restricted access FIVE: The Cold War Pedestrian
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In the United States, after the atomic bomb was used on Hiroshima, widely circulated images of urban devastation elicited intense reactions and dire predictions and, as images are wont to be, were fully instrumentalized : deeply etched historical settlement patterns came into question and norms of professional practice were challenged. The bomb and its many representations altered the terms by which many Americans understood their cities. A Saturday Evening Post article of 1946 titled “Your Flesh Should Creep” concluded that atomic weaponry might impel the United States to dispense with the Constitution and forcibly abandon cities for the safety of the countryside. Physicist (and polemicist) Edward Teller warned in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that big cities were “deathtraps.”1 Architect Ludwig Hilberseimer wrote that the concentrated city—in peace or war—had become obsolete, so “security, once provided behind walls, can only be found in the dispersion of cities and industries.” In 1949, he sounded an even more chilling alarm: “City concentration can only be a preparation for man’s suicide.” From Life magazine to F I VE THE COLD WAR PEDESTRIAN Every slum clearance project, housing development, industrial plant, traffic artery or other public improvement should be scanned with a view to the military as well as the civic aspects of dispersal. This will not be difficult, since the basic criteria controlling each approach point so nearly in the same direction. —H a rold H auf, “City Planning and Civil Defense,” Architectural Record, 1950 175 l Progressive Architecture, the threat of conflagration deeply affected debates about urban policy, building, and the very concept of the city.2 In the early Cold War years, urban dispersal, decentralization, and recentralization suffused professional discussion about the role and design of cities. At the same time, the place of this discourse in the making of buildings, plans, and policies is difficult to identify clearly. The power of atomic fear integral to Cold War tensions is undeniable: from Hiroshima to George Keenan’s 1946 “long telegram” to the 1949 Russian nuclear test, to the McCarthy hearings and the Korean War, among many other links of a taut chain, a culture mobilized by fear suffused American professional (and popular) culture. However, given that they were everywhere, the effects of what historian Guy Oakes calls the atomic “imaginary” are difficult to render historically specific.3 At the very least, a Cold War interpretation of settlement patterns and conceptions of urbanity added considerable legitimacy to arguments about historical patterns of suburbanization and decentralization, if it did not also give them additional weight. Dispersal advocate and planner Tracy Augur pointed out that dispersal was “good business” and good policy “anyway.”4 Many planning and architecture professionals had long seen decentralization and suburbanization (in some forms) as a “healthy” process in which space, air, trees, and distance from neighbors were “normal” elements, and the bomb added another layer to this set of perceptions. Landscape architect Alfred Caldwell (an associate of Hilberseimer) combined pre- and postbomb discourse in 1945 when he called for a “ruralized” settlement pattern with a dispersed mix of agriculture, industry, and housing—not unlike the terms of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City—so an atomic attack would be fruitless and urbanites demoralized by congestion, revitalized . Atomic explosives would “undoubtedly” result in dispersal, wrote sociologist William Ogburn, but this had been “already under way” for some time. Clarence Stein in 1950 and planner Coleman Woodbury in 1952 both qualified the prefaces to their planning books, noting that defense added new urgency to a long-standing need for urban reorganization. Stein wrote that new defense concerns might finally initiate a “new era of nation-wide decentralization.” Woodbury asserted that the growth patterns of industry matched the socioeconomic needs of the times. Dispersal , it seemed, was an answer to two forms of urban vision, one incremental and the other alarmist; “the bomb” left an indelible if also slightly unfocused mark in professional discussions of settlement units and urban organization.5 Dispersal discourse, or what Paul Edwards calls “closed world” discourse, enabled architects and planners to create a new subfield of work—they claimed (some said opportunistically) an expertise in survival.6 In this role, principles of rational management integral to modernism were fruitfully if paradoxically joined with bombinduced fears. The principle of a reorganized settlement unit system inside and outside the urban core confirmed that cities were newly dangerous, and an earlier language 176 THE COLD WAR PEDESTRIAN of the stability afforded by unit-based planning gained...