Urban Planning In the 20th Century

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The twentieth century experienced an increase in the number of capital cities across the globe. According to Gordon (2006), in the year 1900, there were about forty nation states with capital cities and half of these nations were in Latin America due to the collapse of the Portuguese and Spanish empires.  In the late 20th century. Gordon continues to assert that the planning and design of national capitals are inseparable from the economic, political, and social factors that suited them and molded their development. This paper will assess the city of London, its planning, explain the rationale and impact of the planning of the city, and consider forms of social differences that could be involved in this process.

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According to Gordon, at the beginning of the 20th century, urban centers across many nations in the Europe experienced the full flowering of the beaux art inspired efforts in the urban planning and design. This also included wide boulevards, vast axial symmetry, as well as large neoclassical structures and monuments that seemed perfectly suited to convey the splendor and centrality of those in the position of power. London for instance, in the twentieth century despite the significant changes in its context and functions, the city maintained ad enhanced its historical dominance. At the end of the twentieth century, the city was in multiple ways very different from the city, which witnessed the ending of the Victorian era (Gordon, 2006).

Social Class and Urban Planning

The idea of urban planning is a political and technical process that involves the regulation of the utilization of land as well as the design of the urban environment. These may also include the control of the transportation networks in order to guide and guarantee the systematic developments of settlements and communities (El Din et al., 2013). According to Greed (2002), Britain go into the post-war period with a major legacy of the old Victorian adjoining housing in the inner regions of its main towns. The terrible conditions of much of this housing prompted the government to declared most of these regions unhealthy for human residence and as result labelled as comprehensive development zones. In the 1950s, most of the industrial cities in Britain including London saw the beginning of major clearance of the inner city slum and comprehensive redevelopment schemes. Greed argues that whatever the justification of the urban development plans, the process of comprehensive redevelopment and rehousing inevitable led to a major upheaval for the residents living in these areas. These development plans led to the uprooting of whole communities and in the late 1950s, this “clean sweep” physical planning was condemned for its social inconsiderateness.

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Greed continues to assert that the urban developers were blind to quality or nature of the communal life that was survived by the residents in the areas they were re-planning. The planners and other officials involved in the development of the urban centers seemed not to understand the social populations that flourished in these areas. The offers for the inclusive rehousing and redevelopment were founded on physical and not the communal facts about these in city slums in cities like London. According to Greed, the planning process in London in the twentieth was aimed at creating geographically distinct neighborhoods, which were designed in a way that nurtured the formation of local social communities. The plans for all the new towns were to give London and other cities a well-ordered cellular arrangement of residential neighborhoods each of which was intended to be somewhat self-contained and communally balanced. Green continues to point out that by offering the neighborhoods with its own local amenities such as primary schools, a local park, church, local shops, and community center, the developers hoped to enable openings for the residents to meet and with time create a social community. Based on these arguments, it is therefore important to consider forms of social differences when explaining the impact and rationale of urban planning in the twentieth century.

According to Taylor and Greed (2002), in spite of the planners’ over concern for the creation of a community, their planning ideas exposed the physicalist bias of urban planning thought and practice in another way. By believing, that they social communities could be nurtured by physical means demonstrates the ignorance of the real-life social communities. It is important to consider the aspect of class when trying to explain the impacts of urban planning in the twentieth century. In London for instance, the urban planners failed to consider the social differences and living conditions of the individuals living in the cities as they planned to sweep the slums in the inner areas of the city. Secondly, the importance of considering social differences is also demonstrated in the failure of the city planner when they ignore the real-life social communities living in the slums.  According to Broady (1968), it was mostly social circumstances such the long-term residence in a zone, or the understanding of economic hardship that enlightened the reality of indigenous social communities, rather than the situations of the physical environment. Broady continues to suggest that by seeking to create social communities through physical means, the urban planners were relying on a naïve and false theory. They concentrated on physical environment conditions, new town planning and displayed an insensitivity towards urban social conditions. This demonstrates the need for considering the social differences when trying to explain the rationale and the influence of urban planning in the twentieth century. According to Greed, the planning g of cities in the twentieth century into single-district and self-contained neighborhoods demonstrated an oversimplified model of the city. As a result, town planning was criticized for lack of understating of the vitality of existing cities and most importantly the socio-economic richness of the residents already living in the urban centers.

