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Planning Postwar Cities

Throughout the twentieth century, civic leaders, politicians, bureaucrats, and planners shared the belief that urban planning could and should ameliorate the social problems of cities, though they practiced diverse approaches. The City Beautiful movement, in which the Plan of Chicago is a key document, emphasized improvements in aesthetics, public health, and efficiency. But the Plan was oblique on how to deal with slum conditions, blight, and poverty. By the time of the Great Depression and the New Deal, planners sought and won direct tools for attacking poverty and blight in the form of massive public works, large-scale public housing, and a wide-spread social safety net. World War II brought even greater levels of direct federal spending that promoted full employment. Cities in the west and south, and even Chicago, became heavily engaged in military production and experienced rapid population growth.

After the war, most cities faced a tremendous housing shortage, as little private housing had been built since 1930. A thriving economy created pent-up demand for new homes. At the same time, planners hoped to not only shape suburban development but also to revive city neighborhoods, many of which had fallen into decay. Congress created an Urban Redevelopment program in 1949 (later renamed Urban Renewal), and in 1954 awarded federally-funded grants for comprehensive city planning. A binge of civic centers, highways, and slum clearance projects ensued, even as suburban development proceeded with only a limited governmental role in planning.

By the early 1960s, however, it was clear to critics and planning practitioners themselves—not to mention average American citizens—that the emphasis on the physical city inadequately addressed urban poverty, racial tensions, and other problems that accompanied the wartime and post-war growth of urban and suburban America. A crisis in planning ensued, as technocratic, top-down planning increasingly came to be viewed as suspect, especially by rising community-based organizations. 



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