Milestones in urban planning

Urban planning has undoubtedly evolved rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century. The Atlantic Cities wrote an article detailing the latest exhibit put on by SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association) called “Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning” which presents vital changes in urban planning through the use of 10 important diagrams.

The image above is Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City,” a proposed urban development designed to give each landowner one acre of property on a 36 square mile parcel of land. The idea was first made public in 1932 during the rise of America’s shift towards suburbanization and sprawl. Wright’s idea would only have furthered the suburban problem that is currently being beaten down by the new-age urbanism of shared spaces and tight-knit communities in urban centers. As Broadacre City spaces neighbors out and focuses on land rather than community, an America modeled after this vision would leave citizens distant and isolated.

Hippodamus of Miletus of the 5th century BC is often regarded as the “father” of urban planning. From his wikipedia:

His plans of Greek cities were characterised by order and regularity in contrast to the more intricacy and confusion common to cities of that period, even Athens. He is seen as the originator of the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order.

One can say that urban planning started with Hippodamus of Miletus, as he introduced orderly city planning which was the first to be truly planned. However, the SPUR exhibition begins its history of modern urban planning with Ebenezer Howard‘s garden city of 1903, seen below.

Ebenezer Howard designed the garden city at the turn of the 20th century in order to combat the polluted and overcrowded cities that made up a large part of urban life in his day. The idea was to have a 12,000 acre city with a population of 58,000 in the center with several smaller cities of 9,000 acres and populations of 32,000 connected by canals to the center city. Spreading everything out would reduce pollution and the entire “garden city” would be roughly 66,000 acres with a population of 250,000. The idea was adopted in the planning of two English towns, Letchworth and Welwyn, but neither worked quite as ideally as Howard’s plan, and both contributed to the problem of urban sprawl characterized by the first half of the 20th century.

This is an interesting concept introduced in New York City’s 1916 zoning laws. It basically says that skyscrapers in New York City must taper off as they get taller as to maximize the amount of sunlight the streets below receive. It’s a clever idea that more cities really should implement. Not only does it make the streets of NYC brighter and more lively, but it also results in what I consider to be a beautiful skyline as seen below.

The exhibition closes with the idea that planners are moving more towards environmental planning due to the ever-increasing global temperature. The focus of planning has shifted and planners are now more conscious of the environment and it can be seen in their work. The environment is a priority whereas it was hardly considered during the first part of the 20th century.

SPUR’s exhibition is open until February 28th, 2013 and is held at the SPUR Urban Center Gallery in San Francisco. It’s free so check it out!

All images and info via The Atlantic Cities and Wikipedia