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  • Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement by Rosemary Wakeman
  • Mark Clapson (bio)
Rosemary Wakeman Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. xiv + 376 pages, 71 black-and-white illustrations (color and black-and-white in e-book versions). ISBN: 978-0-226-34603-8, $45.00, HB ISBN: 978-0-226-34617-5, $10.00–$45.00 EB

Rosemary Wakeman is professor of history and director of the urban studies program at Fordham University in New York. While her previous research and publications were particularly focused on French urban history, Practicing Utopia is global in scope, providing a mostly comprehensive intellectual history of the international new town movement during the twentieth century. As Wakeman argues, "new towns" constitute a diverse category, which includes satellite towns, new communities, new cities, worker cities, science cities, and garden cities. Each of these categories is covered in a series of crisply written and informative chapters, arranged around the unifying theme that utopian new town planning was nothing less than a transnational project of modernization.

A key argument in Practicing Utopia is that the new towns designed during the "golden" era of new community planning between 1945 and 1975 were hugely important for the ways in which they critically interrogated accepted standards of urbanity and its failings with inspired schemas and templates for what the bright new urban future could be like. An imaginary of the urban future was an act critiquing both the past and the present. Drawing together the key influences on the new town movement from Britain, Europe, and the United States before World War II, Practicing Utopia synthesizes a huge body of primary and secondary sources to highlight the key intentions of architect-planners involved in the reconstruction of the urban world following 1945 and during the idealistic 1960s. The aspirations of planners in Eastern and Western Europe, Scandinavia, the United States, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are all given due attention. The garden city movement, the modern movement in architecture and planning, corporate actors such as the Ford Foundation, the United Nations, and central governments all played important roles in the global networks that Wakeman writes about so elegantly. The role of "Western" planners in the new community formulations in postcolonial Asia, Africa, and the Middle East makes for fascinating reading (see for example the global reach of Constantinos Doxiadis and his relationship with the Ford Foundation). Wakeman's discussion of systems planning and the role of cybernetics in the formulation of new towns in the Eastern Bloc and in the West during the Cold War will be illuminating to many readers.

A pantheon of key players in the world of planned urban development indicates the wide-ranging scope and synthesis of the book across architecture, town planning, urban development, and academic criticism. It is impossible in one review to name everyone of note, but some key actors Wakeman focuses upon for their dynamic contribution to thinking about the nature and form of new communities include Alvar Aalto, Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Patrick Geddes, Victor Gruen, Lewis Mumford, Richard Llewelyn-Davies, Eliel Saarinen, and Clarence Stein. Wakeman is also keenly aware of the growing academic interest in women as town planners and urban experts, noting the achievements of Margaret Feilman in early postwar Australia, for example. The advisory and research [End Page 115] expertise of Jaqueline Tyrwhitt is skillfully discussed, and so too is the influential life of Barbara Ward, who participated in important global debates about the urban problems of the 1960s and promoted planned new communities in the developing world.

Although the range of the book is impressive, in some areas the coverage is uneven. Many fine illustrations give visual extensions to her arguments for some of the most important new towns, while many others are left to the imagination of the reader. Wakeman is sensitive to the challenges facing planners and governments in regions damaged or destroyed by conflict or forced to cope with huge migrations of population, yet she sees the creation of the Israeli new towns planned after 1948 almost completely as a process of invasion and militarization. The Holocaust...