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Thread: Sometimes, planners of the 1950s knew what they were doing

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Sometimes, planners of the 1950s knew what they were doing

    There's a common belief among the current generation of planners that planning in the 1950s was focused on transforming the built environment of the country to a suburban form, and finding the most efficient way to move cars around from Point A to Point B.

    In researching previous comprehensive planning efforts for a report I'm working on, I found a plan for the region from 1959, a time when suburbanization was in full swing. Many policies recommended by the plan, though, seem quite progressive for their time. In fact, they could be policies one would see in a New Urbanist-oriented plan. A few examples:













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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    An excellent point. Not all people are alike, and not all members of a profession are alike. I run into progressive speak in old planning documents all the time. The main problem, I think, was the huge amounts of federal funds pouring into highways and sprawl at the time. Money talks, and politicians (and many planners) go where the money to do projects exist.

    I went to a symposium last night on the failed Inner Belt Highway in Boston, which would have destroyed so many of the "hip" and now-gentified neighborhoods in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. It was largely about the money- when the money was flexed to transit, Boston instead got much better transit.

    Of course, there is a conventional wisdom in time periods and in the "new frontier" period it was about highways and suburbs. People didn't entirely understand impacts like climate change, alienation, the fact that you can't really make it look nice under an elevated highway, etc. I wonder what "basic" planning concepts that will be taken for granted in 2040 there will be that we are missing now.

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    The inner belt and the Southwest highway in Boston were stopped in 1970 by then Governor Sargent.

    A better example of 1950s wisdom was the switch from clear cutting urban renewal to plans the focused on rehabbing existing structures. We have the South End of Boston to thank for this change.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    There's a common belief among the current generation of planners that planning in the 1950s was focused on transforming the built environment of the country to a suburban form, and finding the most efficient way to move cars around from Point A to Point B.

    In researching previous comprehensive planning efforts for a report I'm working on, I found a plan for the region from 1959, a time when suburbanization was in full swing. Many policies recommended by the plan, though, seem quite progressive for their time. In fact, they could be policies one would see in a New Urbanist-oriented plan. A few examples:
    ]
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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    The City of Santa Fe instituted its current zoning code in 1957. Its as much geared toward use as maintaining and promoting a particular architectural style. If any of you have been to Santa Fe, you know what I mean. Even the gas stations are stuccoed and reflect one of the two types of architecture that are permitted: Pueblo, characterized by rounded parapets and rough-hewn woodwork, and Territorial, featuring brick coping and milled, often decorative woodworking. The aggregate effect over all this time is really pretty cool. I can’t think of any other city in the country that maintains this kind of consistency of appearance and materials throughout the entire urban area. And while one can critique the idea of being this restrictive, it certainly hasn’t hurt Santa Fe. Developers want to build there and it is a very desirable place to live. Maybe too desirable – the current median home value is $220k compared to Albuquerque’s $137k even though wages are not very different between the two cities (a lot of wealthy folks have second homes there, though, and that is part of what has inflated home values). But as a City, they seem to be doing ok as they continue to develop parks and public spaces (like the recently redone railyards) and some remarkable trails. The coffers still seem to be full (although affordable housing has been a sticking point there for some time now).

    Some stock photo images of Santa Fe where you can see many examples of how the code (which was adapted form the traditional building forms that predated it) has impacted building in "The City Different"
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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    This thread raises an excellent point. Yes, even back in the 1950's some planners were responding to the development forces commonly associated with the post-war suburban boom. The 'Kalamazoo Mall' opened in the late 50's, as a counter (some would say 'desperate') to all the inertia directing people and businesses away from the downtown to the burbs. The first of its kind three-block pedestrian mall, unfortunately, succumbed in the 90's and was re-opened to vehicular traffic.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    There's a common belief among the current generation of planners that planning in the 1950s was focused on transforming the built environment of the country to a suburban form, and finding the most efficient way to move cars around from Point A to Point B.

    In researching previous comprehensive planning efforts for a report I'm working on, I found a plan for the region from 1959, a time when suburbanization was in full swing. Many policies recommended by the plan, though, seem quite progressive for their time. In fact, they could be policies one would see in a New Urbanist-oriented plan.
    I would flip that around and say: in the 1950s, just as today, plans that are based on progressive, new urbanist visions and principles ended up in reality being a suburban form whose primary function is to move cars from Point A to Point B.

    I did research in grad school on redevelopment planning in Downtown L.A. and similarly found that the language about mixed use, pedestrian, transit, vibrant urban center, and so on and so forth extends back at least to the 1960s. Nonetheless almost all of what has been built in Downtown L.A. from the 1960s right up to the present has been auto oriented US CBD "tower in the parking lot/above the parking structure" type of development.

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    Cyburbian
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    Bentobox makes the excellent point, and perhaps the most relevant one, that what the plans say isn't as important as how and whether they are implemented.

    Nevertheless, thanks, Dan, as always for helping to correct stereotypes of what planning was like in "the old days."

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