-class families” (Frumpkin, Frank, Jackson, 2004, p. 34)
Segregation by income would become a permanent feature of suburbia long after servants were replaced by household appliances. Factory workers would eventually get suburbs of their own but only after the rural character of the countryside was destroyed. The vast housing tracts that were laid down for them had all the monotony of the industrial city that they were trying to flee and none of the city’s benefits, or any of the countryside’s real charm (Kuntsler, 1993).
Suburban houses were not just built when new residents appeared, money in hand. Instead, land speculators and private developers drove much of the design and construction. Developers purchased large parcels, created subdivisions, and arranged public transportation, road construction, sewer and water service and other infrastructure, often at public expense (Frumpkin, Frank, Jackson, 2004). These were deliberate and large-scale efforts. “The theory that early suburbs just grew with owners turning cowpaths and natural avenues of traffic into streets is erroneous” (Jackson, 1985, p. 135).