City Beautiful

March 4, 1964

Report Outline
Interest in the Appearance of Cities
Urban Beautification: Ancient and Modern
Relation of Planning to Beautification

Interest in the Appearance of Cities

American cities are undergoing changes that promise in time to alter radically the character of the nation's urban environment. Rapid population growth and markedly increased urbanization have generated strong demand for new construction of all kinds, thus fueling a building boom which various government programs have helped to expand and sustain. Many of the new structures, commercial and residential, are taking the place of old and rundown buildings in central sections of cities as well as filling up districts not hitherto intensively developed. Meanwhile, expressways are being cut through thickly settled areas to meet the ever-mounting demands of motor traffic in thriving communities.

The resulting transformation of numerous cities, unlike that in some past periods of growth, is not all of a hit or miss nature. It is taking place at a time when instruments to control its direction are being increasingly utilized. Not only zoning regulations but also city planning commissions are guiding urban development as never before. It is no longer a matter solely of restricting the location and height of certain types of buildings and laying down specifications for their construction. City planning, facilitated by the federal urban renewal program, has made possible the development or redevelopment of entire sections of cities to meet recognized needs in accordance with approved design and other standards. Street and building patterns may be redistributed in the process, parks, recreation centers and other facilities created, slums replaced by new housing, and structures of historic or esthetic interest restored and protected.

The underlying purpose of all this activity is to make cities functionally more efficient, economically more viable, and—it is hoped—more beautiful. Civic beauty, as it is conceived today, does not refer to the architectural or landscaped splendors of individual showpieces, but to an urban environment that is pleasing in all of its parts and that enables city dwellers to live more gracefully. The question is whether the changes now taking place are actually making cities more beautiful in this sense and, if so, whether the improvements are coming along rapidly enough to compensate for destruction of old houses, courtyards, vistas, or even whole districts that once contributed to a city's beauty.

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