Utopianism in City Planning
There is no dispute to the fact that one of humankind’s basic desires is to improve the livability of its immediate environment. Try as the technocrats may, the stark reality is that the urban scale of living is fraught with problems and chaos. The frustration involved gave rise, and continues to do so, to several proposals under the discipline of city planning (sadf). Recollecting the schools of thoughts championed by the early Greeks to their impact on modern day city planning, the magnitude of the topic under discourse comes into focus.
When it comes to planning theories, none encapsulates the subject of utopianism better than Broadacre City by Frank Lloyd Wright, Garden City by Ebenezer Howard, Contemporary City by Le Corbusier and White City by Daniel Burnham (Levy, 2005). This discussion delves into the first three cities, along with the rationales of their designer. The essence of Utopianism is to ignite the imagination of the public via the proposal of novel, sweeping approaches to urban problems. Ebenezer Howard, born in 1850, had limited formal education. At the age of 21, he made his way to Nebraska, America where he realized his talents were not suited for farming.
His shorthand skills got him a job with courts and media houses as a reporter. He returned to England in 1876 where he spent the rest of his life working with a firm that produced certified Parliamentary reports. Reading widely and constant contemplation on social issues allowed him to write and publish books on city planning. His ideas first appeared in his 1898 book, “Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path To Real Reform” (Wood n. d. ). The intention behind The Garden City is the sustenance of a healthy economic and natural combination of country and town life, via a delicate balance of leisure and work.
According to Howard, this goal stated echoes the American ideal of establishing a harmonious link between garden and machine. In a way it is a reflection of Le Corbusier’s philosophy of looking at a building as a machine; Howard does it a larger scale and incorporates greenery. The beautiful country was negatively associated with unemployment, low wages, and unfavorably long working hours. There were no physical amenities, no entertainment venues a lack of public spirit and limited opportunities for advancement. The city did present a better picture either. Out went nature’s beauty, and in came gin palaces, slums, murky skies and foul air.
Opportunities for advancement were available but people had to contend with long journey, high rents and crown isolation. Howard’s physical solution was the combination of the best of both worlds through a number of Garden Cites giving rise to the Social City. The result: a beautiful marriage between city entertainment and the fresh air and beauty of the country. Rents would be low, wages high with distances between shopping, work and home being short. The sense of balance is brought about by the use of concentric circles intersected by expansive boulevards.
Extrapolating this, not only will ideal forms shape human functions, but will also perfect them (Steuer, 2008). In today’s world of urban planning, there is heavy emphasis on the value of land, just as reflected in the Garden City. In essence, land values dictate land use. There is a conscious effort to integrate various functions to promote quality of life. The drawbacks and assumptions salient in the Garden City provide food for thought. The Garden City indicates that in cases of low population, public transport is rendered expensive as well as inefficient.
A possible result of having small satellite towns is domination by specific companies in certain towns. Citizens not affiliated to the organization must look to other towns for employment. Private transport brings in another dimension as infrastructure must necessarily change. The reality that comes out of this is urban sprawl. This phenomenon, along with increased pollution, utility and service provision are contemporary considerations in modern day city planning. Expansion also comes into focus since in the Garden cities since the wedges defined by the circular arrangement are already dedicated to specific purposes (Steuer, 2008).
The Garden City presents vital planning lessons for today’s professionals indicating the need for effective synergy for the common good. Le Corbusier, born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris on 6 October 1887 in Switzerland, wore many hats: painter, writer, planner, designer and architect. He studied fine art up to the age of 18, after which he applied for apprenticeship under an engraver. His architecture studies spanned a number of cities: Vienna (1908), Paris (1908 – 1909) and Berlin (1910 – 1911). He became a French citizen in 1930.
His Contemporary City, intended for three million citizens was his first proposal in the realm of city planning. Its implementation meant clearing a significant area of Paris’s landscape, save for selected historic monuments, paving way for the erection of two dozen, cruciform glass and steel skyscrapers. The choice of material indicates his philosophy of eliminating clutter and excess ornamentation. These buildings, fifty to sixty stories high, would accommodate the artistic and business elite. As he put it himself, they housed the brains of the city, encompassing business affairs, banks and industry controls.
