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URBANISM AS REFORM: |
MODERNIST PLANNING AND THE CRISIS OF URBAN LIBERALISM
IN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA, 1945-1975
Presented to the Graduate Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania in Partial
Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Bruce Kuklick, Supervisor of Dissertation
Thomas Sugrue, Graduate Chair
Eugenie Birch, Professor of City Planning
David Brownlee, Professor of Art
Peter Conn, Professor of English
Robert Fishman, Professor of Urban Planning
Lynn Lees, Professor of History
George Thomas, Lecturer in Urban Studies
Michael Zuckerman, Professor of History
This dissertation examines urban renewal in six cities—Berlin, London, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Toronto—and the effects of its demise on attitudes toward cities, in general, and on urban planning, in particular. While similar policy instruments and objectives were in place in these cities by the end of the 1950s, the underlying assumptions of European and North American planners and policymakers came under divergent criticisms and revisions in the 1960s that spelled the end of a transatlantic urban renewal consensus. While clearly inspired by international modernism, planning nevertheless functioned in specific political environments. Each particular failure transformed the possibilities of planning and left distinctive imprints on these cities for the rest of the twentieth century. Each of them reaffirmed its traditional urban texture and rejected wholesale redevelopment. But in discrediting certain planning approaches, the confrontational political culture of Great Britain and the United States, by comparison with West Germany and Canada, left residues which continue to inhibit urban initiatives.
I examine the efforts of both professionals and residents to gain influence over cities. The professionals emerged within a broad field of policy-oriented inquiry, called urbanism or urban studies, that included sociologists, economists, planners, architects and even historians. Looking at these intellectuals’ plans, publications and pronouncements, I explore their authority in journals, universities, exhibitions, and consulting. By the 1950s, an international movement calling for the eradication and reorganization of the traditional city had migrated (along with many specific leadership figures from the Bauhaus school of design and the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne) from Europe via Britain to universities and planning agencies in the United States. Its critics were initially dismissed as nostalgic, reactionary, or unscientific, though mounting public resistance eventually shifted the ground. Focusing on watershed projects and confrontations, I place these controversies in sociopolitical context and assess their impact. The “golden age” of postwar planning was essentially a struggle to reconcile the conflicts between expertise, power, and democratic accountability.
The mobilization of urban constituencies around planning as an issue in city politics catalyzed the field of urbanism—and vice versa. Residents’ feelings of neighborhood attachment and protectiveness received belated recognition from social scientists,
complicating the picture of a period still often characterized in terms of either suburban out-migration or revanchist gentrification. During the 1950s, sociologists studying urban populations in London’s East End or Boston’s North and West Ends discovered the deleterious side-effects of the urban renewal programs that urbanists (in some cases the very same researchers) had shaped. In the early 1960s, the articulate, aggressive counterattack from Greenwich Village residents and activists epitomized organized neighborhood resistance. Later in the decade, young architects and planners helped residents challenge the plans of their mentors, and the repulse of redevelopment schemes became common in gentrifying areas like London’s Soho and Covent Garden, or even the more racially-charged atmosphere of South Street in Philadelphia. Community organizers and ratepayer advocates took over Toronto’s city hall to reform planning by the mid1970s. In West Berlin, where neighborhood attachment was always muted, a squatters’ movement in the late 1970s distantly echoed the earlier renewal critics in Britain and America.
