The American city of the 1920s and 1930s was European with less form. Frank Lloyd Wright presented the possibility of a new identity. His Broadacre City design presented a consumer-driven form and his Mile High (image left) produced sufficient contrast to start the dense vs. dispersed urban design debate of the 1950s that continues to this day[i]. Wright put this forth plainly as a real choice. The decision to choose density as the principal caldron for the growth of the mind and body of humanity is the right one, but the image of life enclosed by brick and steel remained bleak in comparison to the deep DNA like resonance of a bucolic forest and the pastoral life. The American Mid-20th century’s post WWII urbanism overwhelmingly favored the car. Urban policy specifically sought to spread the population out and away from the concentrated terror of nuclear war.
Only the writings of Jane Jacobs and a few others such as Rachael Carson, dutifully prepared stinging critiques of the mid-20th century’s growth liturgies. Since then, we have barely managed to praise the hapless pedestrian seeking an active public realm.
A century of dystopian and utopian vision produced a few examples of successful density thanks to Jacobs, but looking for ways to ward off despair and establish the wealth of lifestyles that minimized consumption has yet to yield a solution.
Image: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mile High, Chicago. 1956 Image via MoMA and the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University