Greater Greater Washington

History


1958 zoning code authors saw the future, often wrongly

DC still operates under a zoning code adopted in 1958, though with some changes over the years. Harold Lewis, the New York engineer and planner who led the code rewrite, also published a report in 1956 explaining his reasoning behind the code. The Office of Planning has posted it online, and it's a fascinating look into the thinking of the day.


Photo by bark on Flickr.

More detailed analysis will come once I get through the entire report, but in the meantime, here are a few of the choicest statements from the section at the start entitled, "Outstanding Findings of Fact."

PRESENT REGULATIONS are incapable of adapting the physical structure of the city to new forms of urban living. Inability of the central city to adapt to these new forms will almost inevitably lead to its economic decay.
This "social engineering" theme pervades the entire report. We must force the city to change, or it will die. The reality turned out to be the opposite.
THE POPULATION of the District of Columbia is expected to increase from an estimated 850,000 in 1955 to 907,000 in 1970 and 932,000 in 1980. The capacity of vacant land to absorb this growth is such that there will be no great pressure to build new apartments by displacing existing homes until after 1970, at which date the zoning should again be revised.
Lewis clearly failed to predict suburban flight, and also didn't anticipate the decline in family size, which means that DC has a far lower population even with more housing units than existed in 1956.
PUBLIC SENTIMENT in Washington is apparently not ready to back a thorough zoning effort in depth for the salvation of the downtown area and, pending the completion of further study and planning, limited zoning revision, as proposed, appears to be the best prospect.
In other words, people didn't quite want to destroy the city wholesale.
THE AVERAGE size of 3,800 semi-detached house lots studied was only 2,480 square feet compared with a minimum standard recommended by the American Public Health Association of 3,650 square feet; this represents the worst abuse of single-family standards to be found in the District.
More social engineering. Public health professionals of the time thought we had to force people to live in large suburban lots for their own good.
IF THE TREND toward blight and slums is to be arrested, all new construction must be the kind that will encourage the continued residence of the most sensitive and scrupulous elements of the population.
Racial overtones much?
IT MAY BE confidently expected that there will be continued increases in the population of the metropolitan area, in car ownership per family, and in average use of cars, all contributing to future traffic growth and increasing the parking problem.
That was right for a while, but average use of cars has declined more recently. Lewis also didn't anticipate the oil shocks of the 1970s, though in the '90s, gas was cheaper after inflation than at any previous time.
A DEVELOPMENT policy aimed at correcting the most characteristic condition of spreading blight has not yet emerged except for the general commitment to restore, through redevelopment and the inner loop highway, the ring of development around the downtown area.
Fortunately, the "public sentiment" Lewis mentions stopped at least the inner loop highway (or most of it).

And finally:

GROWING USE of the automobile provides a reasonable prediction that the trend toward its universal use as the principal means of transportation will continue.
Not quite.
David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Doesn't sound much different from the GGW manifesto.

1. Social engineering (car free!)
2. Too much a focus on transport for getting to work, rather than transport we use the rest of the day.
3. 3500 s.q. sound big for a SFH; or is that the lot?

by charlie on Mar 2, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

Too much a focus on transport for getting to work

Commuting to work is by far responsible for the wide majority of the number of miles I put on my car. If I didn't have to drive to work, then the amount of time I spend on the road would decline drastically. Transport for getting to work is a large reason why there is so much traffic in DC very day. That's why the focus is there.

by JustMe on Mar 2, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

Commuting to work is by far responsible for the wide majority of the number of miles I put on my car.

Majority of miles on your car - I don't doubt that. Yet commute trips today only account for about 20% of all trips.

by Alex B. on Mar 2, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport

Retired people drive too; they just don't drive to work.