The second reason there is a need to consider social differences in explaining the rationale and impact of urban planning in the 20th century is that the kind of social insensitivity in urban planning in this time provoked open rebellion. According to Taylor and Greed, the clean sweep approach to urban planning in London saw the emergence of local urban protests in the 1960s. These protest movements were developed through the 1960s, a concern for public participation in town planning. In brief, it is evident that the urban planning activities in London in the 20th century played a major role in transforming to lives of the residents living in the inner city slums. The plans led to the uprooting of a whole community and the planner ignored the real-life social communities. Urban planners demonstrated the social insensitivity in that they did not seem to understand the social communities that flourished in these zones.

Gender and urban planning in the 20th century

It is also important to consider the aspect of gender when trying to explain the rationale and impact of urban planning because gender played a role in influencing urban planning in the twentieth century. According to de Graft-Johnson (2001), the industrial revolution marked a start of major changes in Britain in the demographic profile of the nation as well as rapid growth in urban living. The twentieth century as a major increase in housing provisions for the working class as well as a greater input of planning in developing housing schemes.  Graft-Johnson continues to assert that the approaches to the development and planning of cities, which assume a homogeneous population and a zoned series of functions, lack the incorporation of the important elements that might achieve cities that are more successful. In London, reactions of the post-war reconstruction period of planning were becoming less generalized, more gendered, and more specific to the needs of the different cultural and racial groups. The design of spaces, routes, and their location and allocation often reflect the interests of the dominant sex, racial or cultural group without the regard to the expectations and needs of those who are not in the decision making and planning positions. The planning activities influencing the urban designs, and working environments in transportation, as well as domestic domains, have historically taken place without the contribution of women. Furthermore, the features in the planning and urban design, as well as the transport policy, have often acted against women both in as primary careers and in their own right (de Graft-Johnson, 1999).  In the 20th century, urban planning influenced o the aspect of gender in that transport policy and related urban designs favored the car instead of public transport or pedestrians. Furthermore, men have historically dominated the use of the car to the exclusion of women and it is evident that the majority of users of the public transport have been women. Based on these arguments, it is important to consider the aspect of gender when explaining the impact of urban planning in London in the 20th century. Gender influenced the way the city’s transportation system was designed, as well as the lack of contribution of women on the changes in the theories that affected urban design as well as the domestic and working environment.

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In conclusion, it is evident that there is a need to consider different forms of social differences including class, race, and gender while explaining the influence and rationale of urban planning in the 20th century.  In this case, the planning of the city of London in the 20th century played a major role in influencing these social differences. For instance, in the urban planning activities of the 1950s saw massive slum clearance, which resulted to the uprooting of whole communities. These events were marked with criticism since the city plans were deemed socially insensitive and did not take into consideration the social aspects that defined the residents that lived in these cities. The city planners did not consider the socials classes and economic hardships of the individuals that lived in this areas. These planners assumed that social communities could be nurtured by physical means, which was a major ignorance of the real-life social communities. Additionally, the aspect of gender influences urban planning in the 20th century in that, urban planning activities and transportation networks reflected the interests of the dominant sex and lacked the contribution of women.

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  1. Broady, M. (1968). Planning for people: essays on the social context of planning. National council of social service.
  2. de Graft-Johnson, A. (1999). 8 Gender, race and culture in the urban built environment. Social   Town Planning, 102.
  3. El Din, H. S., Shalaby, A., Farouh, H. E., & Elariane, S. A. (2013). Principles of urban quality of life for a neighborhood. HBRC Journal9(1), 86-92.
  4. Gordon, D. (Ed.). (2006). Planning twentieth century capital cities. Routledge.
  5. Greed, C. (Ed.). (2002). Social town planning. Routledge.
  6. Taylor, N., & Greed, C. H. (1999). Social Town Planning. Town Planning ‘Social’, not just ‘Physical’?, 29-43.
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