The New York City Planning Commission’s massive six-volume Plan for New York City (1969) was formulated at the end of a turbulent decade in American urban history. Since 1950, New York’s population had remained steady instead of continuing to grow, and the city faced the major urban problems of the day, including “white flight,” the decline of manufacturing, rising unemployment, accelerating crime rates, and race-related violence.
Like the Plan of Chicago, the New York plan was intended for public discussion. Profusely illustrated with maps, charts, renderings of buildings, and black-and-white photographs meant to provide additional documentation, the plan was glossy and ambitious. But it also reflected the pessimism about the ability of traditional planning’s emphasis on infrastructure and public works projects to halt American urban decline. Despite decades of planning and building by Robert Moses, the introduction to the Plan for New York City acknowledged: “It is obvious that a great deal is wrong. The air is polluted. The streets are dirty and choked. The subways are jammed. The waters of the rivers and bays are fouled. There is a severe shortage of housing. The municipal plant is long past its prime. Worst of all is the problem of the slums. Traditionally they have offered a route to something better in life, but they no longer seem to.” (vol. 1, p. 4)
Instead of merely emphasizing infrastructure improvements and public works projects, the Plan for New York City demonstrated a turn towards a focus on neighborhood-level planning. The plan admits that “dilapidated housing, shabbily maintained parks, dingy streets, widespread unemployment and heightened crime rates are an indictment of the past and a challenge for today.” This indictment is substantiated by the general high density of the built environment shown on the map and aerial photograph. The photographs at left humanize and soften this portrait, while also promoting the possibility of progress through urban planning, even in this troubled era.
Caro, Robert. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York: Knopf, 1974.
Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961.
Haar, Charles. Between the Idea and the Reality: A Study in the Origin, Fate and Legacy of the Model Cities Program. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.
Weber, Bret A., and Amanda Wallace, "Revealing the Empowerment Revolution: A Literature Review of the Model Cities Program." Journal of Urban History 38, 1 (2012): 173–192.
New York (N.Y.). City Planning Commission. Plan for New York City: 1969 a Proposal. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 1969. https://archive.org/details/planfornewyorkci00newy
The Center for New York City Law. “Former CPC Chair Discussed 1969 Plan for New York City.” http://www.citylandnyc.org/former-cpc-chair-discussed-1969-plan-for-new-york-city/
New York City Planning Commission, Plan for New York City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press for the New York City Planning Commission, 1969), vol. 3, Brooklyn, pp. 42-43. The Newberry Library, oversize HT168.N5 A5 1969, vol. 3.