All cities are mad, but the madness is gallant.
October 14, 2014 9:41 PM   Subscribe

Planned cities are not a new idea (Palmanova, Italy, 1593). From Washington, D.C. (1791), to Canberra, Australia (1911), to Brasilia, Brazil (1957), planned cities have long been an urban dream (from space), perhaps most frequently applied to national capitals. But they don't always work out as planned.

In North America, some argue that everything settled after the 1871 Dominion Lands Act in Canada or the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 in the US counts as "planned" because it was platted before the settlers arrived.
Broughton, NS (perhaps Canada's first planned town; current population 24),
New Haven, CT (the US's first planned town (1638)),
Savannah, GA,

Chicago, IL, the Burnham Plan and Pullman, Chicago;
Detroit, MI;
Williston, ND.

Perhaps consider:
Mexico City, Mexico, which has turned its city planning muscle to green planning
Guadalajara, Mexico, which has an original colonial town plan, a 1950s revamp, and an ongoing reworking

Elsewhere in the world planned cities are often schemes of vainglorious dictators:
Dubai, UAE
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Astana, Kazakhstan
Kolmanskop, Namibia (abandoned diamond town)
Planned Al-Noor City to build a bridge over the Red Sea

Or they may be very ancient:
A 4500-year-old planned city in Karachi, India?
Catalhoyuk, Turkey: 9000 years old? 10,000 years old? Really old.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (34 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Some ancient Chinese cities could be considered planned, as their layouts were predetermined based on the laws of feng shui.
posted by destrius at 10:09 PM on October 14, 2014

Chang'An was very much a planned city and ancient Kyoto was based off the plans of Chang'An. Ah, the glories of the T'ang! I am trying to remember but I thought that missions and towns were laid out or at least certain main areas very specifically in Colonial Spanish territories as well. To say the least, it has been awhile since I studied the history of the city.
posted by jadepearl at 10:14 PM on October 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

A lot of Roman cities were planned. (See "City".) Roman engineers would lay out the sewer system first, and roof it. Then they'd lay out main roads and the city walls, and put an aquaduct in place to guarantee enough water. Plus they'd plan the location of major city constructs, like the colliseum and the public bath. The rest of the town would be divided into blocks with smaller streets between -- and then people would start moving in.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:35 PM on October 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh man, my husband and I took a vacation where we excavated a Roman Fort ... I can't believe I didn't think of a Roman city to include. Anyway I am fascinated by random planned cities and people should definitely post them!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:52 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Shoutout to Hippodamus of Miletus, not that the myth of Hippodamus should overpower the long and storied history of the grid plan. Grid plans! So awesome you can still walk through streets basically laid out by the Greeks in Naples. Developments in Greek and Roman urbanism: still a subject of scholastic research and debate. A good introduction in Roman Corinth (or, a city with both a Roman and Greek past.) Roman cities definitely did not all play out like that, though in places like Paestum where they quickly rearranged the city center to align with Roman standards it's kind of cool to see what priorities floated up. Challenge yourself to design a Roman city through Yale's open course!

The city that always gets me is Baghdad and the Round City plan, based on Sasanian patterns, something I found about through an anecdote in a lecture on coins and one which I would love to learn more about.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:54 PM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nobody mention Milton Keynes! Oh good... nobody has.
posted by Decani at 1:23 AM on October 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

A village rather than a city, but the Saltaire story is fascinating.
posted by Decani at 1:27 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the Romans, I believe they had a standard camp layout which they built everywhere (so the soldiers always knew where everything was, even if they'd just arrived). Many of their forts went on to grow into towns which therefore all had a standard basic pattern. Anywhere in England that has a name ending in '-chester' is one of these, and in some cases the basic set up is still the same. I've been told that in Chichester the Town Hall is on the site of the earlier forum, the church where the temple used to be, and when they dug below Sainsbury's they found a row of shops which still had signs of wine, olives, bread, and other stuff you could well have encountered in the modern shop.

