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Chapter 4 The Evolution of Neighborhood Planning 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. Yet such antagonism was not anticipated with authorization of redevelopment provisions under Title I of the 1949 Housing Act. Although contention over public housing delayed passage of the bill, the participants in the debate agreed that the goal of providing a decent home for every American, which became the cornerstone of the act, meant, as the act specified, a decent home in a planned neighborhood. Nevertheless, behind that apparent harmony of interest in neighborhood planning lay profound differences of philosophy and intent, which represented a decisive split between the once unified approach to the social and physical rehabilitation of cities. In recent years some critics of redevelopment have blamed the neighborhood unit idea as formulated by Clarence Arthur Perry in the 1920s and adopted by planners over the next quarter century for the antisocial effects of urban renewal. Writing in 1979, Roger Ahlbrandt and James Cunningham link Perry’s concept to the garden city planning approach of Ebenezer Howard, charging that ‘‘the Howard-Perry ideas have become irrelevant for old cities.’’ At the heart of the problem, they believed, was an emphasis on the physical city that gave ‘‘lip service to social fabric as a goal of planning,’’ but has done little ‘‘to put the idea to work.’’ In this criticism they echoed arguments first popularized by Jane Jacobs in 1962 in her scathing critique of the planning profession, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Indeed, they claimed, ‘‘non-planner Jane Jacobs may have done more for social fabric than the planners.’’1 PAGE 60 ................. 17669$ $CH4 02-23-10 13:52:50 PS The Evolution of Neighborhood Planning 61 Like Jacobs before them, Ahlbrandt and Cunningham affirmed a tradition of sensitivity to the conservation of existing social relations and manmade structures too often lacking in modern planning. A review of the historical record reveals Perry’s contribution to some of the problems later associated with redevelopment. But even more significant was the way the application of neighborhood planning altered over time, quite apart from Perry’s involvement with the idea. It is in this evolution that neighborhood planning provides a link between contrasting urban reform efforts in the early and middle years of the twentieth century and helps explain the controversy surrounding the 1949 Housing Act. Despite Ahlbrandt and Cunningham’s accusation, for the major part of Perry’s career it was the improvement of social life that chiefly concerned him. If, as Mel Scott suggests, it was Perry’s association with the model suburban community of Forest Hills Gardens that most influenced his conception of neighborhood planning,2 this interest derived from collaborative efforts central to the Progressive Era. Developed by the Russell Sage Foundation in 1909 under the inspiration of the Garden City ideal, Forest Hills Gardens represented the culmination of reform efforts by housing reformers and planners.3 Perry himself acknowledged the influence of Forest Hills Gardens, where he and his family moved in 1912, writing that ‘‘when the writer analyzed the Garden’s development into its essential elements, he found that they constituted the main principles of an ideal neighborhood.’’4 Just as important to Perry was his association with the community center movement, which he helped promote from the time he joined the Russell Sage Foundation ’s recreation department, in 1909, through World War I. Emanating first from efforts to encourage public schools to offer the use of their playgrounds for neighborhood residents, the community center movement crystallized with the formation of neighborhood-based facilities to serve a variety of civic purposes, including town forums, adult education, and a variety of recreational activities. The movement formed its own national association in 1916, reaching a height of activity during World War I, when according to a popular slogan, ‘‘every school house [was to be] a community capital and every community a little democracy.’’5 The impetus of the movement owed much to Perry’s widely cited 1910 book, Wider Use of the School Plant, and to his contribution of two additional monographs and some twenty pamphlets on the subject. He unveiled his neighborhood planning concept, appropriately enough, in...


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