The megalopolis of today is a relatively new phenomenon that possesses a scale of which humankind has not seen throughout history. We have yet to recover from this extreme growth. City planning of the past century has been in reaction to the resultant changes. It is time to make provisions for the future and to propel city planning onto the leading edge of the societal curve. The most influential planning strategies of the past have attempted to accomplish this. Regardless of their successes or failures, they each had this intention in common. Today we have become complacent. We accept certain theories and strategies as good and reject others as being bad without any real analysis of their true successes and failures. A reassessment of these ideas would create a more educated approach towards our cities, as well as a greater understanding of them. The 19th century was a time of phenomenal growth in cities throughout the world.

London -1800(1 million) -1900(6.5 million)

Paris -1800(500,000)- 1900(3 million)

New York -1800(33,000) - 1900(3.5 million)

Chicago -1833(300) - 1900(2million)

During this era, an infusion of new technologies made this growth both possible and necessary. It was fed by mass production of food and products, better modes of transportation, and new innovations in construction. The growth rate was so fast that there was little or no overall organization as to how these cities expanded. Large amounts of cheap basic shelter within walking distance of the centers of production was the major objective. Disastrous results towards city inhabitants occurred.

The first major problems encountered in these urban areas were with health and sanitation The lack of an adequate system of waste disposal led to several epidemics of tuberculosis and cholera. Congestion created other problems with transportation. In reaction to these issues, plans had to involve an overall city strategy. City authorities had to assume the responsibility for an integrated infrastructure to provide for a clean water supply, adequate waste disposal and roads. A new scale was introduced. The city could not be viewed merely as a conglomeration of parts, but instead it had to be dealt with as a functioning whole. In each case, city planning was responding to existing urban problems. This approach was necessary and adequate because these problems and advancements were unforeseen. London and Paris were the first cities to take action and were seriously transformed by the necessity to solve their common urban ills. New legislation was enacted to deal with the heath and welfare of city inhabitants. Also the efficiency of the functions within the city became a major considerations of how a city was to be structured. These two main concerns were the inspiration for several plans and attitudes regarding urbanism of the future. There became a focus on new overall organizational schemes that approached the problems of urbanism with an attitude that was unincumbered by the past. The primary concern was the radical reinvention of the city with an outlook towards the future. Paris was restructured by Baron Georges Haussmann in 1853 based on original plans created by the painter Jacques Louis David. Large vistas and avenues were created to allow for easier transportation and imply an overall city organization. Haussmann cut through the existing city linking sections of the ever expanding urban area. These alterations helped with the function of the city, although it is thought that they had military intentions as well.

The plan for the Palace of Versailles was the model used for the new organization of Paris. Versailles was designed in the 17th century under King Louis XIV and was the political capital of France for more than a century. The design consisted of a strict geometric organization imposed on the natural setting with combinations of architectural elements and gardens brought together to form the composition. In Paris a similar attitude of geometric organization was imposed on the existing city. This attitude was also influential in the design of other cities. Lí Enfant used it as a model for Washington D.C. and it was inspirational to Daniel Burnahm and the City Beautiful movement which evolved out of the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago. Both of these examples used the focal points of public monuments with radiating avenues in a strict geometric pattern similar to the gardens of Versailles. The concept worked well for a capital such as Washington which is ideally suited to the idea of a city as museum. Monuments help to portray the feeling of power. In Chicago, however, the concept wasnít successful. The architecture of the exposition never integrated into the fabric of the city and the City Beautiful concept was never realized in total. Nevertheless it became a fragmented idea that found examples in several cities.

This idea of dealing with urban ills through the completely designed city took other forms as well. The Garden City plan was devised by Ebenezer Howard in 1898 and was based on the idea that the city is inherently evil. Through the late 19th century, Howard witnessed the growing congestion in the dense urban centers of Chicago and London and became alarmed at the potential for unlimited sprawl radiating from these urban cores. This sprawl would drive the countryside out of the reach of the city population. Howardís concept was to create a more pleasant environment by bringing people closer to nature. According to Howard, the city had no redeeming qualities, it needed to be controlled and ultimately eliminated. He assumed people didnít want this new scale of urbanism and were forced to endure it only out of necessity.