Averg american drives something like 14K miles a year. WORKING americans might drive a bit more, retired one around in the 7 to 9K range. Sometimes lower.

by charlie on Mar 2, 2012 1:02 pm • linkreport

Ever since the scientific revolution of the Enlightmenemt when modern man began to move away from a faith based society towards an empirically based society, we have looked towards science and engineering to better our lives. For a long time, this was consistently true, no more so than in the late 19th century when it seemed like every year brought a staple of what we think of as modern. This additude seems to have reached it's apogee during the post-WWII years when we where able to beat both the German and Japanese war machines in large part through science and technology to say nothing of the diseases. In that context, the prevelance of "social engineering" jargon is understandable, even though cracks where already begining to show in the religion of technology. It's amazing how closely this 1958 zoning document echos the early modernists who based their apartment block and urban designs on quantifiable amounts of light, open space, and fresh air, with out any consideration of mental health.

Not to dismiss the importance of these,it seems that science has finally rounded the corner in its evaluation of what makes for a physically and psychologically well rounded life. A sence of place, defensive space, and delight in ones suroundings, while harder to quantify, have taken their place in the items considered to enhancing one's quality of life. Perhaps becasue many of these things seemed intuitive, they didn't hold the same attraction that modernist manifestos had for architects and urban planners of the 1950's. Thankfully, we now have a deeper understanding of human nature and an appreciation for the balance between nature and science that seems to be emblimatic of humanity's greatest creations.

by Thayer-D on Mar 2, 2012 1:06 pm • linkreport

Yet commute trips today only account for about 20% of all trips.

GGW does talk an awful lot about Capital Bikeshare and the H Street streetcars, which don't strike me as meant for commuting to work, primarily. Not to mention their focus on expanding local retail, which would reduce the need to take trips to other neighborhoods for basic needs.

But end the need for me to drive to work, and the number of miles I put on my car and the time my car spends on the road goes down drastically. Not sure why this is such a controversial point.

by JustMe on Mar 2, 2012 1:09 pm • linkreport

Transportation policy is focused on peak period (mostly work) trips because that's when everyone is traveling at the same time and the system has its highest capacity need.

People who can choose to travel at other times usually plan or delay their trips around peak period.

Should transit service be increased during non-peak periods and be redesigned to better serve other kinds of trips? Absolutely. But agencies are have funding constraints that prevent service increases, and are too afraid to completely upend and rethink how their systems work.

by MLD on Mar 2, 2012 1:12 pm • linkreport

In 1958, it wasnt THAT long after antibiotics, that wonderful product of science, had emptied the TB wards. Looking back we may not quite get the obessions with space, air, and light - nor the general issues with blight. Since we have seen examples of hi rises designed for light and air have massive problems with social issues and crime - we also have mostly the non poor families (other than the most committed pioneers) pioneers to the suburbs, and moved most of the poor families either to the suburbs or the light and air focused housing in the city.

Its nice to think that we could have seen beyond present and immediate past problems - but I dont think thats true for most of us. I hope this post was not meant to knock the planners of the past, or to be triumphalist about superior contemporay wisdom. If its meant as a response to the claim that contemporary urbanism is a form of social engineering, and that earlier planning was not, then of course I agree with the response.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

<>Lewis...didn't anticipate the decline in family size, which means that DC has a far lower population even with more housing units than existed in 1956.

BUT

the average size of 3,800 semi-detached house lots studied was only 2,480 square feet compared with a minimum standard recommended by the American Public Health Association of 3,650 square feet

You have move the goalposts: If the houses in DC today are large enough, but in the 50s the family size was larger, then in the 50s the houses would have been too small.

by goldfish on Mar 2, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

Makes you wonder what the rabid urbanists are wrong about today! We may be looking to an even more sprawl-y and car-centered future than we have now, as suburban sprawl continues unabated, fertility rates and family size continue to decline, and alternative fuels and self-driving cars make driving cheaper and easier.

Traditional cities and public transportation may well be on their last legs, despite urbanist hoopla and peak oil talk to the contrary. The age of the low-density, auto-centric suburb and the culture of independence, freedom, closeness to nature, privacy, and safety it entails may yet reign supreme.

by Ron G on Mar 2, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

"GGW does talk an awful lot about Capital Bikeshare and the H Street streetcars, which don't strike me as meant for commuting to work, primarily."

