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Getting to the Root of the Crisis of Urbanity. The Debate on Urban Open Spaces in the IFHTP Congresses between the two Wars
"This paper focuses on the modern urban open spaces design culture. Its field of investigation is the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning congresses held between the two wars. Without claiming to be exhaustive, either from a theoretical or historical point of view, and starting from statements from some of the protagonists of debate on town planning in those years, it aims to grasp some of the reasons for the crisis of urbanity in the cities we live in, at the same time hypothesising some possible lines of research" (...).
"There have been social, economic and political-administrative factors that have influenced modern and contemporary spatiality features.
Yet, if we intend to get to the root of the crisis of urbanity concerning open spaces developed in the second post-war period, we also need to explore this specific field – namely the urban and architectural models that inspired generations of architects and city planners – and strive to understand why urban design was often not up to its task precisely at the time when most of the urban fabric of the cities we now live in was built. Degradation and above all misuse, sometimes illegal use, of the public realm of the modern city also stem from its physical form and its functional relations, which are the most typical fields of action in city planning".
From the article's Introduction
THE DEBATE ON URBAN OPEN SPACES
"To start our reflections on the debate concerning the design of urban open spaces at the IFHTP congresses held between the wars, we will take into consideration those events which directly dealt with this theme. These can be divided into two categories: in the first, open spaces are basically intended as green areas for health and recreation; in the second, attention is focused on the relationship between open spaces and traffic".
I. HEALTH AND LEISURE TIME IN THE DESIGN OF URBAN OPEN SPACES
"A session of the 1924 Amsterdam congress was specifically devoted to Parks, Park Systems and Recreation (IFTCPGC, 1924). There were only three papers on this theme: by Henry Vincent Hubbard, Jacques Gréber and Hendrik Cleyndert (Hubbard, 1924; Gréber, 1924; Cleyndert, 1924). Yet this theme was also dealt with in other contributions presented in a different session at the same congress: for example those of Patrick Abercrombie, Fritz Schumacher and Thomas Adams (Abercrombie, 1924; Schumacher, 1924; Adams, 1924). All the papers – more or less in line with the urban planning tradition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – essentially underlined the healthy character of green areas and the obvious need to increase them in the most crowded urban structures" (...).
II. OPEN SPACES AND VEHICLE MOBILITY
"From the late twenties vehicle traffic progressively became the main protagonist of the urban and regional landscape. (...) It was such a remarkable event that it gave rise to a dramatic revolution regarding both the use of urban open spaces and the form of the city. ‘Individual motorised transportation’, observes Hawley Starr Simpson (1899-1974) for example, ‘played an important part in changing the physical aspects of our cities, both large and small’ (Simpson, 1939:1). The IFHTP congresses devoted specific congress sessions to the relationship between open spaces and vehicle mobility, although it must be underlined that this topic continuously emerged in a number of other events. In the 1925 New York conference there were five papers on The Traffic Problem (IFTCPGC, 1925) and the same number again at the 1928 Paris congress on Mass and Density of Buildings in Relation to Open Spaces and Traffic Facilities (IFHTP, 1928). In Berlin, in 1931, there were nineteen concerning The Traffic Problem in Relation to Town and Regional Planning (IFHTP, 1931), while according to questionnaires drawn up by the Federation, twelve reports were presented in Stockholm in 1939 on Town Planning and Local Traffic (IFHTP, 1939).
In general, we can state that vehicle traffic was apparently a problem that needed to be rapidly dealt with and resolved. The vast potential of the new means of transport was generally very clear, as was the unsuitability of urban facilities for these new needs. The solutions proposed generally showed two types of approach: one that we might define the ‘city planning’ approach and the other the ‘engineering’ approach, but it was quite common to find these coexisting at different levels of reasoning" (...).
Extracts from the article
Faculty of Civil Architecture
Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy
The Journal of Urbanism