The Garden City plan attempted to return people to a more manageable town and country way of life. It involved linking multiple smaller cities together in a network with the population of each ranging between 30,000 to 50,000. Each Garden City would be circumscribed with an uninhabited green belt that would provide a predetermined geographical size to the towns, as well as allow everyone access to open green space. Each town would have itís own industry and businesses. Rings of farms would be created on the periphery. Based on a radial plan, the parts of the community would be organized according to function. All commerce would be concentrated to provide an efficient means of supplying goods. Industry was considered dirty, therefore it was to be isolated. Housing ideally would have suburban physical qualities, and the social interaction of small towns. Each garden city was intended to be self sufficient and provide all the necessities of life for its population. The idea of self sufficiency made these towns distinctly different from the existing common suburb, which was dependant on its neighboring city. These new towns would not be dependant on a neighboring metropolis. They would provide work, housing and food for all residents. There would be no reason to leave your garden city except for occasional recreational excursions to the countryside. The real limitation to this plan was that Howard gave no consideration to the actual way a city functions. It didnít concern him since his intent was to eliminate the city. He assumed people lived in these environments only out of necessity and if given the choice, they would much rather live closer to nature. He refused to believe that people might actually prefer urban environments. Ultimately his beliefs were proven false. At the time of his design of the Garden City, the majority of people did live in cities due to necessity. Today, however, that is not the case. Many people actually do enjoy living in urban areas. Nevertheless there are several aspects of the Garden City which were very influential and are considered valid urban strategies by many city planners and schools of architecture. Zoning as a means of town and city organization was derived from Howardís garden cities, also the demarcation of distinct areas to serve specific purposes is the main strategy of many planners today. In the United States where almost every town has discrete sections for retail, housing and industry, this is especially true. By planning and organizing in this manner, we have created a perpetual need for automobiles and are forced now to plan for them as well. In dense urban areas, there is a constant attempt to thwart the dominance of cars through public transportation. This has had various outcomes. It seems that given the choice, people prefer to drive. This puts extreme stress on certain areas and creates the need for more roads and parking. It is only when it is troublesome to drive that people look towards alternate forms of transportation. The strategy to date has been to create more access for autos. This appears to not be the solution because more access for autos just leads to more autos.

Howardís idea of bringing people closer to nature has been influential on planning. The notion of the city park being good for city dwellers is a common misconception of many planners. Parks are necessary and can be good but they are often created without any consideration towards the context in which they are placed. A park which is not woven into the fabric of the city is potentially destructive. Planners can have the best of intentions, but grass alone cannot provide happiness. A poorly or undesigned park can create a void in the city. This is not good in an urban area and has the potential of creating extremely dangerous situations. Even though this has been proven, planners continue to be led by the idea that any park is a good park. More research into what makes one successful needs to be done. These actions revert back to Howardís attitude that city inhabitants, if given a choice, would rather live in a less congested area. This seems not to be the case. The majority of people who live in urban areas actually like the congestion of the city. Parks, therefore, should provide a release from the typical urban setting and the objectives of parks should be aimed more toward recreation. The most successful parks are ones in which people actually go to.

In 1920, Le Corbusier proposed a concept for a new city plan which he called the Contemporary City. This new city was to be the ultimate in efficiency, as well as pleasant for its occupants. The concept is that the whole city is a park. Cruciform skyscrapers organized 400 yards apart from one another on a gridded matrix would leave an abundance of open spaces and occupy a mere 5% of the cities ground surface. This new space would provide large amount of light, ventilation, recreation and aid the overall well being of the citizens. Transportation was to be integrated throughout the city for maximum efficiency. High speed highways and centrally located parking would eliminate traffic problems and to provide a safer environment, pedestrians would be kept separate from autos. Le Corbusier viewed the cities of the day as invasive. He believed congestion melted away nature to nonexistence in these urban areas because they buried nature under roads and buildings. It appears, however, that in trying to eliminate congestion, Le Corbusier attempted to bury the city under nature. His primary concern was movement. This new city of the machine age was to run as efficiently as a well designed instrument. The Contemporary City was very dense, even though there was much open space. It was organized and programmed. The plan called for 1200 occupants per acre. A density which didnít exist at that time. It also allowed for the possibility of future expansion.