Actually, at least where I live, it is primarily used for commuting to work. By 8 or 9 am the rack is empty and then full again at the end of the day. Believe me, there are A LOT of people in DC that use CaBi for commuting to work.

by dc denizen on Mar 2, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

@Just Me -- Well, the X2 running down H Street is packed during rush hour most days. I don't know that all those people are commuting, but I think it's a safe bet many of them are. Given the H Street Street car will cover some of the same ground, I suspect lots of people will used them to commute. I see lots of people on CaBi during prime commuting time too. I suspect it all depends on where you live and where you commute to.

by Kate W on Mar 2, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

I used Bikeshare maybe 90% for commuting back and forth to work.
Also, @RonG, eventually oil and gas WILL run out, or become exceedingly expensive, and if uncontrolled sprawl continues, rather than "closeness to nature", future exurbanites will live in a tree-less wasteland of parking lots, big-box stores and mcmansions on denuded lots.

by MrTinDC on Mar 2, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

Makes you wonder what the rabid urbanists are wrong about today! We may be looking to an even more sprawl-y and car-centered future than we have now, as suburban sprawl continues unabated, fertility rates and family size continue to decline, and alternative fuels and self-driving cars make driving cheaper and easier.

Or, you know, we may not looking to it. It's easy to predict the future; it's a lot harder to predict it accurately.

My own interest is more historical, i.e., what led the planners in 1958 to predict what they predicted, and what were other people saying about the same issues at that time?

by Miriam on Mar 2, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

Why would the H Street streetcar not be primarily for commuting? Most transit trips are work trips.

by MLD on Mar 2, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

Yeah, Ron G. Funny how all of the centralized socialist planner's ideas today are 19th-century solutions. Like we should all take subways, trolleys, and bikes to work... yeah, that's the ticket! Why not horses or the bikes with the giant front tire while we're at it?

What? You say you live too far from work...that's OK, you can move into a highrise slum and live in a 600 sq. foot apartment next to gang-bangers, "section 8" folks, and loud college students. Great environment to raise your kids in!! To say nothing of all the wonderful taxes you have to pay, and the unsafe crime environment (please, no guns allowed) and the complete lack of privacy and greenery.

No thanks, I'll stick to my safe, clean, new, inexpensive suburb and my reliable and comfortable truck that I use to commute to my job in another suburb, no where near the "District". I haven't set a foot in the mismanaged, homeless-ridden, high-tax, high-regulation, high crime DC in a decade and that was only because my ex-girlfriend worked there in a government agency before she got a real job in the private sector (in the 'burbs).

I thinks the urbanists are wrong. The future is the 'burbs and personal transportation. In a few decades they will look like fools. By the way, the peak oilers and AGW crowd are wrong, we're not running out of oil and the earth isn't warming. This is propaganda to try to take away your freedoms. Read up about the UN's Unconstitutional Agenda 21.

by Norm on Mar 2, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

@ron G

Anything is possible. Thats why its unwise to bet all the chips on one number, so to speak. I dont see that happening today though - there are roads and highways being built, development in auto centric suburbs (and semi urbanist suburbs) and even most urbanist developments make some accommodation to the automobile. as someone said elsewhere, contemporary "new urbanism" is a very compromise focused ideology.

Its possible we will have no peak oil and no global warming (or, alternatively, such efficient electric vehicles using renewable generated electricity, that dealign with peak oil and GHGs is consistent with autocentrism) and that we will find other ways to deal with the issues people have that drive them towards urbanism.

Or we may have a situation far MORE radical in the other direction - oil running out sooner (and or global warming looking much worse), electic vehicle and/or renewable electricity techs failing, and no solutions to the other issues.

Its hard to predict things, especially the future.

So we do the best with the info we have, just as the planners of the 1950s did. Of course we will make mistakes - and we do NOT know in which direction.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

"Yeah, Ron G. Funny how all of the centralized socialist planner's ideas today are 19th-century solutions."

you do know when the auto was invented, dont you?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 1:53 pm • linkreport

@Miriam

"what led the planners in 1958 to predict what they predicted, and what were other people saying about the same issues at that time?"