West Berlin had been purist in its application of modernist principles, and experienced the least controversy from citizens eager to inhabit modernized apartments. But after late revisions to its renewal approach, the city emerged with a strong planning apparatus as capable of implementing neo-traditional schemes as it had been at clearing old districts. In Toronto, the confrontational clashes—by Canadian standards—of the late 1960s and early 1970s also resolved into a reformed, pro-planning consensus. The US and UK, however, came away with deeper scars. Britain, though never completely enamored of dogmatic international style, had thoroughly embraced total planning in the immediate postwar period. Yet the country’s bi-partisan consensus ended by the late 1970s in anti-planning backlash. Similarly, the rejection of liberal urban programs fed the rise to power of anti-reform mayors in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Sobered by a sense of intractable urban crisis, a relatively small, though influential circle of Boston intellectuals dismantled the very local and federal planning initiatives they had advocated. Ironically, many with a shared interest in advancing urban life ultimately emerged estranged—witness the professional polarization among planners in Philadelphia, or the mutual alienation among Democrats in New York— reflected in a widespread loss of faith in the possibility of constructive urban interventions.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION 1 CHAPTER 1: From “Metropolis” to “The Public Sphere”—Democracy and Urbanism in Post-WWII Berlin. Berlin’s Discontents from Anti-Urbanism to Reconstruction 24 Social Scientific Critiques of Planning: Public Sphere and Urban Democracy 40 CHAPTER 2: Beyond MARS—Dissenting Intellectual Traditions in London Planning. Postwar Politics and Planning 66 Counter-Revolutions against Modernist Renewal 71 Britain backs away from Planning—Slowly 87 CHAPTER 3: The Crisis of Expertise—Boston’s Intellectuals and the Urban Debate. Consolidation and Challenge in the Urbanist Establishment 100 The Joint Center for Urban Studies at Harvard and M.I.T. 108 Urban Crises 120 Changing of the Guard 125 Taking Stock of the 1960s 130 CHAPTER 4: Caught between Moses and the Market in New York City— Jane Jacobs and Urban Renewal’s Lost Middle Way. Moving Beyond Moses 145 Instability and Diversity in the West Village 152 Jacobs’ Critique: Unslumming and Self-Destruction 158 Reform and Resentment in the Planning Profession 161 Missed Opportunities and Mutual Alienation 168 Hollow Victories 182 CHAPTER 5: Aesthetic Reform—Social Analysis and Design Innovation in Philadelphia Planning. The Philadelphia Lawyer meets the Philadelphia Planner 199 Urban Renewal a la Bacon: Society Hill 207 Two Cultures: Artists and Analysts at Penn 213 South Street: End of the Road? 224 CHAPTER 6: Better Late—Toronto’s Alternate Planning Outcome. Jane Jacobs’ Victory in Exile 245 Toronto’s Conversion to Comprehensive Planning 249 Toronto’s Alternate Path in the 1970s 255 CONCLUSION: The Final Frontier 263
Foolish things are often written,
And also oft told,
Yet leaving everything unchanged,
They harm not the body or the soul.
But foolishness placed before the eye,
Has a magic power;
Because it captivates our senses,
The spirit is cowered.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,
Zahmen Xenien (1827)1
This dissertation is concerned with liberal intellectuals and the city, yet one of its themes could perhaps best be summarized with a slogan of twentieth century conservatism: “Ideas Have Consequences.” Of course, few of the actors in my story shared anything like the world view Richard Weaver expressed in his 1948 manifesto bearing that title. Still, the cities examined in this study plainly manifest the concrete, physical legacies of various intellectual debates. As William Carlos Williams, like many planners a denizen of two distinct realms—art and science, once remarked, “We meet the past in every object it leaves behind. Not in ideas but in things.”
Conversely, the political battles around urban renewal left scars on our civic dreams. This is then also a story of the constraints on ideas, the limitations of planning. But beware: There is an age-old debate lurking in these waters. Simplistically one could contrast latter-day Weberians (Hegelians even), primarily intellectual historians but also planning historians and others concerned with the power of ideas and images, versus the Marxian camp (Castells, Mollenkopf, Harvey) that sees late twentieth century planning and design as epiphenomenal to deindustrialization, stagflation, and the other shocks that doomed the golden age of liberal urban policy. Economics is doubtless an important, perhaps dominant factor. But there have always been economic cycles in cities, and I will emphasize some distinctive elements in the professional and political cultures that would prove decisive for the period under study. Political culture and national character are abstract, intangible entities—although maybe no less real for being so. In this study, I intend only to suggest their presence indirectly, rather than attempt to conjure such elusive spirits into my analysis.
Understanding that this is an intellectual history, perhaps first and foremost, helps to explain the selection of Berlin, London, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto as case studies. Each of the cities represents a major intellectual center of debate and radiating influence, of soft power—and in some cases hard power, too. New York, like London a subject that requires no scholarly justification, remains the urban center of gravity, plain and simple. The Philadelphia School—if its urbanist tradition is broadly conceived to include Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Herbert Gans, Paul Davidoff, Edmund Bacon, Martin Meyerson, and even (at times) Lewis Mumford— has suffered unjustifiably in esteem for its proximity to the metropolis. Similarly with
Toronto. Berlin was a major preoccupation of German and other continental thinkers from its dynamo golden age in the 1920s to its later incarnations as geo-political showplace scarred by hot and cold wars. Boston has been a center of American intellectual life for three centuries, but it is also a stand-in for Washington, D.C., since Bostonians disproportionately composed the national policy elite in these years.
Postwar American intellectuals were attempting to make sense of a radically changing U.S. landscape, wracked by both physical and political shifts. The dialectics of sprawl, urban decay and renewal, hinted at by the neighborhood succession models of the Chicago School of sociology in the interwar period, were becoming visible on a large scale, and preoccupied thinkers including Jane Jacobs, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Mumford, Gans, Venturi, Scott Brown, and Meyerson. Their analyses and responses were imbricated into a set of transatlantic attitudes toward urban reform and urban aesthetics. This dissertation follows two titanic twentieth century concepts, modernism and liberalism, as they begin to run aground in post-World War II European and North American cities. They get tangled up together and each contributes significantly to the other’s decline. In advance, however, some terms need to be defined. What precisely do I mean, the reader may ask, by Modernism, Urbanism, Planning, Liberalism, etc?
