Going For the Gold: When Town Planning Was an Olympic Competition

In the first half of the 20th century, the Olympic games actually had a medal competition for town planning.

2 minute read

August 9, 2016, 5:00 AM PDT

By jwilliams @jwillia22

London 2012 Olympic Games

Alistair Ross / Flickr

In the four Olympic games between 1928 and 1948 (Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Berlin, and London), gold, silver, and bronze medals were handed out in the decidedly non-athletic competition of town planning. Jack Goodman writes in Atlas Obscura that "town planning" fell under the architectural design category along with "mixed architecture" and "mixed architecture, architectural designs," which were a part of the larger "Arts" portion of the Olympic games that included everything from literature to sculpture. The only American to medal in town planning was Charles Downing Lay at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, for his design for the redevelopment of Marine Park in Brooklyn. He scored a silver, beaten by the German team of Werner March & Walter March for their design of Reich Sport Field.

"Along with town planning, the lineup of events also included painting, sculpture, literature and music. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Games, believed art and architecture were a vital component for his vision of the Olympics. The first four decades of the modern Olympic Games saw runners and swimmers competing alongside authors and urban planners."

Despite receiving a silver medal for the Marine Park plan, Goodman writes that the designs were eventually shelved. New, more modest plans for the park were put together by two architects hired by Robert Moses, then the head of the city's Parks Department.

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