I think they were responding to the suburbanization that they were seeing around cities at that time. Robert Moses was very concerned that suburbs on Long Island were going to take people and jobs away from NYC which is why he planned highways that would quickly take people from LI to the heart of Manhattan, like the one that was going to raze the Village. This planner saw what was happening and responded in order to compete. It's sort of the way that suburban planners are trying to compete now by building more ped-friendly developments. Naturally, there is push-back much the same way that Jane Jacobs pushed back on Robert Moses in the Village.

by dc denizen on Mar 2, 2012 1:53 pm • linkreport

"I hope this post was not meant to knock the planners of the past, or to be triumphalist about superior contemporay wisdom." ?

What's always fascinated me is the fact that Americans where flocking to Disneyworld's recreated "main street" and visiting Europe's old and cramped central cities in ever greater numbers after WWII and yet never saw what was under their own noses. Spreading blight sounds like a euphamism for encroaching ghetto. But if you say it right, it sounds so scientific!

by Thayer-D on Mar 2, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

"No thanks, I'll stick to my safe, clean, new, inexpensive suburb and my reliable and comfortable truck that I use to commute to my job in another suburb, no where near the "District". "

If you have a short suburb to suburb commute you too can be part of the solution to global warming and peak oil. Mind telling us where you live and work? Lots of us here know the suburbs well (I live in one, as do many here)and we are up on issues in transportation and development in those suburbs that you may not be.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity,
I live in Sterling and work in Reston, if you must know.

by Norm on Mar 2, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

"What's always fascinated me is the fact that Americans where flocking to Disneyworld's recreated "main street" and visiting Europe's old and cramped central cities in ever greater numbers after WWII and yet never saw what was under their own noses. "

too be fair - have you been to disney world? (which is later than the 1950s, BTW, actually only disneyland was around then) massive seas of surface parking. Then you walk or take a monorail to get to the park itself. Which is a perfectly controlled, private space, with all stores under the same overall control, etc, etc. The urban comparison is a shopping mall. Except disneyland/world is out of doors - but of course the dl was in Southern Cal, and Disneyland in Florida - and of course today the parallel IS (I'm sorry) the lifestyle mall - not the good integrated with the urban fabric kind, but the surrounded by a sea of parking kind.

as for the european cities thats more complex, but I note

A. not that many americans really went there B. In some ways they suggested urbanism as exceptionalism - manhattan can be like Paris, but "my town" can't be C. The euro cities were (or appeared to be) all white D. The euro cities were based on residential sq ft per person too small to be acceptable to Americans - i think the planners thought that, and they werent far wrong

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

I hope that it is not an ad hominem attack to admire Norm's post for filling so many of the spaces on my bingo card so efficiently? I checked off socialist, 19th century technology, rat cages, city = poor, city = black, city = crime, children, taxes, guns, privacy, greenery, comfort, government-takes-your-money-and-throws-it-down-a-hole, global warming denial, freedom, and Agenda 21. Did I miss anything?

by Miriam on Mar 2, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

@JustMe "Transport for getting to work is a large reason why there is so much traffic in DC very day.

Very true. HOWEVER, the inevitable trend of people being less and less tied to a desk at a specific spot will reduce this traffic tremendously within the next decade (or less.) Not that people will stop driving as their principle means of getting around, but with work and leisure time overlapping and mixing, there'll be relatively fewer long commutes but probably more shorter ones ... in more different directions. And that's where the superiority of the personal vehicle over mass transit will shine its brighest ... People will want to go where they need to go when they need to go ... and it's be in all different directions and varying times and distances. Try building efficient trains that can do that!

by Lance on Mar 2, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

@norm

great.

Reston was built by a capitalist developer who was also had a social engineering vision - Bob Simon - you should look up the principles of Reston. And Reston Town Center is an example of urbanist development that many folks here admire.

Sterling has an increasing population of poor folks, and will likely in a few years have more serious social problems than the district. To avoid a death spiral of worsening schools, lower tax revenues, etc Loudoun county is both continuing to build on vacant land (but eventually they run out, even if they cross the rte 15 boundary) and zoning for high density mixed use near the new metro stations. They also are trying to maintain quality of life with bike paths, and are looking at new local bus system - and they subsidize an express bus system - if they end up not building the silver line to Ashburn, they will certainly vastly expand their bus network.