I am using the term liberal in its common American sense, corresponding roughly to socialist or social democratic in Britain, or sozial in Germany, by which is meant progressive, non-revolutionary economic and political reform impulses born in reaction to the perceived volatility of industrial capitalism and mass democracy. Thus I am not using it in Louis Hartz’s narrow sense of privatist individualism à la John Locke and Adam Smith.2 Political liberalism began to move away from the laissez faire, “classical
liberal” attitude sometime in the last third of the nineteenth century and embrace corporatist, interest-group organizations, inspired in the U.S. case by the vastly expanded, activist, bureaucratic state apparatus first glimpsed in the Civil War (as well as in giant commercial companies).3 This meliorist administrative state then saw its capacities expanded through successive wars and economic crises until, by the 1960s, it encompassed various social insurance measures (“welfare”) within a mixed economy of regulation and private enterprise.
Confidence in informed, social scientific expertise underlay much of the liberal project. Gerstle traces American liberals’ episodic search for realms that could be constructively affected by rational policies. Walter Lippmann’s embrace of a technocratic elite after his rejection of mass democracy would epitomize this trend. By the 1920s liberals had abandoned many cultural issues, particularly race and ethnicity, as too irrational—that is until the disaster of Nazi racism and the vilification of Soviet communism (not to mention postwar prosperity) began to make economic issues seem less pressing than racial ones. Then, of course, the civil rights movement ultimately did prove to be too explosive for the liberal coalition in the United States.4
But just where and how liberalism met its demise is still under investigation. Debate continues over whether to declare the liberal political order dead or alive by the 1970s. H.W. Brands argues that the Cold War was the last national emergency to provide an impetus for an activist state in the U.S., and the coming of détente revived older anti-statist attitudes.5 Others, including Thomas Sugrue and Arnold Hirsch have suggested that any consensus that ever existed around liberalism was already wilting under heavy fire across domestic ethno-racial divides by the 1940s.6 Some argue that the reports of
liberalism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated by the focus on electoral contests, and can be flatly contradicted with evidence from regulatory and judicial trends in the 1970s.7 And Francis Fukiyama maintains that liberalism is only now coming into its own on the world stage. The picture is indeed complicated, and the evidence contradictory. But I would argue that, in both halves of the twentieth century, it was cities that always offered the greatest possibilities for liberalism, while they also posed the greatest risks. This dissertation also finds the history of liberalism is written very differently on the walls of Berlin, London, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto.
So what does liberalism mean in the context city politics? Is there a distinctive urban liberalism? Liberals in Wilhelmine Germany, in contrast to their fateful failure to establish a presence at the national level of politics, emerged with a very strong base in the cities of the Kaiserreich.8 J. Joseph Huthmacher was probably the first to argue that early U.S. liberalism was inherently urban, that the city, with its concentration of both social outrages and an outraged electorate, provided much of the impetus for reformist (not to speak of radical) politics: “Not until the reform spirit had seized large numbers of urbanites could there be hope of achieving meaningful political, economic, and social adjustments to the demands of the new industrial civilization.” Huthmacher maintained that early twentieth century progressive reform was the product of collaboration between moralistic middle-classes and pragmatic urban ethnic workers, the latter providing the real political muscle. Similarly, John Teaford sees the most fruitful reform efforts resulting from a de facto partnership—in effect a truce—between urban ‘machine’ political organizations and those elites who would see them abolished. Only when the
latter began to impose cultural assimilation policies like prohibition did the turn-of-thecentury coalition collapse.9
Gary Gerstle notes that the New Deal’s pragmatic liberals were once again willing to make accommodations with distasteful urban machines in their search for economic stability. That may be true from the standpoint of the White House. Yet local anti-boss reform campaigns that sought to destroy corrupt machines did not end in the 1920s and 1930s, when liberal intellectuals supposedly turned away from cultural issues toward economic ones. Nor did the ongoing suburbanization of urban elites dissipate this anti-boss impulse. Instead, it was just after World War II that movements such as the Young Turks in Philadelphia, and those around Robert Wagner, Jr. in New York or John Hynes in Boston, made their electoral breakthroughs. By that time they were also armed with the corpus of urban renewal legislation compiled during the New Deal, and a city planning agenda hatched in interwar Europe. City planning would become the liberal technocratic panacea par excellence. Where Americanization, prohibition and other cultural programs had foundered in the 1920s, this time reformers were poised with funding, new authorities and an electoral mandate to impose a rational order on the urban polity.
