An Ideal City?

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The modern metropolis – new directions for planning

Ideal industries

The squalor of industrial slums motivated some enlightened British employers to create model villages and towns to provide better housing and living conditions for their workers. Soap manufacturer William Lever created Port Sunlight near Liverpool, England. And George Cadbury sponsored Bournville near his chocolate factory outside Birmingham. These employers linked decent living conditions with industrial productivity, but their communities also provided design ideas for others to follow and improve upon.

Legislating improvement

Recognition that frameworks were needed to ensure the orderly development of towns and cities led to new planning laws. A variety of new rules covered issues such as land use zoning, population density and building height limitations. Along with these ‘statutory’ regulations came detailed city studies with strategic recommendations. Scottish planner Patrick Geddes is associated with the influential mantra of ‘survey-analysis plan’.

The skyscraper

Innovative construction methods changed the scale of urban development. The new methods allowed highrise buildings supported by steel frames rather than load-bearing walls. The skyline of the central city changed dramatically. Futurists such as Swiss architect Le Corbusier envisaged entire new cities as tower blocks in parkland settings.

Cities built for cars

The motor car also had a dramatic impact on the structure of modern cities and their planning. New philosophies of road design emerged in the United States and Britain in the early 20th century.

In 1906, the first limited access motorways appeared in New York with the Long Island Motor Parkway (1906–11) and the Bronx River Parkway (1906–23).

In 1938, British policeman Alker Tripp refined the idea of the road hierarchy. The width and capacity of a street would be determined by its traffic function – whether it was catering for through-traffic, industrial or residential traffic.

Drive-in shopping

The motor car’s major impact was felt from the mid-1920s. In the United States, an economic boom led to major retailers building department stores in the new suburbs. In 1923, the Country Club Plaza, one of the first automobile-oriented shopping centres, opened in Kansas City. Another significant 20th-century development was the invention of the enclosed climate-controlled shopping mall. The first – Southdale Shopping Center near Minneapolis – opened in 1956. These developments expanded the scale of planning and highlighted the interrelationship of land use and transport development.

The megalopolis emerges

In the 1930s, the powerful New York municipal official, Robert Moses, developed the Henry Hudson Parkway down the western side of Manhattan. As leisure parkways became urban freeways they helped to define a new dispersed and multi-centred urban form. Driven by rapid population growth after the Second World War, big cities sprawled and often interconnected with each other to form what geographer Jean Gottman dubbed ‘megalopolis’. The growth pressures faced by western cities in the 20th century are now being surpassed by Asian cities in the 21st century.

 

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