Glad you have a relatively short commute though, thats great. And living in loudoun, while you probably make most of your noncommute trips by car, at least they can be relatively short - you arent that far from DTC, I guess. Where the county is also looking at increasing density.

You are MUCH more enmeshed in the range of things that you call "Agenda 21" than you realize.

because, you know, it isnt really about Agenda 21. or even environmentalism. Its about financial survival for counties.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

Oh, and Sterling isnt THAT new, is it? mostly 1990s vintage, and alot of pre 1990 housing (which is why its cheaper than newer parts of Loudoun - the ones where they drive SUVs instead of trucks, and where they look down on you much more than people in DC do). Theres plenty of development thats much newer in DC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

@lance

a discussion of the possible extent of telework vs face to face interaction, and its impact on commuting patterns, would be worthwhile in its own thread. yes it would militate against major new heavy rail investments, but at the same time it would mean less need for new highway investments as well.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

with work and leisure time overlapping and mixing, there'll be relatively fewer long commutes but probably more shorter ones ... in more different directions. ... and it'[ll] be in all different directions and varying times and distances.

You mean the traffic will be non-stop whenever and wherever you go? That sounds terrible. What you want is a more dispersed transit system in the metro DC area. The area in general (not GGW) does focus too much on "commuting" transit, but only because that's where the driving is.

19th-century solutions.

The automobile was invented in the 19th century.

by JustMe on Mar 2, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

@Ron G.- Makes you wonder what the rabid urbanists are wrong about today!

Actually, no it doesn't. Today's "rabid urbanists" are actually returning to the past. They are returning to knowledge built up over millenia about how to arrange ourselves and what makes places we both love and that hold/increase their value over time. Perhaps you're right that sprawl and sprawl culture will continue to grow (I'd personally like to know who you think will pay for it). It does have all of the institutional momentum behind it. Perhaps also, people are coming to understand auto-centric development for the experiment that it is, unprecedented in the history of mankind.

@Norm- You'll probably die in a car accident or from health problems associated from a sedentary lifestyle before I'm killed from a "unsafe crime environment".

Also, I'm with the UN*....BOO! Scared ya huh?

*Not actually with the UN

by thump on Mar 2, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

@Miriam:
You forgot corrupt/mismanaged.

by Matt Johnson on Mar 2, 2012 2:23 pm • linkreport

Sterling also has a direct link on the W&OD to Reston. That would save you money and make you more fit despite it being a 19th century solution.

by Canaan on Mar 2, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

Oh, rats*! Thanks, Matt.

*an as-yet empty space on my bingo card

by Miriam on Mar 2, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

@Miriam
And peak oil.

by OctaviusIII on Mar 2, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

"Disneyland in Florida - and of course today the parallel IS (I'm sorry) the lifestyle mall"

True, if one looks at it literally. Why did Disney recreate main street though? Why didn't he chose Villa Radisuse? It dosen't matter how he got his customers there, what's relevant is the experience he sought to give them. A sanatized version of an idealic pedestrian/social experience, while he sold as much crap as he could. It's no coincidence he was selling this vision while the architectural profession was dismissing all traditional built environments, not becasue of scientific study, but becasue of dogma. So they did not do "the best with the info" they had. What they had was conciously a conciously scripted and edited verson of history. Did you know that Walter Gropious prohibited his students from taking out books on architectural history becasue they where "corrupt"?
That's not working with the best info, that's being brainwashed.

"HOWEVER, the inevitable trend of people being less and less tied to a desk at a specific spot will reduce this traffic tremendously within the next decade (or less.)"

This is one of those techo-fantasies that's been disproven by the day. People on the whole like being around eachother, why else are start-up tech companies favoring urban environments or why do younger people favor cities? Becasue being lonly sucks, even if you have 1,000 facebook friends.

by Thayer-D on Mar 2, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

@Norm: "I haven't set a foot in the mismanaged, homeless-ridden, high-tax, high-regulation, high crime DC in a decade"

And yet you pay an arm-and-a-leg to live here and deal with its godawful traffic.