The urge to improve cities is probably as old as urban settlement. Public and private infrastructural solutions to the engineering problems of industrial cities (sanitation, transportation, energy) were well-developed by the end of the nineteenth century. Despite industrial building booms, however, housing conditions remained a preoccupation of American and European civic reformers into the twentieth century. In the United States, Progressive-era housing initiatives reached legislative fruition with the New Deal (especially the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act of 1937), but there they also
mixed with Depression measures to stimulate stagnating urban economies. By the post-World War II period, these were further complicated by calls to rescue downtown “central business districts” from the effects of suburbanization and to mitigate the impact of industrial relocation. In the United States, a series of state and federal appropriation acts and enabling legislation from the 1930s through the 1960s assembled immense resources and authorities to address this convoluted agenda. The creation of a U.S. cabinet-level department for Housing and Urban Development marked its high water in 1965, yet this entire decades-long regime of city-directed programs can be referred to collectively as Urban Renewal.
Liberal urban reform from the New Deal through Great Society became consummately enshrined in the impulse of urban renewal, which included numerous legislative and administrative initiatives at the municipal, state and federal levels. This regime, with its iconic comprehensive plans and zoning resolutions, encompassed a broad alliance of policymakers (politicians and bureaucrats), policy-oriented intellectuals (liberal social scientists), designers (architects and planners), and members of the business community (real estate, construction, banking). Contributors included many of the best and brightest in their respective fields, all of whom were trusted and underwritten (both financially and electorally) by a coalition of voters consolidated by FDR (and often referred to as the liberal consensus). The ambitious urban renewal program yoked noble social goals to an innovative aesthetic vision, fueled by an unprecedented fiscal mandate.
The aspects of urban renewal concerned with slum clearance and housing construction were heavily influenced by the modernist European planning and design movement. In part, this was a testament to the fact that many of the European workers’
housing projects, funded either by associations or the government, were completed in the formative 1920s, when the movement was sweeping into vogue (though this was notably untrue for the housing trusts in Britain at the time). In Germany at least, the provision of cheap housing seemed the ideal application for modern industrial materials, and it resonated with the radical ideals of many modernist designers. Not only were the German housing projects available as models to those formulating housing policy from the Depression onwards, but what’s more, Nazi persecution of leftists had brought many of the designers of those projects to Britain, the United States, and Canada (often in that order), where they gained positions of great influence in universities and on various commissions. With them came the notion that not only did progressive housing need to look different, but that the entire city structure should be reorganized according to the ‘functionalist’ principle of segregated uses. So what precisely did this mean?
Modernism refers to a set of movements which swept every branch of the western arts. Almost without exception the outlines were visible within the twentieth century’s first quarter, and then remained dominant for at least the next two. Across all disciplines, modernism was generally characterized by a purist tendency toward abstraction, (atonality in music, non-representational visual art, minimal decoration in architecture, non-referential dance), but more than anything it represented a break with European stylistic canons and professional academies formalized over the centuries since the Renaissance. This latter aspect also encompasses those more populist, non-abstract modernists—like the mural painters of the W.P.A., jazz-influenced composers, or (what Marshall Berman has called) James Joyce’s “modernism of the streets”—who embraced elements of commercial mass culture in their works. Modernism should not be confused
with modernity, the broad periodization of world history describing the dramatic emergence of European nation states, imperialism, protestant Christianity, humanism, capitalism, democracy, science, industrialization and urbanization after about 1500. There were thus moderns long before there were any modernists—and there probably will be long afterwards as well.
Modernism in architecture is marked aesthetically by the end of the stylistic eclecticism that characterized the turn of the twentieth century and institutionally by the eclipse of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris as the center of influence. But it is characterized perhaps most of all by an impulse to express the industrial construction processes (by then actually generations old), as well as the style of industrial structures (e.g. factories, grain elevators). [It must be noted that the narrative of elite architectural history, which views architects as a species of artist, is complicated by the fact that the great majority of structures are designed by engineers, anonymous architects, or amateurs, and often either disregard approved academic styles in the interest of expediency or else follow the dictates of vernacular taste cultures.] With antecedents in the sleek iconoclasm of Frank Lloyd Wright, the industrial-craftsmanship of Peter Behrens, and the workers’ city envisioned by Tony Garnier, the generation of architects coming to prominence after the World War I embraced Louis Sullivan’s maxim that “form follows function.” After some expressionist experiments, the group including architects Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (a.k.a. “Le Corbusier”), J.J.P. Oud, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe rejected decorative elements that were seen to disguise the modern, industrial nature of structures. By the mid-1920s this reductive “functionalism,” as it was sometimes called, was seeking to limit the shape of
architecture to rectilinear prisms and its materials to iron, glass and concrete. Since such a palette did not leave much room for regional distinctions, adherents dubbed this approach the International Style, and promoted it via the Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM).10 Just how much embellishment could be tolerated within the strictures of the dogma and still be rationalized as functional would be the subject of perpetual debate.
