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Our Cities and The City: incompatible classics?

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At the end of the 1930s, Americans interested in the fates and futures of their cities had the opportunity to consider two new efforts to summarize urban problems and propose solutions. The first was Our Cities: Their Role in the National Economy, published in 1937 under the auspices of the National Resources Board. The second was The City, a film sponsored by the American Institute of Planners for showing at the New York world's fair in 1939. The report and the film arose out of different analytical traditions, the first from the approach that embedded urban planning within a larger field of social science and policy making and the second from the physical planning and design tradition that had marked planning practice in the first third of the twentieth century. This article considers the origins of the two texts, compares their topical coverage and prescriptions for change, and argues that their differences encapsulated a deep tension that has continued to be manifest within urban planning in the USA into the present century.
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Keywords: Charles Merriam; Lewis Mumford; Louis Wirth; National Resources Committee; new deal; regional planning; urban problems

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University, Portland,Oregon, USA

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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