American Urban Form

American Urban Form: A Representative History

Sam Bass Warner
Andrew H. Whittemore
drawings by Andrew H. Whittemore
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    American Urban Form
    Book Description:

    American urban form -- the spaces, places, and boundaries that define city life -- has been evolving since the first settlements of colonial days. The changing patterns of houses, buildings, streets, parks, pipes and wires, wharves, railroads, highways, and airports reflect changing patterns of the social, political, and economic processes that shape the city. In this book, Sam Bass Warner and Andrew Whittemore map more than three hundred years of the American city through the evolution of urban form. They do this by offering an illustrated history of "the City" -- a hypothetical city (constructed from the histories of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York) that exemplifies the American city's transformation from village to regional metropolis.In an engaging text accompanied by Whittemore's detailed, meticulous drawings, they chart the City's changes. Planning for the future of cities, they remind us, requires an understanding of the forces that shaped the city's past.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-30167-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Sam Bass Warner and Andrew H. Whittemore
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    This book is about patterns, the physical patterns or “urban form” that we can observe in American big cities past and present. It is also about the social, political, economic, and other human patterns that these physical patterns shape and are themselves shaped by in turn.

    The term “urban form” refers to the spaces, places, and boundaries that define urban life. Urban forms are composed of houses, buildings, streets, parks, market farms, pipes and wires, railroads, highways, wharves, and airports. Any particular urban form reflects the complex interrelationships among social, economic, and political processes that brought it into being. New...

  5. 1 The City’s Seventeenth-Century Beginnings
    (pp. 8-17)

    The geological structures of rivers and the ocean gave enduring shape to the City. Here, where a deep estuary entered into a sheltered bay off the Atlantic Ocean, Europeans would make their first forays into the region. This estuary would one day serve as the city’s harbor. Along the edge of the bay the land formed dramatic headlands that would prove good sites for fortifications by European settlers. About two miles inland from the bay, a small river originating in inland freshwater lakes entered the estuary. The river flowed into the estuary from the north, but wound shortly before its...

  6. 2 The City in the Mid-Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 20-29)

    By the mid-eighteenth century, despite wars and epidemics of smallpox, measles, typhus, typhoid, and the annual fall scourge of malaria, the City had grown to be a substantial colonial outpost of about 18,000 inhabitants. Its progress exceeded French Quebec’s 8,500, but powerful Amerindian tribes closed off its western reach so that it lagged far behind Spanish America. There Havana boasted 35,000 residents and Mexico City had grown to 100,000. Lacking a populous farming interior, the City had been unable to grow as fast as its contemporary British trading post, Calcutta (founded 1686), now a city of 115,000.

    The form of...

  7. 2 The Merchant Republic, 1820
    (pp. 32-45)

    The City in the 1820s rushed onward as an American boom town. Despite the destruction and suffering of the Revolutionary War, embargo bankruptcies, and the War of 1812, the City’s population had increased to 110,000, a multiplication of six times since 1750. The City’s expansiveness rested ultimately on new linkages for overseas and continental shipping and commerce. Ever-shifting European imperial holdings, the colonial revolutions in Latin America, and the connection between the Turkish opium trade and the opening of the port at Canton, China, added fresh channels of trade to the long-established West Indian and European routes. At the same...

  8. 4 The City Overwhelmed, 1860
    (pp. 48-61)

    There are decades in the nation’s experience when events come on so fast and from so many directions that they overwhelm accepted wisdom and exceed the capacity of social and political innovators to respond effectively. The accelerating pace of business and the growth of the City in the years from 1840 to 1860 both rested on extraordinary events. Gold from California and Australia and periodic surges of capital from Europe formed deep pools of wealth that funded the building of the northeastern and midwestern railroad and telegraph network and supported a vastly expanded coastwise and oceanic fleet. The new wealth...

  9. 5 The City Restructured, 1895
    (pp. 64-81)

    Swept forward by intensifying industrialization and by the flood of young rural and village Europeans seeking a new livelihood, the City, like all the major cities of Europe and the United States, continued its unprecedented rate of growth. By 1895 it was one of sixteen in the world to have exceeded one million inhabitants. By the force of its commercial, financial, and industrial institutions it came to dominate a large region of the nation.

    Several striking changes in buildings and land use gave the city a new form and appearance at this time: the downtown built upward as its offices...

  10. 6 Toward a New Economy and a Novel Urban Form, 1925
    (pp. 84-99)

    During the previous thirty years the metropolitan region had doubled in population. Within the City’s municipal boundaries the number of residents increased by 70 percent, but the suburban population multiplied by two and a half times, so that in 1925 the City contained 2,000,000, the suburbs 500,000.

    The origins of the newcomers changed yet one more time, from overseas immigrants to American rural migrants, black and white. Beginning in 1921, farm prices in the United States collapsed, ushering in a twenty-year farm depression. As a result, many country people, white and African American, moved to the City to better their...

  11. 7 The Federally Supported City, 1950
    (pp. 102-115)

    The foundations for a new postwar city form grew out of a novel mixture of optimism and fear. After a decade of economic depression U.S. factories hummed to meet war demand, then postwar demand for goods and orders for overseas aid. Unlike those of Europe, Russia, China, and Japan, American cities had remained untouched by war’s bombs and armies. The City’s population once again swelled with the influx of factory labor. During the war the CIO and other unions fulfilled a no-strike pledge, and in return the government negotiated union-business contracts to avoid crippling strikes. After the war business and...

  12. 8 The Polycentric City, 1975
    (pp. 118-133)

    By 1975 federal policy had transformed the geography of the City and its region. Private builders throughout the 1950s and 1960s, aided by risk-abating federal financial policies, responded to demand for home ownership. These policies allowed more and more people to purchase homes, transforming the City from a society of renters into one of owners. The building of freeways by federal planners after 1956 eliminated the centrality of the downtown, opening vast new areas to suburban residential and commercial development. While the population of the City shrank by 400,000 people to 1.6 million by 1975, the suburbs became home to...

  13. 9 The Global City, 2000
    (pp. 136-154)

    By the first decade of the new millennium the City had reinvented itself with a new economy, a new culture, and most obviously new forms. The City’s center became a media subject. Local newspapers and magazines featured articles titled “City Life Is Back” and “The Urban Renaissance.” Four television sitcoms of the 1990s based on the lifestyles of young, single, usually white urban professionals were set in fictional loft condominiums, restored Victorian row houses, and downtown office towers of the City. Hollywood released several films in that decade featuring romances and adult comedy set in the City—a far departure...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 155-160)
  15. Suggested Reading
    (pp. 161-172)
  16. Index
    (pp. 173-180)
  17. Series List
    (pp. 181-184)