Functionalism, while a less-than-clear concept in modernist architecture (Gropius would revise it up until his death), was both explicit and rigid in terms of modernist urban planning. The 1933 Athens Charter of CIAM decreed the segregation of the four functions of work, residence, transportation and leisure. It may well be said that “Architecture is art’s ambassador to the real world.”11 But the application of functionalist principles put city planners at pains to bridge the realms of the rarefied atelier and the rough asphalt. After all, how a building looked was still largely an aesthetic question. Certainly the search for cheap industrial building methods for the mass production of housing did give a social flavor to some modernist projects, yet the Levitt and Sons’ suburban developments (among many others) were simultaneously achieving the same ends using quaint, traditional styles. So matters of architectural taste could remain just that. But any design proposal that moved beyond the individual building, site, or client to take in a block, neighborhood, or (in the case of master plans) an entire city, was bound to become much more deeply entangled with questions of economics, sociology, and above all politics.
One is tempted to wonder whether modernist planning was merely an aesthetic preference masquerading as social reform. Certainly, the extent to which abstract design
can be said to have political content is questionable. Barbara Miller Lane has emphasized the politicized nature of architectural debate amongst the radical Bauhaus designers and their reactionary contemporaries in Weimar Germany. More recently, architectural theorists like Aldo Rossi, Manfredo Tafuri, and Leon Krier have attempted to untangle the conflation of ideology and design, asserting: “There exists neither authoritarian nor democratic Architecture. There exists only authoritarian and democratic ways of producing and using architecture…. Architecture is not political, it can only be used politically.”12 It is clear, at any rate, that social reformers and modernist designers made common cause in the redevelopment of cities, and that they were united by a faith in environmental determinism, the belief that social problems inhered in city form. City planning had become aesthetics plus politics; policy and design had become interdependent.
A political economy of design may seem overdrawn, but to really understand liberalism’s urban fate, we must attend to these relationships of legitimation as they unraveled. Was it bad design, bad economics, or bad democracy that killed urban renewal? Did renewal die of economics ailments (what Jane Jacobs called its “internal contradictions”) or just a political blunt trauma (the loss of its funded mandate)? The fact is that urban scholars are generally sloppy in the way they talk about the end of urban renewal and the dissipation of its momentum. In most cases, they either re-articulate the policy critiques of contemporaries like Herbert Gans and Jane Jacobs, or else they use the national power shifts (Nixon’s ‘silent’ electoral majority) as a shorthand for its demise.
It was expert advisers and professionals who formed the liaison between the spheres of politics and planning. City planners were riding a crest of professionalization
by the mid-twentieth century, with the establishment of city planning commissions and dedicated training programs across the United States and Europe. But they were but one part of a general western trend of enshrining experts in complex social scientific questions. City and regional planning was just one dimension—spatial—of a comprehensive twentieth century planning impulse, seen not only in the extreme Soviet collectivization schemes, but also very strongly in British postwar social and economic policy, and even, in diluted form, in New Deal initiatives like the National Resources Planning Board. The underlying unity of such programs was the enlightenment/positivist assumption that previously thorny problems of the organization and allocation of resources (territory, labor, food, energy, capital) were soluble by human reason, particularly when administratively concentrated.
The mid-twentieth century intellectuals from various disciplines who concentrated their attentions on the industrial metropolis included not only architects and planners, but also sociologists, economists, political scientists, geographers, historians and other social scientists. Together they composed a thematic meta-field which I will refer to as Urbanism.13
The political-economic rationale for urban renewal was a microcosm of post-war Keynesian liberalism. Cities seemed mired in a depression despite sustained national growth. Government spending, it was thought, might halt the economic decline of neighborhoods and business districts. Disappearing industrial plants were not lamented by policymakers until much later, perhaps since the presence of manufacturing in the city was considered a nuisance by planning elites and others. The unanswered question
underlying all urbanists’ and planners’ assumptions, however, was the degree to which the market and the demos could in fact be molded or bent into some desirable form.
Housing reformers like Edith Elmer Wood and Catherine Bauer had always been concerned with questions of economics and poverty.14 It is only with the end of the urban renewal order that planning and design professionals began confronting economics, as opposed to idealized modernist form alone, and democratic political resistance—neither of which were really the case for the well-funded and administratively-empowered planners of the New Deal and early Cold War.
