city planning

City Planning in the United States

In the United States, early New England towns, formally disposed along wide elm-lined central roadways or commons, exhibit a conscious planning. Annapolis, Md., Philadelphia, and Paterson, N.J., were built after plans; but the most celebrated example is the city of Washington D.C., laid out according to the plan devised (1791) by Pierre Charles L'Enfant, under the supervision of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—a rectangular plan with diagonal main thoroughfares superimposed and the Capitol as the central feature.

In the 19th cent. Frederick Law Olmsted was a pioneer in city planning, especially in developing parks. State legislation enabling cities to appoint planning commissions and in some cases giving them authority to carry out the plans began in Pennsylvania in 1891. The work of Daniel Hudson Burnham for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893, was a stimulus to city planning, and Burnham, with Edward Bennett, drew up a plan for Chicago, much of which was put into execution. In 1901 a commission composed of Burnham, Charles Follen McKim, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., devised a scheme for the modern development and beautification of Washington, D.C., adhering to L'Enfant's original plan as a basis for all new operations.

A wide influence on planning in U.S. cities was exerted by the zoning laws adopted in New York City in 1916, which controlled the uses of each district in the city and regulated the areas and heights of buildings in relation to street width. The important Regional Survey of New York and Environs, completed in 1929, took into consideration legal and social factors as well as internal transit problems and various modes of approach to the metropolitan area.

Governmental efforts to provide employment during the depression of the 1930s led to the building (under the Federal Resettlement Administration) of three experimental model communities—Greenbelt, Md., Greendale, Wis., and Greenhills, Ohio. Among the many subsequent planned communities built by private developers are Columbia, Md., and Reston, Va. The increase of traffic and crowding together of tall buildings have crippled the street plans of many cities—especially U.S. cities that have been handicapped by their rectangular or checkerboard layouts.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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