From the roaring twenties to the New Deal era, planners, civic leaders, and other reformers diagnosed urban ailments and prescribed new interventions to treat them. The young profession of city planning pointed to the debilitating effects of congestion and sprawl, as large metropolitan areas grew up and out. The negative aspects of automobiles were already becoming noticeable in urban areas. Planning as a profession evolved alongside a growing demand for improvements to urban mobility, safety, and parking.

The problems of cities were often framed in terms of disorder wrought by uncontrolled change and real estate speculation. Conflicts between residential neighborhoods and commercial encroachment and between industrial uses and posh shopping districts spurred the zoning movement. In 1926, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Case Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., affirmed the constitutionality of zoning. Planners experimented with various ways to regulate buildings, land uses, and more broadly, urban change. As zoning spread across the nation, it was used to separate cities not only by land use, but also by race. In the South, city plans and racial zoning maps were used for segregationist purposes. Many of these plans were created by planning consultants from the north (Silver, 1997).

“Shall the mass of the population of the great city...” illustration.

This period included the evolution of two distinct planning approaches. One set of planning interventions focused on improving existing urban areas, while another aimed to create new ideal communities. An example of the former, the 1929 Regional Plan of New York and its Environs focused on proposing a network of highways, transit, and open space improvements. This effort has been dubbed "metropolitanism," in contrast to "regionalism," which favored bold plans for new towns intended to make large "dinosaur cities" obsolete (Fishman, 2000; Stein, 1925). Radburn, New Jersey was one such planned community. The Greenbelt towns of the New Deal are also exemplars of the regionalist approach.

This exhibit explores these planning approaches through items drawn from the architecture and city planning collections in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections of the Cornell University Library.

Exhibit organized by Jennifer Minner, Assistant Professor and Elizabeth D. Muller, Assistant Director and Curator of Media and Digital Collections, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

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