Placing them far from each other in large expanses of greenery gave the appearance of “Towers in a Park”. Beyond this central ring came the civic centre followed by multiple belts of apartments, each having a garden. At the outskirts of the city were utilities and factories. Just like Ebenezer Howard, Le Corbusier has a strong desire to protect the environment by limiting urban sprawl and instituting rationally considered factors affecting the urban fabric. It must however be noted that Le Corbusier’s early theories made complete business sense before he was disillusioned by capitalism (Kennedy, n.
d. ). With respect to modern day city planning, Le Corbusier’s work, philosophies and writings have led to an appreciation of mixed use buildings, taking into account the rate of population increase against the backdrop of finite land resources. Atria, internal gardens and lightness are characteristics of modern day skyscrapers, as each apartment is microcosmic of the entire city. Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) was born in the year 1867. He dropped out of the University of Wisconsin where he had enrolled for engineering studies as he was desperate to pursue architecture as a career.
He found employment at Joseph Silsbee’s firm and later on, his ambition drove him to head of residential projects at Adler and Sullivan’s firm, arguably the most progressive architectural organization in Chicago. He was late laid off for doing too much private work, a situation that led him to start his own architectural practice. He spent the next sixteen years developing the now famous prairie style. He also developed his Broadacre City blueprint in the year 1932, in his book, “The Disappearing City” presenting a low density, multi-centered, auto-oriented suburbia (Design Museum, n. d. ).
Even thought the theory of this particular city is not often discussed, major aspects of Illinois cities’ urbanizing fringes represent FLW’s ideas. His 12ft x 12ft model of the city presented the now familiar system of superhighways and grid network of road arteries. Major intersection, serving as points of concentration as well as access, naturally formed sites for malls, large markets, churches and institution of mass cultural and civic life. Land use precepts are logically presented and followed, with homes and schools occupying areas way from highways and the commercial districts allied to them.
In terms of population, families took up lots measuring anything between one and five acres. Unlike Le Corbusier and Howard, Wright does not explicitly state the relationship between city and country, built form and greenery. Moreover, he does not focus on quality of life. Apart from somewhat betraying its name, this planning theory is not consistent with the general declaration that urban areas constitute a population density of at not less than 15 people for every acre. That said most scholars dismiss Broadacre City as a grounds for urban sprawl as the low densities it proposes are unrealistic today.
In fact growth rates are significantly rising. Wright also assumes that free land is a prerequisite for self sustenance among citizens, overlooking the eventuality that prosperity will give millions of citizens the required buying power with respect to land, putting it to a preferred use (Krohe, 2000). The planning theories as discussed present the holism necessary with respect to planning. Buildings, the environment, people and infrastructure must coexist. Reductionism, as expressed in FLW’s Broadacre city whittles down the efficacy of any proposal.
Planning does not require reinventing the wheel, but building on the positive aspects brought about by visionaries. While the scopes of most professions are clearly stated, urban designers and planners play the role of brining all facets of design together to speak a unified discernible language that speaks for all. As technologies changes, architecture develops, populations grow and general demand for services increase, the magnitude of the challenge increases. The utopian theories posited by the dissected visionaries, despite there differences, give the contemporary world a stable foundation from which to work.
Design Museum, “Frank Lloyd Wright”, n. d. Accessed on 9th March, 2009 from http://www. designmuseum. org/design/frank-lloyd-wright Kennedy, R. “Le Corbusier and the Radiant City Contra – True Urbanity and the Earth” (n. d. ) Accessed on 9th March, 2009 from http://www. uky. edu/Classes/PS/776/Projects/Lecorbusier/lecorbusier. html Krohe, J. , “Return to Broadacre City”, Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO), 2000, Accessed on 9th March, 2009 from http://www. lib. niu. edu/2000/ii000427. html Levy, J. M. “Contemporary Urban Planning”, Prentice Hall, 2005, pp.
82 – 93. Steuer, M. , “A hundred years of town planning and the influence of Ebenezer Howard” The British Journal of Sociology, 2008, Accessed on 9th March, 2009 from http://www3. interscience. wiley. com/cgi-bin/fulltext/119033325/PDFSTART Time, “Le Corbusier” Time 100: Artists and Entertainers, (n. d. ), Accessed on 9th March, 2009 http://www. time. com/time/time100/artists/profile/lecorbusier_related5. html Wood, A. “Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-Morrow” Accessed on 9th March, http://www. sjsu. edu/faculty/wooda/149/149syllabus9howard. htmlSample Essay of Edusson.com