The past half-century’s radical transformation of American cities and regions has paradoxically stimulated our interest in older forms of cities and renewed our respect for the planning tradition that created them. Today, with everything urban and public perpetually in crisis, we turn attentively toward the figures who shaped our cities and left a magnificent legacy of public spaces, public transit, public parks, public libraries, public schools, public health, and public safety.

The American Planing Tradition reevaluates those planners and their times in a series of essays by some of today’s preeminent urbanists. Their chapters discuss principles proposed for American urban planning and describe recent experiences in New Orleans, Portland, Chicago, and Boston. The contributors are Robert Fishman, John Thomas, Michael J. Lacey, James Westcoat Jr., Alan Brinkley, Margaret Weir, Arnold R. Hirsch, Carl Abbott, Judith A. Martin and Sam Bass Warner Jr., and Anne Whiston Spirn.

Robert Fishman is a professor of history at Rutgers University. He is the author of Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia and Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. He was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center in 1988–89 and a public policy scholar there in 1999.


Michael J. Lacey

1. The American Planning Tradition: An Introduction and Interpretation
Robert Fishman

Part One – Two Traditions
2. Holding the Middle Ground
John L. Thomas
3. The Metropolitan Tradition in American Planning
Robert Fishman

Part Two – The Quest for National Planning
4. Federalism and National Planning: The Nineteenth-Century Legacy
Michael J. Lacey
5. “Watersheds” in Regional Planning
James L. Wescoat Jr.
6. The National Resources Planning Board and the Reconstruction of Planning
Alan Brinkley
7. Planning Environmentalism, and Urban Poverty: The Political Failure of National Land-Use Planning Legislation, 1970–1975
Margaret Weir

Part Three – Recreating the “Commons”: The Local Experience
8. Race and Renewal in the Cold War’s South: New Orleans, 1947–1968
Arnold R. Hirsch
9. The Capital of Good Planning: Metropolitan Portland since 1970
Carl J. Abbott
10. Local Initiative and Metropolitan Repetition: Chicago, 1972–1990
Judith A. Martin and Sam Bass Warner Jr.
11. Reclaiming Common Ground: Water, Neighborhoods, and Public Places
Anne Whiston Spirn


“Every chapter in this collection is extremely well-written.… This volume would be an excellent addition to any undergraduate or graduate planning history course.”—Daphne Spain, Journal of the American Planning Association

“The vast scope we expect in anthologies on vernacular architecture is exceeded in this anthology on planning.”—Mark Heyman, Vernacular Architecture Newsletter

“Those who want to explore metropolitanism and regionalism as historically based prescriptive traditions and resources for current discussion will do well to consult this book. Thomas’s essay, in particular, is an historian’s tour de force, illuminating both the original regionalist impulse and its link with present-day thinking.… This work belongs on the shelf of any American planning historian or activist curious about the historical firmament in which their ideas and aspirations are rooted.”—Jon A. Peterson, H-Net Reviews

The American Planning Tradition is a worthy contribution to the field of urban planning. It raises many intriguing questions about the nature of American society and its consequences for urban planning.”—Eran Ben-Joseph, Journal of Urban Design

“In reshaping our understanding of the American past, planning historians can help shape the future.”—John D. Fairfield, Urban History