What a bizarre thing to gloat about.

by Dave on Mar 2, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

"This is one of those techo-fantasies that's been disproven by the day. People on the whole like being around eachother, why else are start-up tech companies favoring urban environments or why do younger people favor cities? Becasue being lonly sucks, even if you have 1,000 facebook friends."

I agree with this. I can't telecommute unless I go to cafe like Tryst or something like that because although the first few hours at home are nice, after that it does suck. I think 5 days a week telecommuting takes a lot of discipline, organization, and liking being alone (as opposed to being lonely). I also think that as social creatures, human beings naturally want to be together and socialize whether for work or socially. I just don't see a huge telecommuting trend. (And lets not forget there are a lot of jobs you just can't telecommute for.)

by dc denizen on Mar 2, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D

A minor quibble - we did not win WWII through better science and technology. We won WWII because the Germans and Japanese ran out of resources. Of course, we were a large reason they did... By the end of the war we were definitely ahead of the Japanese in technology but the Germans had us beat with their precision machining, jets, chemistry, etc.

Reinforcing this, I recently read (sorry, can't remember where but it was less than a week ago) an article which asked which would you prefer: 1,000 tanks which can each destroy 20 other thanks before breaking down/being destroyed or would you prefer to have 10,000 tanks which can each destroy 10 other tanks before breaking down/being destroyed? That was the difference between superior German tanks and inferior Allied tanks - we just overwhelmed them.

But, as a friend once noted, no one cares how you won, all they care is that you won.

by Resource Man on Mar 2, 2012 3:13 pm • linkreport

""Did you know that Walter Gropious prohibited his students from taking out books on architectural history becasue they where "corrupt"?"

Im speaking about planners like the authors of the 1958 code, not about bauhaus architects. And I dont suppose you could fit an enclosed mall with kitcshy traditional storefronts into Corbusiers vision - but then I dont know how retail is handled by Corbusier. Did he even believe in retail?

Im quite sure the authors of the 1958 code believed in retail, believed in the new auto oriented shopping centers (themselves often built using historical styling - I think one of the earlier examples, in Roland Park in Baltimore, was) and had they had an auto oriented enclosed mall to think about, I imagine they would have heartily approved, whatever the styling of the storefronts.

I really think the issue of autocentric post war US planning is mostly, if not completely, orthogonal to the Arch school debate between modernism and historicism. I mean afaik parts of europe that embraced the bauhaus never emerged with cities shaped like american ones - Ive been in Tel Aviv, a thoroughly modernist city - but also, in many respects, a Jane Jacobsian one (at least when I was last there, in the early 1980s)

And yes, I would like it if someone who knows architecture better than I do (like Kingofspain) was able to also advance this point.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 3:25 pm • linkreport

@dcd

even one day a week telecommuting could have a big impact on transpo and housing.

Say one day a week from home, one day from the local cafe, and 3 days in the office - what kind of city that does that lead to? Im not sure.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

Say one day a week from home, one day from the local cafe, and 3 days in the office - what kind of city that does that lead to?

One with a lot of profitable cafes.

by Tina on Mar 2, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

"Im speaking about planners like the authors of the 1958 code, not about bauhaus architects."

You might be talking about both if you where curious what kind of education those planners recieved. Have you seen the plans they had?

"I really think the issue of autocentric post war US planning is mostly, if not completely, orthogonal to the Arch school debate between modernism and historicism."

I can see you not seeing the relationship since the school debate was about much more than a battle of the styles. Modernism was just another popular style in the 1930's, maybe not with Leave it to Beavers family (like today) but still not shunned by contemporary periodicals.

