Howard Gillette, Jr.

 

On his book Civitas by Design: Building Better Communities, from the Garden City to the New Urbanism

Cover Interview of July 12, 2010

In a nutshell

For more than a century city planners have aspired not only to improve the physical living conditions of urban residents but to strengthen civic ties through better design of built environments. From Ebenezer Howard and his vision for garden cities to today’s New Urbanists, these visionaries have sought to deepen civitas, the shared community of citizens.

Civitas by Design takes a critical look at this planning tradition, examining a range of environmental interventions and their consequences over the course of the twentieth century.  As American reform efforts moved from progressive idealism through the era of federally funded urban renewal programs to the rise of faith in free markets, planners attempted to cultivate community in places such as Forest Hills Gardens in Queens, New York, Celebration in Florida, and the post-Katrina Gulf Coast.

Key figures—including critics Lewis Mumford and Oscar Newman, entrepreneur James Rouse, and housing reformer Catherine Bauer—introduced concepts such as planned neighborhood units, regional shopping malls, and greenbelt towns that were implemented on a national scale.  And many of the buildings, landscapes, and infrastructures that these planners envisioned still remain.  But frequently the physical designs have proven insufficient to sustain the ideals they represented.