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city planning

Early City Planning

Many ancient cities were built from definite plans. The fundamental feature of the plans of Babylon, Nineveh, and the cities of ancient Greece and of China was a geographical pattern of main streets running north and south and east and west, with a public square or forum in the center. Such a gridiron plan was used in the ancient Peruvian city of Chan Chan. It was also followed by the Romans, as in Lincoln and Chester in England; in all their towns the Romans emphasized drainage and water supply and practiced zoning. In medieval cities, built with military security in mind, the only relief from the extremely narrow streets was the space formed by municipal and church squares. The living conditions of the poorer citizens were given little attention.

With the Renaissance came the truly monumental views—wide avenues and long approaches creating vistas of handsome buildings. The new aim is seen first in special sections of a city, such as Michelangelo's grouping on the Capitoline at Rome and Bernini's piazza of St. Peter's. In most European cities through the 17th and 18th cent. there was fragmentary replanning of medieval streets. After the fire of 1666 in London, Sir Christopher Wren devised a superb plan for a complete rebuilding of the city, but the plan unfortunately was not carried out. In the 18th cent., Mannheim and Karlsruhe, Germany, were laid out geometrically; Emmanuel Héré planned Nancy, France; John Wood produced grand architectural streets and squares at Bath; and the new part of Edinburgh was laid out. In the early 19th cent. John Nash planned certain sections of London; central Vienna was improved; and Baron Haussmann remodeled Paris to produce the celebrated boulevard system with its spokes-and-hub design.

Legislation that enabled cities to make and carry out planning designs was enacted earlier in Europe than in the United States. Such laws were passed in Italy in 1865, in Sweden in 1874, and in Prussia and Great Britain in 1875. Planning in Great Britain was especially concerned with slum elimination; its greatest exponent was Sir Patrick Geddes. At the turn of the century Sir Ebenezer Howard was the founder of the modern garden city movement. The first English garden city, Letchworth, was begun in 1903.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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