Civitas by Design

Civitas by Design: Building Better Communities, from the Garden City to the New Urbanism

Howard Gillette
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Civitas by Design
    Book Description:

    Since the end of the nineteenth century, city planners have aspired not only to improve the physical living conditions of urban residents but also to strengthen civic ties through better design of built environments. From Ebenezer Howard and his vision for garden cities to today's New Urbanists, these visionaries have sought to deepen civitas, or the shared community of citizens. In Civitas by Design, historian Howard Gillette, Jr., takes a critical look at this planning tradition, examining a wide range of environmental interventions and their consequences over the course of the twentieth century. As American reform efforts moved from progressive idealism through the era of government urban renewal programs to the rise of faith in markets, planners attempted to cultivate community in places such as Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, New York; Celebration, Florida; and the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. Key figures-including critics Lewis Mumford and Oscar Newman, entrepreneur James Rouse, and housing reformer Catherine Bauer-introduced concepts such as neighborhood units, pedestrian shopping malls, and planned communities that were implemented on a national scale. Many of the buildings, landscapes, and infrastructures that planners envisioned still remain, but frequently these physical designs have proven insufficient to sustain the ideals they represented. Will contemporary urbanists' efforts to join social justice with environmentalism generate better results? Gillette places the work of reformers and designers in the context of their times, providing a careful analysis of the major ideas and trends in urban planning for current and future policy makers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0528-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    Americans have perpetually harbored complex and often uncomfortable feelings about urban life. Recognizing early in their national history that cities performed critical economic functions, they nonetheless worried about the effects of concentrated settlement, not just on individual behavior but on citizenship itself. Thomas Jefferson was not alone in the belief, which he stated in Notes on Virginia, that “the mobs of great cities add just as much to the support of government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.”¹ Stating his strong preference for agrarian republicanism over social conditions generated in European cities, Jefferson, like others after...

  4. Chapter 1 Progressive Reform Through Environmental Intervention
    (pp. 5-22)

    In its attempt to grapple with the harsh conditions brought about by urban industrialism, the Progressive Era set the stage for many of the twentieth-century reforms that followed. Seen in historical perspective, this movement appears sharply limited by a middle-class bias that sought less to eliminate injustice than it did to restore an idealized vision of established republican principles. If it failed to challenge racial or gender bias and left unchallenged the basic tenets of modern capitalism, it nonetheless sought through active government intervention to assure that the democratic system offered its citizens the chance of a decent life. In...

  5. Chapter 2 The Garden City in America
    (pp. 23-44)

    Even as the elements of Progressivism were first stirring in America, an obscure English stenographer named Ebenezer Howard published with his own funds a modest looking tract with the pretentious title To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. The product of years of discussion in moderately radical English circles, Howard’s extended essay proposed nothing less than the elimination of the capitalist exploitation that had characterized English cities as the scourge of the Western world. Influenced by a range of utopian thinkers, not least two nineteenth-century American reformers who themselves had fundamentally challenged the ill effects of urban industrial development, Henry...

  6. Chapter 3 The City: Film as Artifact
    (pp. 45-59)

    Pare Lorentz’s landmark documentary The City, prepared at the request of Clarence Stein on behalf of the American Institute of Planners for presentation at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, is a wonderfully rich statement of the faith that the proper environment could shape better communities. As this chapter demonstrates, however, conveying complex ideas through a visual medium was not a simple matter. As I circulated drafts of the chapter between the filmmakers and Lewis Mumford, the chief intellectual influence on the film, tensions that had surrounded the original production surfaced again, despite the considerable passage of time. The filmmakers...

  7. Chapter 4 The Evolution of Neighborhood Planning
    (pp. 60-76)

    In the controversy surrounding efforts to revitalize older urban areas in the 1950s and 1960s, no terms became more polarized than those of “neighborhood” and “redevelopment.” Reacting against ambitious plans for the wholesale rebuilding of blighted areas and the consequent disruption of indigenous social patterns, neighborhood protests proliferated, helping secure, finally, greater citizen participation in the planning process. Yet such antagonism was not anticipated with authorization of redevelopment provisions under Title I of the 1949 Housing Act. Although contention over public housing delayed passage of the bill, the participants in the debate agreed that the goal of providing a decent...

  8. Chapter 5 The Planned Shopping Center in Suburb and City
    (pp. 77-94)

    Among the culprits most often singled out for the decline of America’s central cities, the suburban shopping center stands out. These “engines of commerce” not only undercut traditional economic patterns, they had, according to critics, detrimental effects on social relationships forged over generations.¹ Such criticism would have surprised the pioneers of such efforts, who cast their goals in terms of a philosophy rooted in the earlier era of greatest suburban growth, when theorists had conceived planned shopping centers as the means not just to sell merchandise but to improve social and civic life. This chapter traces the evolution of the...

  9. Chapter 6 James Rouse and American City Planning
    (pp. 95-113)

    During his life and since his death in 1996 at the age of eighty-one, James Rouse has attracted attention and, for the most part, praise for his multiple roles as entrepreneur, developer, civic activist, and philanthropist.¹ Propelled to the cover of Time in 1981 following the opening of Baltimore’s tremendously successful Harborplace retail complex, his image has been indelibly linked with the magazine’s headline, “Cities Are Fun!”² In an era when urban areas have struggled with debilitating decentralization and rising social costs associated with heightened racial and class conflict, Rouse’s affirmative vision for revitalized cities boosted spirits and generated a...

  10. Chapter 7 The New Urbanism: “Organizing Things That Matter”
    (pp. 114-133)

    As concerned as James Rouse had been about the state of metropolitan America, he never went so far as to develop new principles of design that would overcome the social as well as the physical problems induced by sprawl, crass commercialism, and divided authority over land use decisions. At best, he hoped to promote community by providing magnets for sociability. His vision, even in building the new town of Columbia, did not extend to reforming contemporary culture. That challenge has been taken up more recently by a new generation of architects and critics who, like Rouse, have sought to make...

  11. Chapter 8 Civitas in the Design of Low-Income Housing
    (pp. 134-159)

    If nineteenth-century reformers considered the home the crucible for shaping individual citizenship, their twentieth-century successors thought increasingly in terms of affecting whole communities of citizens. From the Progressive Era to the present, activists have sought not just decent homes but better neighborhood environments. The introduction, in the 1930s, of publicly provided housing added new powers to shape urban civic life. Here, in what was originally considered temporary quarters for those whose incomes excluded them from the opportunities available only in the private market, it was believed that proper design could encourage sociability and enhance solidarity. Increasingly, the goal of housing...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 160-168)

    There is little doubt across the spectrum of opinion that design of the built environment matters to the health and well-being of communities and the individuals who make them up. Opinions differ markedly, however, on what role such environments play in influencing behavior, especially as they might contribute to desirable social ends. While historian John Archer can argue, “There is no question that architecture extensively structures human behavior,”¹ sociologist Herbert Gans, in a famous critique of architectural practice, disagrees: “Society cannot be remade through architecture, and architects cannot solve problems of poverty, mental illness, or marital discord through better design....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 169-214)
  14. Index
    (pp. 215-222)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 223-224)