This familiar standard pattern struck me forcibly in Crete, after visiting Knossos and Gortys. Minoan palaces seemed incomprehensible: several long rooms that are basically corridors with a throne in, arbitrary rooms full of pithi, 'theatral areas' with long gutters right down the outside of the building? But across the road was an old Roman settlement, and as soon as you walked in you could tell immediately how it worked: main street, town hall, temple, shops, expensive houses, cheap houses.
posted by Segundus at 1:39 AM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

A village rather than a city, but one planned by Prince Charles: Poundbury
posted by emilyw at 2:16 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Poundbury is possibly the most aesthetically and intellectually offensive place in the world. Awash with the smug, twee vapidity of its imbecilic creator. Still, it gave old Charlie something to do in-between the adultery and peddling quack medicine.

They're not really cities, but in the UK we've also had the Garden City Movement, which inspired the New Towns Act. That gave us the aforementioned Milton Keynes, but also such gems as Runcorn and the weirdly retro-dystopian Cumbernauld. I think it's fair to say that we do slow hodgepodge accretion better than rational planning...
posted by sobarel at 4:31 AM on October 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

I am fascinated by random planned cities and people should definitely post them!

The Atlantic had a nice piece recently on Songdo, a city outside of Seoul designed as a low-tax business center that has yet to cash in on "if you build it they will come".

The university where I work has a branch campus in Songdo and it's eery at night, with lots of high-rise apartment buildings that have few to no lights on in the windows. The Atlantic article claims it's currently at 1/3rd residential capacity, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were lower, perhaps with Seoulites buying up apartments as investments and living elsewhere. I hosted a conference there last year, some of the American and European attendees were tripped out.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 5:03 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and here's one that we should be very glad never happened: Welthaupstadt Germania. A suitably grandiose world capital for when the Third Reich had completed its planned conquests.
posted by sobarel at 5:10 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bill Bryson is hilarious about Canberra. "In 1996 the prime minister, John Howard, caused a stir after his election by declining to live in Canberra. This caused an uproar among Canberra's citizens, presumably because they hadn't thought of that themselves. ... I ordered another beer, then picked up the notebook and pen and, after a minute’s thought, wrote, "Canberra awfully boring place. Beer cold, though." Then I thought for a bit more and wrote, "Buy socks." ... Then I decided to come up with a new slogan for Canberra. First I wrote, "Canberra—There’s Nothing to It!" and then "Canberra—Why Wait for Death?"
posted by Melismata at 5:23 AM on October 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

I know it goes against the popular view of history, but hundreds or even thousands of new settlements were planned and built in medieval Europe. Far from the random time-being development we think of, the sites were meticulously chosen, laid out with regularly spaced plots--either linear or checkerboard--and provided with amenities such as a market, harbour, bridge, or walls, to encourage people to live there. Further enticements included borough charters allowing community self-government and introductory offer rents. Even a thousand years ago landlords were keen on promoting economic development of their land by urbanization.
posted by Thing at 5:32 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This may only marginally qualify, but Haussmann's redesign of Paris must count as urban planning on some large scale.
posted by ardgedee at 5:33 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the Romans, I believe they had a standard camp layout which they built everywhere (so the soldiers always knew where everything was, even if they'd just arrived).

Sometimes the Romans used a standard layout to the point of idiocy. Take Hardknott Roman Fort (Mediobogdum) which has the standard four gateways. The fact that the northern gate opens out onto a cliff did not stop them building it.
posted by antiwiggle at 5:51 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Umm, Karachi's in Pakistan.
posted by Runes at 5:52 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Poundbury is possibly the most aesthetically and intellectually offensive place in the world.

