Introduction to 20th Century Planning Practices

To understand how we got to where we are, we need to travel all the way back to the mid-19th century, to Manchester, England. At this time, Manchester was at the height of the industrial revolution, and people were moving from the country to the city to work in factories driven by coal powered steam engines.

Friederich Engles was a German, who at the age of 22 went to work in Manchester at a textile mill. On the way he met Karl Marx, and the two become friends. During his time in Manchester, Engles sent Marx several letters describing the working conditions and the general condition of the city.

7fa7bd9a479e626eed5e73bc850c033dManchester in the mid-19th century was a dirty, crowded city. The burning of coal, to power the machinery that made the factories run, polluted the air, and soot made things dirty. People lived in crowded housing of low quality – often quickly and cheaply built to accommodate the influx of workers. They worked long hours, and because of the large population living in close proximity diseases spread quickly, resulting in a higher mortality rate among city dwellers then country dwellers.

The conditions in Manchester were so bad, Engles’ writings to Marx were part of the inspiration for Marx’s communist manifesto. Engles himself wrote a book in German titled “The Condition of the Working Class in England” in 1857. (Published in English in 1887.) He argues that people in cities are worse off – they died more frequently of disease and industrial accidents then country people.

Engles’ writing was intended for a German audience who at the time were industrializing, though several years behind England. It was meant to serve as a warning about how not to grow and develop.

Another early urban thinker was Ebenezer Howard. Howard is known for his publication Garden Cities of To-morrow (1898). Though he worked as a court reporter and journalist, he spent much time considering the human condition. He would have likely read the writings of Engles, and have been familiar with the conditions in Manchester.

Howard’s efforts to resolve the human condition attempted to resolve the issues of the city and the country. Howard decided that the city, despite its downfalls, had some advantages. By merging the town with the country the advantages of both can be obtained. He offered the Three Magnets diagram showing the advantages of the Town,the Country and the Town-Country.

Howard envisioned a city without slums and enjoying the benefits of both town (such as opportunity, amusement and high wages) and country (such as beauty, fresh air and low rents). He illustrated this concept with the Three Magnets diagram, showing the pulls of the Town, the Country, and the Town-country which he described as the ideal. Howard’s Town-country, or Garden City is illustrated below.


Ebenezer Howard proposed a Garden City as the solution to the problems of the city. Architects and planners embraced this idea and worked on concepts for practical implementations. These architects were also heavily influenced by industrial methods and production.

One of the leading urban thinkers was a Swiss architect who went by Le Corbusier. Corbusier published Vers une Architecture (Toward an Architecture) in 1923. The book is a series of essays that had been previously published on the marvels of industrial production. He described mass produced concrete dwellings that could be cheaply manufactured en masse. These consisted of both single family and multi unit developments.

In 1922 he presented his scheme for a “Contemporary City” for three million inhabitants (left). The scheme was a series of towers in a park,connected with large highways. The influence of industrial production is evident. This scheme was also included in his 1929 book “The City of Tomorrow and its Planning”. Note that on the image on the left are large towers sitting on a podium, which connects buildings to transportation.

Le Corbusier exhibited his “Plan Voisin”, sponsored by an automobile manufacturer, in 1925. In it, he proposed to bulldoze most of central Paris north of the Seine and replace it with towers from the Contemporary City, placed within an orthogonal street grid and park-like green space. It was not well received, though it did provoke discussion concerning how to deal with the cramped, dirty conditions that enveloped much of the city. (Below: Model of Plan Voisin)


In 1929 Corbusier published The City of Tomorow and its Planning. In it he specifically refers to garden cities, and embraces Howard’s ideals. Corbusier also embraced industry and industrial production. He was fascinated with machines, and the automobile, and he is known for quotes such as “A city made for speed is made for success” and “A house is a machine for living in”.

In the 1930s, Le Corbusier expanded and reformulated his ideas on urbanism, eventually publishing them in La Ville radieuse (The Radiant City) in 1935. This eventually evolved into the Functional City, and the Athens Charter of 1943. The Athens Charter was based on the observations of many cities and was an offshoot of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne or CIAM.

The Athens Charter was greatly influential in the Post-war period. The charter stated that:

  • Housing districts should occupy the best sites.
  • A minimum amount of solar exposure should be required in all dwellings.
  • For hygienic reasons, buildings should not be built along transportation routes.
  • Modern techniques should be used to construct high apartment buildings.
  • Buildings should be spaced widely apart, to free the soil for large green parks.
  • It is important to reduce commuting times by locating industrial zones close to residential ones and buffering them with wide parks and sports areas.
  • Street widths and requirements should be scientifically worked out to accommodate the speed and type of transport.
  • Finally, with regards to conservation, historic monuments should be kept only when they were of true value and their conservation did not reduce their inhabitants to unhealthy living conditions.

So now we have seen how Howard’s Garden City ideals have been analyzed and scientifically studied, to result in the Athens charter, which set out the rules for modern planning.

The Nova Scotia Legislature passed the first Town Planning Act in 1912. the act emerged from the Victorian reform movements who were interested in improving living conditions in cities. They were members of the city beautiful movement, which was a primarily north American implementation of the garden city ideas.  The movement was concerned with introducing Grandeur and beautification to cities and promoting beauty not only for its own sake, but also to create moral and civic virtue among residents. The City Beautiful movement also took hold in Australia.

The 1912 act was likely the result of increased interest in planning in Halifax by citizens organizations and the public, concluding with a visit from British MP Henry Vivian, who commented that the slums in Halifax were far worse than those found in Britain, and that such conditions would never be tolerated there” he also presented on the garden city. That lecture spiked a furry of interest in planning, and attempts to get council to engage in town planning.  the first attempt went nowhere, but a second attempt in 1911 was more concerted. A lecture series, newspaper articles and proposed plans were all presented.

Various Design Schemes were presented, including the boulevarding of Morris St, grand parks at fort needham, A Bridge over the northwest arm, and ferry terminal improvement. The illustrations were done by Architect Andrew Cobb, and the grand buildings were neo-classical in style, as preferred by city beautiful.

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It is worth noting that the hydrostone was developed based on European Garden City ideals, However the All Saints Cathedral area was built to City Beautiful principals. The proposed Morris street boulevard was completed from the Dalhousie university campus to South park street, exactly as illustrated. There is an interesting dichotomy of ideas presented in Halifax- The garden city was about using design to directly improve peoples lives by removing them form unsanitary conditions. the City beautiful movement was more concerned with using design to elevate the social well being of the people with superficial changes to the environment.

A lecture presented by Thomas Mawson, a British landscape architect and planner was attended by Nova Scotia MLA for Halifax County George Faulkner. It was Faulkner who introduced the Town planning act to the legislature 4 months later.

the 1912 act was largely based on the 1909 British act. That first act however was short lived, and was replaced in 1915 by a new act written by Thomas Adams. Adams was pioneer urban planner. Born in Scotland, he was secretary to the Garden city association. in 1914 he took the position of town planning adviser with the federal Commission of Conservation. It was Adams who designed the Hydrostone in 1917, based on garden city principals. As part of a federal advisory commission, he had no ability to legislate land use federally, so he undertook a tour of the provinces. in Feb 1915 he stopped in halifax, and found the 1912 act to be insufficient for the needs of the city. he then worked with city reformers  to update it.

Halifax’s first modern urban plan was finally created in November 1945.

A foot Note.

Also of note, is that in 1910 City Alderman Clarke proposed slum clearance in the area of what is now Scotia Square. he also suggested some improvements to the road layout.untitled

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