So how does the great modernist planning experiment turn out? In comparison with the longevity of some other programs rooted in the Great Depression, such as Social Security in the United States or the National Health Service in Britain, urban renewal’s slum clearance programs rarely lasted more than about a decade and a half after their active implementation, irrespective of their intended goals. Why not? The controversies and criticisms they unleashed have, in some cases, already been well documented; others will be treated in this dissertation.
My strategy is to juxtapose significant developments in six cities that were both intellectual centers and demonstration sites for the deployment of major urban renewal resources. Berlin, London, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Toronto were key locations not only for the aggressive urban renewal programs they undertook amidst extensive older cityscapes, but also for the influential constellation of intellectuals and practitioners concentrated in these communities. For each city, I have tried to keep three considerations in view. First is the realm of ideas. Robert Fishman has encouraged scholars to view major plans as an intellectual history of cities. While my sources are not
master plans per se, I do share his sense of a system of ideas that become explicit in the planning process. Each chapter implicitly revolves around some ur-texts that epitomize the planning debate. Second, I identify watershed projects in the cities’ built environment, which embody the issues at stake in the planning debates. Finally, I chart the related power shifts with regard to political figures and planning law.
Thus, in Berlin I have emphasized the writings of sociologist Hans Paul Bahrdt, his influence on planning legislation, and the “gentle renewal” approach that emerged in connection with the International Construction Exhibition. Gordon Cullen’s “Townscape” publications, together with the politically explosive relocation studies of Peter Willmott and Michael Young regarding East London, complement the residents’ struggles to preserve Soho and Coven Garden neighborhoods. Edward Banfield’s Unheavenly City looms like a dark cloud over the closely-watched urban renewal episodes in Boston’s West and North Ends. Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities is both a field report and call to arms from her embattled West Village neighborhood. Philadelphia’s South Street urban renewal corridor becomes an inspiration and political testing ground for the ideas expressed by Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas. Toronto’s St. Lawrence Neighborhood pairs with Up Against City Hall, the memoir of Mayor John Sewell, the apotheosis of a radical anti-renewal neighborhood activist cum mainstream politician in a distinctively Canadian development.
Following about a generation of widespread acceptance, functional segregation first became a major point of contention when, in the 1950s and early 1960s, Jane Jacobs
argued forcefully in favor of its opposite: functional (and social) diversity as the lifeblood of the city’s form and economic vitality. Functionalist planners could point in their defense to the tendency throughout the West of increasing numbers voting with their feet (or streetcars or automobiles or whatever) in favor of a de facto segregation of residence from work and everything else. ‘Jacobeans,’ other the other hand, had the advantage of defending the existing (if dwindling) conditions of the traditional urban fabric, with its marbling of retail, residence and industry, rather than trying to promote any radical reorganization. But those who agreed with Jacobs would face an uphill battle against both demographic trends as well as zoning statutes which had given the force of law to a functionally-segregated city vision.
As James Scott notes in his study on the bureaucratic logic of large administrative state projects, benign intentions can tend toward tyranny in the hands of a bureaucratic elite—even when allied with less radical manifestos than the revolutionary Bauhaus. Mark Lilla has analyzed the disastrous political consequences of a tendency among intellectuals to disdain democratic process and to justify tyrannies.15 The “golden age” of postwar planning essentially became a struggle to reconcile the conflicts between expertise, power, and democratic accountability. The New York case study in chapter four is an important pivot of the story about the civic issues which the urban renewal order had brought to a head.
Robert Moses had wrapped himself in mantle of progress New Deal housing reform and slum clearance.16 But Moses ultimately came to represent a kind of entrenched bureaucratic power, which liberal crusaders sought to reform by demanding more responsive public servants (which ironically, Moses had once personified). Jane
Jacobs and her Greenwich Village allies held a substantially different conception of the locus of power and the nature of its exercise. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she theorizes at length on the practice of democracy in an urban context. Most of her examples drew from the experiences of various Greenwich Village ad hoc committees (to preserve Washington Square or close it to traffic, to oppose street widening, and finally the master plan), as well as the coalitions they mobilized. The three different visions of urban democracy—embodied by Moses, Village activists, and elite New York liberals from the administration of Robert Wagner to that of John Lindsay— entailed contrasting tactics. Moses mobilized a vast and invisible network of patronage and mutual obligation (like the Tammany machines he displaced). The liberals attempted to outmaneuver Moses from within the city’s (and state’s) institutions, contracting alliances to tip the balance of power on various commissions and agencies—though they did generally not object to what he did so much as the way he did it. The Villagers, in contrast, did not share any such assumptions. What’s more, they screamed bloody murder. Their rhetoric and strategies were confrontational and inflammatory. Their opposition was not just a matter of degree, but rather a rejection of the entire proposition of renewal.
