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Between 1900 and 1939 North American cities had begun shaping into new urban forms with the convergence of important new traditions and improved methods of urban planning. "The City" is a film that explores the growth of the industrial revolution while highlighting how urban planning can provide diverse organizational methods towards better living. Throughout the film, I have analyzed many depictions of poor public health that can be traced from all stages of urban development. Urban planning and the growth of residential communities present a series of solutions towards the faults in North American urbanization. In my paper I will examine three different periods of urbanization and how each period has experienced greater public health benefits given the growth in planning. I will focus most solely on the aspect of children's health as they appear to be the most affected by the lack of urban planning. Looking at the health implications, I will first examine the industrial town, secondly examine the metropolis and thirdly present the benefits of the ideal 'garden city'. The garden city presents a prime example of the proper urban planning principles towards restoring the health of the environment that also cooperatively maintains urban growth while still valuing public health.
'The City' was commissioned in 1939 by the American Institute of Planners which focused on the main historical phases and social consequences of metropolitan life (Gillette, 1977). The film was loosely based on Lewis Mumford's 1938 work entitled "The Culture of Cities", whereby Mumford also provides the narrative screenplay throughout the film (Gillette, 1977). The early reflections of rural versus urban living sheds light to the urban planning visions of the suburbs, which incorporate the best of both urban and rural worlds. The film depicts the issues of the industrial town and metropolis city, concluding with the ideal vision of the garden city, which sees the restoration of a healthy living environment.
The film's adaptation of the industrial town gives several historically relevant displays of the harsh living conditions whereby machines dominated the landscape, producing an inescapable toxic smoke. Before industrialization, the family signified a supportive social unit, however under the processes of industrialization the family gradually becomes less important (Cowan, 1976, p.2). From the film we see children who roam free without any supervision, as their parents are occupied with their domestic work and long-hour jobs in the "smoke stack" industries, making family safety a last priority. In Figure 1 (Steiner, 1939) the film shows children running onto the nearby railroad tracks with a train coming through just as they are crossing. With no concern for public health, the industrial town is an unplanned, impoverished, unsafe, and polluted landscape. In Figure 2 (Steiner, 1939) we can see that the rise of the industrialism brings heavier production methods with smoke and fire causing toxic gases to seep through public residences. Workers were required to live in close proximity to their jobs, where living conditions and air quality were negatively affected by the industries adjacent to the working-class suburbs. The film presents shots of these suburbs, which are overcrowded by poorly built homes, dirty smog environments and uneven roads. To me, these scenes provide evidence that urban planning is a necessity in order to properly organize the landscape into a healthier environment.
As the film progresses through the early 20th century, the Metropolis sees a significant infrastructural change, however many issues of public health concern remain relevant. In this part of the film, the adaptation of the "empire city" commences the next chapter of urban planning whereby modern cities are overpopulated, quick paced and bounded by skyscrapers. The growth in education, technical expertise and managerialism began to replace working class jobs while offering more attractive benefits, which become in high demand. Crowded streets coupled with high volumes of traffic reflect the faults in planning towards the public well-being of the city's residents. In one scene we can see a sign that reads "Danger Congested Area", whereby a truck is then heard hitting a pedestrian on the crowded street. This is a great example of poor spatial planning which is required in order to prevent health hazards from becoming a regular occurrence. Within the same scene, the film shows a police officer lighting a cigarette as the accident unfolds. I presume his ignorance of the situation implies that these types of accidents occur often enough to become uncontrollable by law. This can become further understood by the unsupervised children, who are seen playing amongst the congested traffic and being exposed to the city's pollution. In Figure 3 (Steiner, 1939) we can see that two children are running to the street to ride on the back of a moving public trolley. The high pace city appears to pass by unaware of the danger exposed to these children's health since another scene similarly also shows a child (unnoticed) playing in the guttery waters of the street (Steiner, 1939). At this time there was no planning that accommodated uncongested, healthy, playful environments for children of the metropolis, resulting in unaccounted children becoming intertwined in the urban pollution. In Figure 4 (Steiner, 1939) we can see the extent of the congested traffic that fills the streets. Planning in this time lacked the power to pursue a new approach to city regeneration in order to address the issue of congestion (Gillette, 2001). Transportation advances in trains, streetcars and the automobile became widespread which critically impacted the overall congestion and pollution of the metropolis (Frumkin, 2002, p.201). The overall congestion of the city is proof that a transition to a new suburb, which organizes itself, is crucial in order to overcome the faults of the metropolis.
The final urban movement of the film presents the ideal urban environment, the garden city. From these shots, the film shows the benefits of planning and restoring modern urban life back to the healthy environment and a sense of community that once had been present in the past (Gillette, 1977). The developments in science and technology helped make the garden city a new way of bringing the city back into the country, surrounded by the natural environment and planned accordingly, allowing no further growth beyond a size made fit for living (Steiner, 1939). Cleaner technologies maintain the natural essence of the country side, electricity gives homes and workers the available power to operate away from the metropolis and the dense living conditions of the industrial suburbs. Families can flee the congestion of the urban life to a "suburban ideal" that offers a peaceful refuge benefitting both the mental and physical health of its residents (Frumkin, 2002, p.207). In Figure 5 (Steiner, 1939) we see the change from the past, where children can now play in healthy and safe conditions close to home where they can be supervised and accounted for. In Figure 6 (Steiner, 1939) the film shows the amount of uncongested greenspace space and the safe neighbourhood of a planned garden suburb. The new suburb offers a regeneration of the urban environment, bringing the attention back to children by avoiding the unhealthy and dangerous lifestyle of previous urban forms. Planning in the garden city provides children with public spaces that encourage activity in a healthy environment, without the worry of new growth and development. The garden city puts focus on the well-being children and their future by providing what was absent in the past, both a safe environment and education.
Urban planning is an integral part of a city's well-being and for the viewer of 1939, the garden city gives the best vision of an idealistic planning model. The earlier century saw cities of smoke and danger with children risking their lives without authoritative control. Density and congestion should be central factors considered for the planners organizing a city, since the unaccounted growth of previous cities saw unlivable conditions that pushed the envelope of public health standards. The garden city revives the harmony of preindustrial era giving the essential expansion of cities into rural areas in order to avoid the faults of unplanned urbanization.