The back and forth between Steve and me about his proposed pedestrian-oriented city led me to think more about planned cities, as his is. Although it’s normal among urbanists (for example, Jane Jacobs) to contrast organic cities with planned cities, there are really two aspects of planned cities, one economic and one design-based.
A city can be planned in terms of its urban design. A master plan came in and created its street layout, which is in some way regular. For the purposes of this discussion, it does not matter whether it was planned according to the principles of the Enlightenment, the Garden City movement, or modernism; however, this city will typically have grander major boulevards than unplanned cities, because they are meant to be the focus of civic and state power. A city can also be planned in terms of its economy and location: it was built out of scratch, typically to serve as a new national capital. Those two aspects of planned cities are more or less independent, and criticisms of one do not always carry over to the other.
We can present this using the following table of examples:
|Organic Design||London, Tokyo, Boston, Rome|
|Planned, Enlightenment principles||Washington, Toronto, St. Petersburg||New York, Philadelphia, Paris, Chicago|
|Planned, Garden City||Kuala Lumpur||Tel Aviv (Old North)|
|Planned, modernist/postwar||Brasilia||Singapore, Mumbai (ex-slums), US Sunbelt, Tel Aviv (north of the Yarkon)|
There are several things one should note about the above table. First, there are no economically planned cities with organic design, at least none I’m aware of: a city that exists only because of a national master plan will also have a master plan dictating its urban form. The closest things to it are a preexisting organic city that became larger when the national capital was moved there, for example Rome or Bonn, and a planned city that had some spontaneous development before being subsumed by a master plan, for example St. Petersburg. In fact the reason I found Steve’s proposed city a little weird is that it tries to approximate the features of an unplanned city (very narrow streets) in a setting that is completely planned (the city is plopped in a new rural subdivision).
Second, economically unplanned cities usually have downtown districts with no urban planning, regardless of how the rest of the city looks. This is true in New York (Lower Manhattan), Tel Aviv (Jaffa, pre-1920s Hebrew neighborhoods such as Neve Tzedek), and Singapore (the older parts of the CBD, Chinatown, Little India). When a city has no pockets of unplanned areas, for example Paris, it’s often because the entire city was razed and rebuilt according to a master plan; this is equally true of planned parts of cities, which contain few hints of the areas that were razed to make room for them.
Third, many, though not all, problems that Jacobs and other traditional urbanists associate with planned cities are problems of economic planning and not urban planning. A good example is Jacobs’ attacks on the Garden City movement, in particular Ebenezer Howard and Patrick Geddes, for hating traditional cities. Such an attack could be justified by looking at new suburban subdivisions as well as Kuala Lumpur, built from scratch to be the capital of Malaya.
In contrast, Jacobs’ criticism looks misplaced when one looks at Tel Aviv’s Old North, a dense and walkable neighborhood built entirely according to a master plan specified by Geddes. If you reread my criticisms of Tel Aviv, you’ll see that they are more about what more modern planners have done with it than the Old North’s basic urban form. The urban form is walkable, and the narrow streets are inherently less car-friendly than those of New York or Paris, but the traffic engineers have nonetheless optimized traffic for cars, and the national government rejected a subway in the 1960s for anti-urban nationalist reasons.
In other words, although the urban form of Steve’s Triangle City is likely to be similar to that of Rome, Tokyo, Kyoto, and other unplanned cities, its social and economic characteristics are not. They are more likely to be similar to those of Kuala Lumpur, Brasilia, Washington, and master-planned suburbs.
At the same time, some of the problems of modernism remain true in both planned and unplanned cities. Singapore’s projects and cul-de-sacs are as socially isolating as those of American suburbia. The arterials are not walkable, and the government’s response to huge pedestrian volumes at the intersection of Orchard and Paterson was to construct pedestrian underpasses. The same is true of the newer parts of North Tel Aviv, north of the Yarkon, though the high incomes there prevent the gang problems common in American projects.
Fourth and finally, it is rare but possible for a city built from scratch to become a true import-replacing city, depending on circumstance. Toronto did; although it was built from scratch as Upper Canada’s capital, safely away from the US border, it grew and became Ontario’s primate city, and eventually eclipsed Montreal as Canada’s largest city. The same is true for numerous cities built or designated as imperial capitals before industrialization, e.g. Beijing, Berlin. I cannot tell whether Kuala Lumpur has achieved the same feat, but its size suggests it has. Washington has not – its economy depends almost entirely on government. Master-planned suburbs practically never do.