Villagers adopted the tactic that the best defense was a good offense—they didn’t just resist the renewal plans, they attempted to get control and reshape them. Their ability to appropriate the process and redirect it, due both to the resources of their community as well as its organized persistence, distinguishes the Villagers’ resistance from the more widespread opposition to government projects that would later be called “NIMBYism” (for “Not-In-My-Backyard!”). While the Villagers shared with such impulses a
suspicious disdain for the liberal expertocracy, they differed in their idealization of an alternative grassroots democracy.
Planning, if broadly defined as Robert Fishman has done, is simply collective action for the common good.17 Moses defined such action with his own will; liberals defined it through an oligarchy of enlightened specialists. Jacobs and her allies saw the means of planning in the incremental interactions and micro-organizations of neighbors and affinity groups. To Jacobs, urban renewal’s greatest offense was not that it threatened to destroy vibrant communities, but that it was tyrannical in its concentration of power and undemocratic in its application. Thus, having been awakened to these dangers within their own vicinity, the Villagers became harbingers of more widespread, later movements, and not only in their suspicions of liberal officialdom, but also in their devolutionary definition of all politics as local.
Jane Jacobs has denied that critiques and protests like hers did anything to bring down the urban renewal program, maintaining instead that it was doomed to die of “internal contradictions.” One interpretation is that planning was a highly artificial imposition on the urban scene with little internal logic, ultimately no more than a costly works program for planners. Keynesian policies and the postwar economic expansion offered stable streams of funding, consensus administrations provided the mandate. Later, planning simply foundered in their absence. Alternatively, one could argue that had planning proposals been better grounded in the workings of urban communities and economies, their support would have continued. This latter proposition is the implicit policy prescription of Jacobs’ book.
The mobilization of urban constituencies around planning as an issue in city politics catalyzed the field of urbanism—and vice versa. Residents’ feelings of neighborhood attachment and protectiveness received belated recognition from social scientists, complicating the picture of a period still often characterized in terms of either suburban out-migration or revanchist gentrification. During the 1950s, sociologists studying urban populations in London’s East End or Boston’s North and West Ends discovered the deleterious side-effects of the urban renewal programs that urbanists (in some cases the very same researchers) had shaped. In the early 1960s, the articulate, aggressive counter-attack from Greenwich Village residents and activists epitomized organized neighborhood resistance. Later in the decade, young architects and planners helped residents challenge the plans of their mentors, and the repulse of redevelopment schemes became common in gentrifying areas like London’s Soho and Covent Garden, or even the more racially-charged atmosphere of South Street in Philadelphia. Community organizers and ratepayer advocates took over Toronto’s city hall to reform planning by the mid-1970s. In West Berlin, where neighborhood attachment was always muted, a squatters’ movement in the late 1970s distantly echoed the earlier renewal critics in Britain and America.
Major conceptual shifts, indicative of changing aesthetics but also of a change in the planning process, were visible by the mid-1960s in the West Village Houses developed by Jane Jacobs and her neighbors, and in Paul Davidoff’s Harlem advocacy planning. Even the private “Entstuckung” of Berlin’s Wilhelmine apartment blocks, whereby landlords had for decades stripped the neo-classical embellishments off their buildings to approximate better the modernist aesthetic, was being lamented as folly. It
was a sign of just how far the reputation of Walter Gropius had fallen that upon his death in 1969 the obituary took pains to note that the Bauhaus founder and longtime Harvard architecture chair was not “irrelevant.”18 All this agonizing and shirt rending among urbanists meant that the unexamined questions underlying planners’ physical determinist motivations could now be re-addressed:
·What form should the city take: Le Corbusier’s Ville radieuse, or something newer/older/more complex/more suburban?
·What mechanism should determine form: planning commissions, community planning boards, the marketplace?
·How does form matter: Can it solve perennial questions of housing, safety, growth, economic vitality? Can/should the city be art?
However, the chastening of planners for insensitive designs and urbanists for social scientific hubris was purchased at a high cost: a major opportunity for improving urban life was missed. The move from physical determinism to a more radically democratic model, such as the maximum feasible community participation mandate of the Model Cities program, and toward market economics, including embrace of suburban tendencies, meant that the New Deal/Great Society vision was lost, at least in cities. Sobered by a sense of intractable urban crisis, a relatively small, though influential circle of Boston intellectuals dismantled the very local and federal planning initiatives they had advocated. In Philadelphia we find a failed rapprochement between designers and social science/social justice planners. Here was the abandonment of the last great attempt to find a middle way between total planning and a surrender to the ‘creative destruction’ of markets, especially the real estate industry. Bureaucratic tyranny was checked at the expense of the whole liberal urban program.