The Contemporary City is similar to the Garden City, but on a much larger scale. Both schemes have the intention of bringing inhabitants closer to nature. Unlike Howard, Le Corbusier wasnít interested in a town oriented existence but rather the city as an idealized functioning whole. Both planners, focused on access to a more natural setting for their inhabitants and their plans were organized similarly. Their objective was to disperse and interconnect the pockets of density. Howard did this through each of his garden cities while Le Corbusier accomplished this through the use of the scyscraper. In essence, each of Le Corbusierís towers is a garden city. The concept of a city is to bring people together and breed diversity and interaction. In the city of today there is random movement. Inhabitants are able to interact anywhere based on their personal interests and acquaintances. The concepts of Howard and Le Corbusier, which create dispersion and separation, go against this idea ,and therefore are anti city. In these new cities of Howard and Le Corbusier, inhabitants are contained for the sake of efficiency. If everything we need is contained within the immediate area we occupy, it would be convenient but it would create a very hollow existence since there would be no unknown.

We crave diversity, not only in the people we interact with but also in the spaces we occupy. Cities are full of mystery. Curiosity at what lurks behind each corner is interesting. Cities should have the quality of something continuously new to discover, no matter how long youíve lived there. An idealized city such as Le Corbusierís Contemporary City would eliminate this experience of new discoveries, forcing people to go elsewhere to fulfill this craving.

Overall city design strategies such as the Garden City and the Contemporary City where very influential and need to be respected for their attempts to solve a myriad of problems. Cities are so complex, the undertaking of solving all their problems is impossible and unnecessary. Problems and chaos are what give them character. It would be a shame if cities were utopian. The city would lose all its glitz and mystery. A city is not merely a collection of mass amounts of people, but is congestion, chaos, and the unexpected. Cities have different sizes, shapes, geography, histories, climates, and so on, therefore one solution will not work for all. Within each city differences permeate down to individual areas, therefore strategies which work in one area of a city may not necessarily be as successful within another area of the same city. With each new insertion into any urban area it is crucial to understand the complexities of everyday life at that place. To understand place consideration must be given to its history and its current status. Only then can we begin to think how to mold the place to create a successful future. An objective of place must first be established. How will it fit into the city and contribute positively to the whole? When there is an objective and an idea of what success would be, the designer can begin to look for or create appropriate solutions and strategies as design.

In most cases the main objective revolves around money. That is no excuse, good design can be created even in the most difficult circumstances. The most innovative solutions often evolve out the most dire circumstances. This approach towards urban design is very micro in its scale and is based on the concept that a small move can make a large positive impact. Scale is important. The megalopolis is large, but that does not need to translate into sweeping architectural interventions. We cannot neglect the human scale. People are concerned with their cities, but they are more concerned with their neighborhoods and the places they interact with and inhabit on a regular basis. Therefore it makes sense to think more intently of the human scale because it has the most impact and has the potential to contribute to a greater extent. The large scale is important. For situations such as transportation and sanitation it is necessary to approach these issues at a city scale, although the design solutions should not be at the expense of the human scale. When dealing with these issues it is important to understand their total impact down to the smallest detail. The examples cited earlier are valid, but they did not consider the human impact. I am not disregarding them. They do have merit. To often though, aspects of them are just plugged into urban situations with no thought or analysis as to how they will affect the surrounding areas. They are blindly taken as beneficial and enacted with broad strokes, leaving many opportunities for creating positive and beneficial places squandered.

Urban Approaches - research paper, April 1999
SAF-Preface-Introduction-City Journals-Boston-Site-Objectives-Program-Proposal-Conclusion-Sources
SAF-Preface-Introduction-City Journals-Boston-Site-Objectives-Program-Proposal-Conclusion-Sources
Haussmann cuts through the fabric of Paris
The Gardens of Versailles are a relentless geometric organization imposed on its natural setting.
Ebenezer Howards plan for a radial organization of multiple garden cities
LeCorbusier's Contemporary City offers a new approach to the congestion found in cities such as Manhattan.