"I mean afaik parts of europe that embraced the bauhaus never emerged with cities shaped like american ones"

Becasue the conditions where completely different. I encourage you to study the periodicals from the 1930's to the 1950, and tell me what evolution you see. To say this has nothing to do with what architects and planners did in the 1950's is strange.

by Thayer-D on Mar 2, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport

The Agenda 21 garbage would be hilarious if so many fools didn't actually believe in it. Also, to think blindly that cars and suburbs are the way of the future after watching what $4 gas did to the outer burbs means you have your head in the sand.

by NikolasM on Mar 2, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

I've love to see a GGW post from 2060 on what we are missing right now.

1. Family size; immigrant might blow it up again. Gays/one child families/living alone in your 20's -- not going to happen again.

2. Worries about gas prices.

3. Too many tall buildings hurt the livability and turn Rosslyn into a ghetto.

by charlie on Mar 2, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

Im still not clear how disney land is anything different from a standard 1960s/1970s shopping mall, except for being open to the elements. In both, you arrive by auto, you walk in among the storefronts on path with no vehicles, the storefronts have faux historicist styling, and the conditions are controlled in detail by a single corporation.

If the appeal of disneyland argues for something other than what the planners did, than by the same token the standard suburban shopping mall does. Does disneyland suggest an appeal of walking - well so do malls. Does disneyland suggest the appeal of historic architecture styles to ordinary people over austere modernism? So do many of the more common mall storefronts (though I have done no study of all mall storefronts, and of course some of those are more "modern" I guess.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 4:36 pm • linkreport

"Family size; immigrant might blow it up again. Gays/one child families/living alone in your 20's -- not going to happen again."

except the children of immigrants tend to have smaller families. I guess some of them turn out to be gay too.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

Walker,

Yes both are emulating the same thing. The trick is to figure out how make communities more walkable so you don't have to go so far just for an experience like that.

A better example for what you're asking about may be downtown fredericksburg or Old Town where people like to walk around and browse along the nice streetscape but then can't connect why their own neighborhood isn't like that beyond the fact that those two locations are old and wherever they live is not as old without looking at the substantive design changes.

by Canaan on Mar 2, 2012 4:42 pm • linkreport

canaan

sure - but we were discussing whether 1950s planners used the information available to them.

Old town Alex wasn't quite so adored in the 1950s.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 2, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

You right on that. I must missed that part but then I'd say it's the auto acess that makes up the key difference.

by Canaan on Mar 2, 2012 6:49 pm • linkreport

"People on the whole like being around eachother, why else are start-up tech companies favoring urban environments"

I would love it if startups favored city centers, but they actually don't. LivingSocial is the exception, not the rule.

The largest startup clusters in the DC area are centered around the Dulles Toll Road and I-270. If you go elsewhere for examples Silicon Valley is very suburban. So is the Route 128 corridor in Boston.

by Phil on Mar 2, 2012 7:40 pm • linkreport

Again Walker,
[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Once you understand the history, then saying the planners of that period where not to blame becasue they where working with the best information is ludicrous. Do you really think Jane Jacobs was the first person to alert planners of the consequenses of their plans? Do you think the demolition of Penn Station was the first building fought for after seeing what would replace it? There where larger forces at work and the planners and architects tabula rasa plans simply fit the bill of realestate owners and their fear that they'd loose money if they didn't do something drastic.

"Old town Alex wasn't quite so adored in the 1950s"

If Alexandria was so unloved in the 1950's, why did it become the third historic district in the USA in 1946?

by Thayer-D on Mar 2, 2012 8:47 pm • linkreport

Documents worth reading for yourself:

Here:
http://www.dczoningupdate.org/documentcenter.asp?area=dcr

1920 Regulations (initiation of zoning in DC)
https://www.communicationsmgr.com/projects/1355/docs/1920%20zoning%20regs%20(scanned).pdf

1956 Harold Lewis study which was largely implemented with the 1958
regulations:
https://www.communicationsmgr.com/projects/1355/docs/Lewis%20Report.pdf
--note this has an introductory finding of facts laying our the
assumptions behind the zoning plan

1958 Regulations (most recent major, wholesale revision)
https://www.communicationsmgr.com/projects/1355/docs/1958%20Zoning%20Regulations.pdf

by MBG on Mar 3, 2012 9:08 am • linkreport

@ Walker,
I'm not sure how I violated the comment policy, but whatever it was, I assure you I meant no disrespect. We can certainly differ on the importance of history in Urban planning in the fifties as most architects differ on that subject anyway. If you should ever want to see for your self what planners where producing at that time though, I'd recommend a couple of books.

