Exploring Roots Of Modern Planning

The early nineteenth century highlighted how industrialization gave rise to a series of public concerns including lack of sanitary governance, rapid urbanization, inept waste removal, soaring pollution levels, and inadequate housing for low-income members of society. These apprehensions sparked sanitary reform movements in order to improve the health of cities. Paralleling the municipal focus on sanitary reform, there was also a societal push for social reform of the urban poor, migrants, and immigrants. During this period of environmental and social reform, there was an inextricable relationship between the accelerated scientific recognition of public health and the rise of the socially intolerable urban environment. Three main figureheads, Edwin Chadwick, Lawrence Veiller, and W.E.B. DuBois developed unique techniques, displays of data, and varied spatial and social planning ideas that notably influenced the reforms.

In 1842, Edwin Chadwick championed England’s sanitary reform through the development of the first major sanitary survey and report - Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population and on the Means for Its Improvements. This codified survey credibility and recording methodologies for reporting on the poor.

Lawrence Veiller saw the poor as critical to overall social improvement and focused his research on improving overall societal welfare. One of Veiller’s chief accomplishments was the Tenement Exhibition (1990), which was comprised of data-driven surveys, rendered visuals, and photojournalism. This and his other political efforts lead to the national advancement of tenement reform and settlement programs.

In Philadelphia, W.E.B. Du Bois’s conducted social and economic field research highlighting the injustices of the racial “color-line” prevalent within US society. These data-driven findings were exhibited in his publication The Philadelphia Negro. Encouraged by the findings of these Sanitary and Social Reform era figureheads, other planners and political figures applied similar sanitary and ecological strategies via additional projects. Examples of these projects are: Removal and Disease Prevention Act (1848), Piggery Ordinances (1860-1890), Waring’s Sewer Maps, NYC Tenement House Law (1867), NYC Second Tenement House Law (1879), Chicago Hull House Surveys (1893), and the Pittsburg Survey (1907-1908). Vestiges of the projects above are still visible in contemporary cities.

City Beautiful approximately 1890-1915

City Beautiful planning was about sanitation and imperial dominance of the land and people. It was a reform philosophy that burgeoned in the early 1900s with the purpose of establishing beautification and monumental civic grandiosity. Aimed at retaining middle-class shoppers and downtown as a place of work, City Beautiful also emphasized the deindustrialization of city centers and a shift from a focal point of production to hubs of culture and consumption. Through the accentuation of beauty, the poor and destitute urban members of society would be metamorphosed, and instilled with moral and civic virtue. Proponents of City Beautiful sought to design cities that were not only delight-inducing but also spacious and organized. Whereas critics of City Beautiful, such as Peter Hall, described the crusade, “as a handmaiden of finance capitalism, as an agent of imperialism, as an instrument of personal totalitarianism...a total concentration on the monumental and on the superficial, on architecture as a symbol of power.”

Key City Beautiful influencers (mostly upper-middle-class caucasian males) sought to improve urban environments through beautification. Two of the most influential leaders were George-Eugene Haussmann and Daniel Burnham. Haussmann oversaw city beautification in France via the planning and installation of extravagant new public works, expansive boulevards, and ornamental park projects. Avenue de l'Opéra, Parisian boulevard expansion, was one of Haussmann's more prominent projects. This project required the tearing down of numerous old buildings which displaced hundreds of Paris citizens in the name of beautification. Figure 2 (located in the appendix) depicts the prescribed boulevard design mandates: same building height, uniform facade, clad with neutral-colored stone. The intention of these mandates being installation of harmony and the shaping of the cosmetic urban surface. Haussmann’s City Beautiful works in France inspired the movement’s migration to the United States. US architect, Daniel Burnham imitated Haussman’s Paris agendum through projects such as Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Cleveland’s 1903 Civic Center and Mall, San Francisco’s 1905 Burnham Plan, the 1907 Plan of Chicago. Depicted via planning techniques including diagrams, grid planning, mapping, and renderings, these projects were based entirely on the City Beautiful model and typically incorporated the installation of monuments, processional boulevards, statues, fountains, roundabouts, transportation infrastructure, outer park systems, and grand civic works.

The Efficiency Movement approximately 1890-1932

In backlash to the massive spending, grandiose and often expensive planning principles of City Beautiful, the Efficiency Movement sprouted from the practical and scientifically inclined foundations laid by the Sanitary and Social Reform movement. Within the US there was a shift in societal preference which compelled government groups to take responsibility for planning (versus big business hiring architects) and cultivated an overarching desire for systematic, comprehensive planning.

The Efficiency Movement promoted scientific management and the ultra-rationalization of labor organization and production. Distinct planning techniques oriented around efficiency were introduced. These techniques included zoning, floor area ratio (FAR), FAR building bonuses, cross sections, surfacing, contour maps, and historical maps and graphs depicting trends. Notable planners that developed these new methodologies were Frederick Olmstead Jr., George B. Ford, and Harland Bartholomew.

In 1910, Olmstead led the first widely recognized planning profession organization, which began the solidification of the professional associations’ prominence within planning. Along with the advent of professional planning organizations, Olmstead Jr.’s work also focused on the promotion of zoning and design regulation. Ford was another popular planner that shaped the Efficney era by establishing the doctrine of scientific and engineering-oriented city planning. Grounding the profession in research, George pushed for conducting formulaic, comprehensive analysis. As proof of this doctrine, Figure 3 (see appendix) exhibits Ford’s population projections. Ford promoted the scientific specialization of planning stating, “except on the aesthetic side, city planning is rapidly becoming as definite a science as pure engineering.

In city planning, there is above all, the necessity for a careful analysis of the conditions.” Ford’s approach was reflected in his establishment of the Technical Advisory Committee (1913), and via planning oversight for 100+ cities internationally. The final major contributor to working within the city efficient praxis was Harland Bartholomew. He knitted together the professional practice establishment of Olmstead Jr. and the scientific methodologies of Ford - viewing the conception of a city as a fusion of elements which could be affected through varying land use ratios. The three figureheads, Olmstead Jr., Ford, and Bartholomew, played a broad role in systematizing and propagating the convention of comprehensive planning per scientific means.

Movement, refinements of each are articulated in today’s planning profession. The Sanitary and Social reform era sparked the genesis of government and municipality planning’s emphasis on environmental reforms, social science, and social research. While the City Beautiful Movement spotlighted the importance of public space beautification and the central orientation of civic edifices that still adorn the modern urban environs. Finally, the Efficiency Movement rooted modern planning’s scientifically sound data collection, visualization, and engineering-grounded methods.

Major US cities (e.g., Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and many others) had their foundations shaped by the confluence of these three movements. The physical remnants of which are still visible. Incited by big data, smart infrastructure, and flexible technology the present hints anew - now is ripe for crafting the city of the future. Beyond seductive mechanization and machine learning, how society realizes the untapped potential of modern technologies to reduce urban inequalities and promote lasting resiliency depends on the extent to which past learnings are remembered. Recalling the Sanitary and Social Reform, City Beautiful, and the Efficiency movements provide a promising start.

11 February 2020
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