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Civitas by Design

Building Better Communities, from the Garden City to the New Urbanism

By Howard Gillette, Jr.

Publication Year: 2010

Since the end of the nineteenth century, city planners have aspired not only to improve the physical living conditions of urban residents but to strengthen civic ties through better design of built environments. From Ebenezer Howard and his vision for garden cities to today's New Urbanists, these visionaries have sought to deepen civitas, or the shared community of citizens.

In Civitas by Design, historian Howard Gillette, Jr., takes a critical look at this planning tradition, examining a wide range of environmental interventions and their consequences over the course of the twentieth century. As American reform efforts moved from progressive idealism through the era of government urban renewal programs to the rise of faith in markets, planners attempted to cultivate community in places such as Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, New York; Celebration, Florida; and the post-Katrina Gulf Coast. Key figures—including critics Lewis Mumford and Oscar Newman, entrepreneur James Rouse, and housing reformer Catherine Bauer—introduced concepts such as neighborhood units, pedestrian shopping malls, and planned communities that were implemented on a national scale. Many of the buildings, landscapes, and infrastructures that planners envisioned still remain, but frequently these physical designs have proven insufficient to sustain the ideals they represented. Will contemporary urbanists' efforts to join social justice with environmentalism generate better results? Gillette places the work of reformers and designers in the context of their times, providing a careful analysis of the major ideas and trends in urban planning for current and future policy makers.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. 1-4

Americans have perpetually harbored complex and often uncomfortable feelings about urban life. Recognizing early in their national history that cities performed critical economic functions, they nonetheless worried about the effects of concentrated settlement, not just on individual behavior but on citizenship itself. Thomas Jefferson was not alone in the belief ...

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Chapter 1. Progressive Reform Through Environmental Intervention

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pp. 5-22

In its attempt to grapple with the harsh conditions brought about by urban industrialism, the Progressive Era set the stage for many of the twentieth-century reforms that followed. Seen in historical perspective, this movement appears sharply limited by a middle-class bias that sought less to eliminate injustice than it did to restore an idealized vision of established republican principles. ...

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Chapter 2. The Garden City in America

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pp. 23-44

Even as the elements of Progressivism were first stirring in America, an obscure English stenographer named Ebenezer Howard published with his own funds a modest looking tract with the pretentious title To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform. The product of years of discussion in moderately radical English circles, Howard’s extended essay proposed nothing less than the elimination of the capitalist exploitation ...

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Chapter 3. The City: Film as Artifact

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pp. 45-59

Pare Lorentz’s landmark documentary The City, prepared at the request of Clarence Stein on behalf of the American Institute of Planners for presentation at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, is a wonderfully rich statement of the faith that the proper environment could shape better communities. As this chapter demonstrates, however, conveying complex ideas through a visual medium was not a simple matter. ...

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Chapter 4. The Evolution of Neighborhood Planning

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pp. 60-76

In the controversy surrounding efforts to revitalize older urban areas in the 1950s and 1960s, no terms became more polarized than those of ‘‘neighborhood’’ and ‘‘redevelopment.’’ Reacting against ambitious plans for the wholesale rebuilding of blighted areas and the consequent disruption of indigenous social patterns, neighborhood protests proliferated, helping secure, finally, greater citizen participation in the planning process. ...

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Chapter 5. The Planned Shopping Center in Suburb and City

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pp. 77-94

Among the culprits most often singled out for the decline of America’s central cities, the suburban shopping center stands out. These ‘‘engines of commerce’’ not only undercut traditional economic patterns, they had, according to critics, detrimental effects on social relationships forged over generations.1 Such criticism would have surprised the pioneers of such efforts, who cast their goals in terms of a philosophy rooted in the earlier era of greatest suburban growth ...

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Chapter 6. James Rouse and American City Planning

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pp. 95-113

During his life and since his death in 1996 at the age of eightyone, James Rouse has attracted attention and, for the most part, praise for his multiple roles as entrepreneur, developer, civic activist, and philanthropist. 1 Propelled to the cover of Time in 1981 following the opening of Baltimore’s tremendously successful Harborplace retail complex, his image has been indelibly linked with the magazine’s headline, ‘‘Cities Are Fun!’’2 ...

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Chapter 7. The New Urbanism: ‘‘Organizing Things That Matter’’

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pp. 114-133

As concerned as James Rouse had been about the state of metropolitan America, he never went so far as to develop new principles of design that would overcome the social as well as the physical problems induced by sprawl, crass commercialism, and divided authority over land use decisions. At best, he hoped to promote community by providing magnets for sociability. His vision, even in building the new town of Columbia, did not extend to reforming contemporary culture. ...

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Chapter 8. Civitas in the Design of Low-Income Housing

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pp. 134-159

If nineteenth-century reformers considered the home the crucible for shaping individual citizenship, their twentieth-century successors thought increasingly in terms of affecting whole communities of citizens. From the Progressive Era to the present, activists have sought not just decent homes but better neighborhood environments. The introduction, in the 1930s, of publicly provided housing added new powers to shape urban civic life. ...

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pp. 160-167

There is little doubt across the spectrum of opinion that design of the built environment matters to the health and well-being of communities and the individuals who make them up. Opinions differ markedly, however, on what role such environments play in influencing behavior, especially as they might contribute to desirable social ends. ...


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pp. 169-214


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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205282
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242478

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • City planning -- United States -- History.
  • Community development -- United States -- History.
  • Urbanization -- United States -- History.
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