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The History of Planning: Part I

The history of city and town planning, in its full sense, goes back many centuries. The logical and orderly arrangement of streets and public spaces in Roman towns, for instance, indicates the existence of a high level of city planning before the birth of Christ. However, since the focus of this book is present-day planning, we do not present a full history of the subject. This chapter begins with a note on the prerevolutionary period in the United States and proceeds through the first great age of suburbanization, the 1920s. The next chapter picks up the story from the start of the Great Depression and carries it through to the present.

The focus of this chapter, as of the book as a whole, is on events in the United States. However, the chapter does contain some discussion of planning in Europe as well, since the development of planning in the United States was and is closely tied to events across the ocean. In fact, today the American planner who observes the practice of planning in Europe— whether by visiting new towns in Scandinavia, France, or the Netherlands; by observing the preservation of historic districts in any one of a number of countries; or simply by observing the sensitivity and wisdom with which the Swiss have treated a beautiful but potentially fragile natural heritage— will realize that there is still much we can learn from the Europeans.

Up until now, planning in the United States and in Europe has had much more influence on other parts of the world than the rest of the world has had on Europe and the United States. For example, some thousands of Third World students have studied planning in the United States and Europe, whereas there has been little if any flow of students in the opposite direction. But that unbalanced flow of influence will change in the decades to come. At present there is a tremendous amount of modern urban planning activity in the Third World, particularly in those nations that have experienced the most rapid economic growth. This includes much work in existing cities, the planning of numerous new towns, the planning of modern public transportation systems, and the planning of highways to accommodate the very rapid increase in automobile ownership now taking place. Inevitably, we in the West will begin learning from non-Western experience, both from successes and from failures.

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