Why? I'd never heard of it before today, but it sounds interesting. What's so offensive about it, other than the fact that the prince is involved?
posted by Ickster at 6:22 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing about Poundbury is that, for all its naffness, it's still better than 90% of the cruft that gets built in England. Things are bad when Poundbury is good.
posted by Thing at 6:50 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Putrajaya is the brand new planned capital city of Malaysia. It was one of Mahathir's last megaprojects, costing far far more than the more famous KL twin towers. It may become a viable place one day since it is close enough to KL to become part of the larger conurbation. At the moment it is pretty but sterile, and empty at night.
posted by BinGregory at 7:11 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does the rebuilding of Athens under Pericles in the aftermath of the Persian war count?

Not a city, but a village: The Village.

A small city rebuilt almost from scratch following an earthquake. In 1931, nearly all architects were into Art Deco, so guess what Napier, New Zealand looks like.
posted by Herodios at 7:15 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

What's so offensive about it, other than the fact that the prince is involved?

I could just quote Jonathan Meades who described it as "a Thomas Hardy theme park for slow learners".

But, to be less concise, Poundbury is to an actual village what the Magic Kingdom is to an actual castle. A fantasy pastiche, with any poor people airbrushed out. It's astonishingly ugly - a cobbled together mess of cheap housing with plasticky Georgian or Victorian facades. Fake chimneys that let in rainwater, fake bricked up windows to escape the Window Tax repealed 150 years before they were built. It's a retreat to a simulation of a past that never existed, with - of course - a benevolent Lord in the form of Charles smiling down upon the little people.

The chief designer of Poundbury - Léon Krier - is a fan of Albert Speer, and indulges in the same sort of faux historical banality. When his boss turns his hand to architecture you get stuff like the Poundbury Fire Station - and this from a man who has criticised today's young people for having "ambitions beyond their talents"...

(Sorry, I'm having one of my "angry Wednesdays"...)
posted by sobarel at 7:31 AM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've always admired the logic of DC's street grid. Numbered streets running north and south, letters running east and west, and when they run out of letters they use two-syllable words, then three syllable words, then trees or flowers.

But what really gets my goat is the transverse diagonal avenues named for the states. Why didn't L'Enfant have the foresight to put them alphabetically? (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona...)

But seriously, there's a lot of nice detail about the grid here and here.
posted by Stig at 7:54 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

What, no Saint Petersburg? (Great thread; planned cities are fascinating!)
posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on October 15, 2014

Also Salt Lake City.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:37 AM on October 15, 2014

Also the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 in NYC that created the grid system we know today.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:49 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The inclusion of Williston ND in the list of contrasts seals my notion that when God gives North Dakota an enema, Williston will be the place where he sticks the hose.
posted by Ber at 9:14 AM on October 15, 2014

Spaniard-founded cities in the Americas were planned according to the Leyes de Indias, which set out,among many other things, the central square or "Plaza de Armas", so called because that's where weapons were kept and was a last redoubt in case of invasion.
posted by signal at 9:40 AM on October 15, 2014

I lived in DC for two years and could never get that crazy street map set in my head.

Also spent a summer in Brasilia, which has some pretty architecture but also this user-unfriendly sterility (at least in 20 years ago) that clearly shows how it was designed rather than evolving from actual human use.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:30 AM on October 15, 2014

The Wikipedia category Planned Capitals can provide a hell of a hole to fall down. See also parent category Planned Cities.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:31 AM on October 15, 2014

ps the wikihole has lead me from planned features in Paris via a side detour into the plans for rebuilding Germany by Speer, and now I have somehow ended up reading about Vestal Virgins.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:01 PM on October 15, 2014

There's always Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, designed by a Greek planner called Doxiadis, whose plan for planning a "new" Athens was rejected.
posted by Azaadistani at 1:18 PM on October 15, 2014

John Nolen planned Madison, WI. Problems linking, but here:
posted by persona au gratin at 11:20 PM on October 15, 2014

There's also La Plata, which looks pretty cool from the air.
posted by palbo at 11:55 AM on October 16, 2014

« Older The mysterious Permutations, by Chrimères   |   Mad for Ads? Add Ads to Mad Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments