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Town Planning

  Town Planning in the modern world is, precisely, the preparation of plans which will be used to control the enlargements of urban areas, and contribute to the creation of a healthy, efficient, well-serviced community. The problems of dealing with the growth of towns is a challenge to urban administrators in most organized societies; indeed, as soon as towns are developed at all, some thought must go into their organization, even if this is no more than provision for, say, fortification.

Aristotle wrote of Hippodamus of Miletus (500 BCE) a political theorist who considered particularly the issue of towns and their organization. Hippodamus argued against the haphazard layout of Greek cities up to that time, and devised a gridiron plan for an ideal city, where the land was carefully divided into sacred, public and private spaces. In the 1st century  BCE Vitruvius (architect-surveyor to the Emperor Augustus) dealt, in the first section of his treatise De Architectura, with the site of the city, the construction of city walls, the direction of the streets; he also commented on the importance of wind-direction and the choice of sites for public buildings.

In medieval Europe, interest was taken in fortification and in great public buildings such as cathedrals and market halls. But it was not until the Renaissance that there was a serious renewed interest in classical discussions of the ideal city. From this period until the 19th century the changing layout of cities and towns was largely influenced by classical example and theory, and was concerned with symmetrical and formal layouts relating to public and important ceremonial public spaces.

The modern understanding of town planning arises out of the poor conditions of housing and sanitation in the 19th century. This period had seen enormous population booms in the industrialized countries (some cities like Glasgow increasing their population tenfold between 1800 and 1900). The appalling conditions of the mass of the working population caused serious epidemics, and a variety of social and sanitary reforms led to an awareness for the need for overall strategies for towns, particularly their rapid growth and the health of their population. As a result in the late 19th century, legislation provided for public authorities to organize roads and sewerage, refuse collection and water supplies.

The improvement of housing and road systems could be used to ensure a degree of social control, such as the grand designs of Baron Haussmann in Paris in the late 19th century, sweeping away the old slums, and replacing them with wide elegant boulevards, which might allow the police and army more effective control of the populace. In the Western world, in the later 20th century, such plans have in theory come under much greater scrutiny in the democratic process.

The problems of dealing with the needs of a population and of machine and service industry simultaneously have led to different attempts to separate the population from the worst effects of insanitary over-crowded accommodation and industry. One important late-19th-century movement was the garden city ideal, of which the best examples in England, built in the early 20th century, are Letchworth and Hampstead Garden Suburb, providing humane housing in a semi-rural environment, and influencing much subsequent suburban development.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the damage caused by bombing in World War II also required a massive campaign of urban renewal throughout Europe, involving the rebuilding of housing, as well as industry and office accommodation. In the 1960s and 1970s, the continuing social challenge to public authorities to improve the quality of life for the mass of the urban population (by providing sanitary housing on a mass scale) led to the development of the tower block, described by Le Corbusier as ‘the garden city on its side’, and of zoning: the development of industry and commerce in separate areas. From the late 1970s both these signal tenets of modern town planning have been criticized by theorists such as the post-modernist Robert Krier, and indeed generally, as inhumane; but no one alternative seems to have been developed. JM

See also urbanism/urbanization.Further reading W. Ashworth, The Genesis of Modern Town Planning; , C. Paris, Critical Readings in Planning Theory.



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