Being out of step with the natural constituencies that could sustain urban liberalism—in fact actively alienating them—spelled the end of such programs. It would
have come as no surprise if the anti-statist and anti-urban elements of the population rejected what was after all an enormous government program for cities. But instead it was urban renewals’ supposed beneficiaries who became its most vocal opponents. Like Prohibition, which alienated urban ethnics, urban renewal would prove to be another example of urban reformers knocking out their own supports. Having been given a virtually free hand, the experts (in this case the planners and urbanists) were left not only to recognize the inherently irrational element of democracy (a theme since Walter Lippmann), but also the fallibility of their own expertise. An unprecedented mandate was squandered on functionalist modernism.
Britain, although never completely enamored of dogmatic international style, had thoroughly embraced total planning in the immediate postwar period. Yet the country’s bi-partisan consensus ended by the late 1970s in an anti-planning backlash. Similarly, the rejection of liberal urban programs fueled the rise to power of anti-reform mayors in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. In the United States these failures were more dangerous not only because of the anti-statist or anti-urban suspicions they revived, but also because of the country’s explosive racial dynamics. Rather than alleviating or even simply neglecting them, urban renewal exacerbated and inflamed racial tensions. Progressive housing policies and aid to cities came to symbolize the antithesis of the ideals that motivated them. City planning based on functional segregation had the effect of intensifying racial segregation, whether in the race moats that were perceived in downtown beltway proposals like the Philadelphia’s South Street expressway, or the “second ghetto” that was constructed in perfect Corbusioid verticality on Chicago’s south side.
The mistakes were not fundamentally different in German and Canadian cities, but the legacies were. In the former case, a confidence in government intervention remained unshaken by urban renewal’s failures. West Berlin had been purist in its application of modernist principles (after the expediency of postwar reconstruction), and experienced the least controversy from citizens eager to inhabit new apartments in the 1960s and 1970s. Even after making late revisions to its renewal approach, the city retained a strong planning apparatus as capable of implementing neo-traditional schemes as it had been at clearing old districts. In Toronto, the politicization of planning only served to invigorate civic democracy through the inclusion and reconciliation of various groups. The confrontational clashes—by Canadian standards—of the late 1960s and early 1970s resolved into a reformed, pro-planning consensus similar to that of Berlin. Ironically, given these cities’ social democratic reputations, one should note the role of moderate conservatives interested in pursuing social progress. Such “Red Tories,” including Berlin editor-publisher Wolf Jobst Siedler and especially Toronto mayor David Crombie, were pivotal in criticizing and reformulating urban planning in those cities.
Looking at the first half of the twentieth century, James Kloppenberg and Daniel Rodgers have emphasized the commonalities between U.S. and European liberal reformers:
Moderate social democracy emerged in Europe for many of the same reasons, and made possible the appearance of quite similar coalitions, as those behind the more far-reaching American progressive reform measures. Those coalitions’ disappearance had consequences as dramatic in England and France as in the United States. The consequences in Germany, of course, were far deadlier.19
I would support Rodgers’ assessment that “the same concerns with city space, shelter, and design agitated every nation in the north Atlantic economy,” but also extend it beyond World War II, a period of even more direct relationships and common
influences.20 Yet as Kloppenberg must admit with Germany’s descent into Nazism, similarities of intent can belie a variety of outcomes.
While similar policy instruments and objectives were in place in these cities by the end of the 1950s, the underlying assumptions of European and North American planners and policymakers came under divergent criticisms and revisions in the 1960s and spelled the end of a transatlantic urban renewal consensus. While clearly inspired by international modernism, planning nevertheless functioned in specific political environments. Each particular failure transformed the possibilities of planning and left distinctive imprints on these cities for the rest of the twentieth century. Each of them reaffirmed its traditional urban texture and rejected wholesale redevelopment. But in discrediting certain planning approaches, the confrontational political culture of Great Britain and the United States, by comparison with West Germany and Canada, left residues which continue to inhibit urban initiatives.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the reform impulse in the U.S. managed to persist amid changing liberal coalitions (and despite conflict), to build its achievements over successive generations. Meanwhile similar impulses in continental Europe were rent by war and revolution. In the post-World War II period, however, it was the American liberal tradition that shredded itself, and nowhere so much so as in the city, both its original seedbed and the site of its most aggressive interventions. Again, the urban renewal policies—even the crises they experienced—were remarkably similar in Berlin, London, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto; the differing outcomes and legacies, however, are clear to anyone visiting these cities today.
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