Imagining an Alternative History for the Planning Profession

In Amanda Erickson's explanation of the history of urban planning, the profession as conceived at the start of the 20th century confronted a choice between creating beautiful people or beautiful cities. Why couldn't planners have created both?

In the years before urban planning crystallized as a distinct profession, Erickson sees the influence of "three types of people thinking about how a city should look and function - architects, public health officials, and social workers."

According to Erickson, at America's first urban planning conference, held in New York in 1898, "and in the years that followed, any one of these early urban planning strains could have taken over as the intellectual giant in the field. Though the social workers and the public health officials continued to play a role, urban planning's intellectual history ended up grounded in architecture."

In this "brief history," Erickson concludes that the profession's grounding in design and physical space led directly to the use of planning as a tool for oppression. "As Stuart Meck, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers explains, cities used urban planning not to build better, or cleaner, or morally uplifting cities. They used planners to divide the city, creating beautiful spaces at the expense of the poor." 

 

Full Story: A Brief History of the Birth of Urban Planning

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