'The City' Documents Formative Planning Advocacy on Film

Streaming on YouTube, the 1939 film "The City" is a powerful cinematic account of advocating for planned communities.

August 31, 2020, 11:00 AM PDT

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery


"The City" (1939) revolutionized the art of documentary filmmaking, says Richard Brody. According to Brody, the film "suggests the mighty purview, the theoretical span, and the personal perspective that a film of this kind could embody—and that is often missing from many recent documentaries in spite of their technical freedoms."

Originally conceptualized by Catherine Bauer, an affordable housing advocate, the film makes the argument for public housing as a fundamental right. It advocates for planned communities and "decentralized small cities, organized around factories and other work sites and sources of employment, each with copious parks and recreational areas, shops, schools, and services, linked to one another by vast arrays of roads (large and numerous enough to obviate traffic but landscaped, as parkways, to be as edifying as the towns themselves)," writes Brody.

Brody goes on to describe the film's five acts and coda as an enthusiastic account of the power of planned communities. He recommends the film, directed and filmed by Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke, which is available to stream on YouTube


Thursday, August 27, 2020 in The New Yorker

Indian Trail, North Carolina

Four ‘Low-Hanging Fruit’ Zoning Reforms

An excerpt from the latest book on zoning argues for four approaches to reform that can immediately improve land use regulation in the United States.

June 26, 2022 - M. Nolan Gray

Car Traffic

San Francisco Just Ended Single-Family Zoning

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to Tuesday to eliminate single-family zoning, but pro-development advocates say additional changes are needed to unleash a wave of construction.

June 29, 2022 - San Francisco Chronicle

A Gold Line AnsaldoBreda P2550 train enters Mission Station in South Pasadena on February 25, 2012.

Land Banking to Prevent Transit-Oriented Displacement in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) will implement a new land banking program to mitigate gentrification and displacement around future transit lines.

June 28, 2022 - Los Angeles Daily News

View looking down on construction of multiple buildings in San Francisco's Transbay Transit Center District

San Francisco to Reconsider Inclusionary Zoning as Development Slows to a Crawl

Critics of inclusionary zoning frequently point to San Francisco as an example of what not to do. A sluggish year of development has some local politicians ready to reconsider the city’s program.

July 4 - San Francisco Chronicle

110-10 Interchange

California Senate Committee Kills Freeway Expansion Bill

The proposed legislation would have prohibited new construction in historically underserved areas that often bear the burnt of the negative impacts of freeways.

July 4 - Streetsblog California

Person standing under sign that says "Moab Made" in downtown Moab, Utah.

Initiative Brings Capacity Building to Booming Rural Towns

A research and capacity building initiative based at Utah State University seeks to help fast-growing tourist meccas in the West plan for smart growth.

July 4 - High Country News

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

International Real Estate Strategies and Deal Negotiation

Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education

Affordable Housing: Principles for Changing Domestic and Global Markets

Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.