The Past and Future of Planning

I haven’t found a site that provides more visual food for thought on the future of urban planning than the vintage photo collection at Shorpy. Just take a look at their large collection of cityscape photos from the early 20th century. How did we fall for the bait and switch that had us losing all these brilliant streetcar networks in the US? And now we’re trying to put them back in.

Washington, DC. From 1924, “F Street N.W. from 14th Street.”
Detroit, MI circa 1917. “Looking up Woodward Avenue.”
Philadelphia, PA circa 1906. “Chestnut Street.”
Rochester, NY. Circa 1904. “State Street”.

Speaking of urban planning, there’s been a recent flurry of articles on what to do with suburbia, “hintersprawl”, outer rings, inner rings, etc., notably by Aron Chang (Beyond Foreclosure: The Future of Suburban Housing), Allison Arieff (Shifting the Suburban Paradigm) and Alex Steffen (How Not to Redesign a Suburb). Mortgage crisis + resource scarcity = “Whoops, why did we build these McMansions again?” Still, many developers aren’t budging. From Arieff:

Five years ago, at the crest of the housing boom, I worked on a team consulting with a master planned-community developer who had asked us to help “revolutionize the way our homes are sold.” The developer had little interest in the work we proposed — namely, to revolutionize the way their homes were designed and built. That company, like most of its competitors, laid off nearly half its work force the following year, and ended or delayed most of its future development projects. Devoting energy to how best to market its inventory hadn’t been the most forward-thinking strategy for them then — nor would it be now. But that’s what most developers continue to do.

(See also: The Appeal of Modern Streetcars Continues to Mount, But There Are Obstacles to It Bringing Mobility Gains)

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