This chapter has noted the increased interest in planning during the Great Depression, in part as a result of the poor performance of American capitalism during this period. Although the hopes of those such as Rexford Tugwell, who favored a major swing toward national planning, were disappointed, some planning initiatives that lasted well into the postwar period did have their origins in the 1930s.
Urban Renewal and the Interstate Highway System were conceived during the Great Depression, though not enacted into law and funded until after the war. Federal subsidization of housing and federal financial support of local planning efforts began during the Great Depression. Statewide planning, seen to a limited extent in the 1920s, became widespread during the Great Depression. World War II quickly ended the unemployment of the Depression years and shifted the nation's political focus from internal to international affairs.
The political climate of the postwar period was very different from that of the Great Depression, and there was little support for national planning. In fact, the National Resources Planning Board was abolished during World War II and was never reconstituted. Nonetheless, there was a major expansion of planning activity, in large measure fueled by federal grants and pushed forward by national legislation. Among new or expanded activities were Urban Renewal, highway planning (including planning for the Interstate Highway System), environmental planning, community development, planning for growth management, and local economic development planning. In recent years, the question of smart growth has come to the fore as increasing numbers of people become concerned about the issue of sprawl driven by continuing population growth.
Among the forces behind the increase in planning activity were the growth in population and wealth, the rapid suburbanization and increased automobile ownership that followed World War II, the weakened competitive position of many central cities vis-a-vis the suburbs, and increasing concern with the effects of human activity on the natural environment.