Monday, January 16, 2012

1959 Planning Concepts

As reported in Atlantic Cities, an interesting video from 1959 has recently come to light.  A joint production of the National Home Builders Association and the Urban Land Institute, the video advocates better planning to avoid the continued sprawling of new suburbs.

The video is dated in many ways, including the depiction of only middle-aged white men in the housing industry and the unfortunately pejorative use of “Chinese wall” to describe the zoning efforts of some communities.

It’s also dated in its solutions, with its primary advocacy being for increased density through planned unit developments, cluster housing, and townhomes.  It doesn’t address the other ills that we’ve since discovered in sprawl, such as increased energy usage, excessive reliance on cars for transportation, traffic congestion, etc.

Some commenters noted the inadequacy of the 1959 solutions and used that as evidence that all planning concepts are eventually overturned in favor of different ideas.  I disagree.  Although the 1959 solutions are perceived as insufficient today, they were steps in the correct direction.  Today, increased density remains a goal of new urbanism.  But added to that, we often try to add transit access, walkability, street front retail, etc.  The 1959 ideas haven’t been displaced, they’ve been built upon.

Fifty years from now, I’m sure that the concepts available to the land use community will be better than new urbanism concepts we offer today.  But I’m also sure that, to a discerning eye, the 2012 concepts of new urbanism can be seen as laying the groundwork for the 2062 land planning concepts. 

I suggest watching the video, partly for the giggles and partly to see from whence we’ve traveled.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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