The first is "New Cities for Old" by Louis Justement published in 1946 by McGraw-Hill. A very well written and well meaning book on all aspects of urbanism covering the economic, political and cultural context of the times. It illustrates the total destruction of central DC through massive urban renewal and highway planning, right when it was turning into "chocolate city". With-in the current beltway, the idea had been for six additional ring roads, for people who could afford cars. The whole thing is quite frightening, but amazing how ratoinal and inevitable it was all presented to be.

The other book is from the American Institute of Architects called "Washington in Transition" originally published in 1963. Again, a thorough analysis of Washington's history is laid down complete with illustrations. Then it get's to the vision of Washington in the year 2000. I'll let you guess how awful that vision might have been had ordinary citizens not stood up to remind the planners that there where human beings and not statistics living there.

They don't teach this history in architecture schools, rather they'd like people to believe it's all about nostalgic historicism vs. innovative modernism. Learning from our past is essential to avoiding the same mistakes in the future, and not listening to people on the street is one lesson I hope we've learned from the planners of the 1950's.

Peace out.

by Thayer-D on Mar 3, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

Despite telework, flexible work schedules (which the feds have had for decades), incentives like lower off-peak Metro fares, and jobs less tied to a fixed location, rush hour remains the peak for all forms of transportation. Some things, like school sessions and retail businesses have limited flexibility and cars have replaced walking and biking for things like the trip-to-school, which often ispaired with a journey to work. The journey-to-work also tends to be paired with other tasks---people often do errands on the way to/from work, have medical appointments, etc. and grocery shopping tends to occur on the journey home. In other words, all these peak hour things are interconnected and for most people, there is limited flexibility, esp. if they have children or other family care responsibilities. Rush hour starts earlier than it did 20 years ago (let alone 50 years ago) and persists later. Whether you're standing on the Metro or crawling on an interstate or arterial, it's an inconvenience and the major hurdle for any efficient transport system.

The discussions of urbanism here tend to neglect the blue collar side of life and propose things like getting rid of stretches of the SE-SW freeway. Despite not owning a car, I fully appreciate that goods need to be transported within and through the metro area, that services often can't be delivered without motorized vehicles (deliveries of bulky items, plumbers, etc.). and that new urbanism tends to leave no place for auto repair shops and places that deal in tile, plumbing, and other unglamorous but necessary things. Yes, there's lip service to diversity of uses, but its as hollow as environmentalists lip service to the poor and minorities---this is a middle class game and most of the failures of urban planning over time reflect an elitist middle class set of preferences and blinders. My concern with efforts to redevelop the White Flint area is that the light industry will disappear and windup in Frederick or some other distant place, just because it doesn't fit into an urban village. Those f us who knew NYC in the bad old days (not that long ago) remember when it was possible to see far more in the way of blue collar business within the context of dense urban life--its been priced and redeveloped out of most of Manhattan and increasingly this is happening in Brooklyn.

by Rich on Mar 3, 2012 9:41 am • linkreport

FWIW, the vision embodied in the document was hardly special to DC. IT's the same basic idea that shaped all of post-war downtown planning, the 1949 Housing Act, urban renewal efforts, including the PGH Golden Triangle initiative etc.

Jane Jacob's discussion of Victor Gruen and his plan for Dallas in _Death and Life_ reflects similar kinds of concerns--how do you get people from the suburbs in and out of the city to and from work, in order to keep the downtown commerce centers successful and prominent.

The other thing that planners didn't predict accurately enough was the decentralization of commerce, not just retail.

by Richard Layman on Mar 3, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

I'll agree with Rich: why don't we ever see factories or warehouses in form-based zoning? I feel these things will become more distributive as technology changes, but there will still need to be room for light manufacturing, such as at the place where I currently work.

by J.D. Hammond on Mar 8, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

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