Henry Ford’s Muscle Shoals

Content Warning: Antisemitism

At the end of World War I, Henry Ford was one of the most famous and powerful men in America. Between his company’s explosive growth, his massive popularity in Michigan and beyond, and his close friendship with President Woodrow Wilson, Ford was on top of the world. At this point, as often happens with men of power, he took an interest in public issues.

At the same time, a massive construction project was grinding to a halt in the Tennessee River Valley. The Wilson Dam had started as a wartime necessity, but the fighting was over. The dam stood half-complete and the river unexploited.

Ford saw this as an opportunity to combine several of his ideals. Here he could push his pacifist tendencies, ideas for new urban design, opposition to the gold standard, and distaste for Wall Street (largely based on his offensive anti-Semitic views). All of these threads came to bear on the as-yet-nonexistent town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Read more

Hiatus: Holy Land by D.J. Waldie

Authors Note: I’m taking a bit of a hiatus for January to get ahead on my researching and writing, as well as my classwork, but I didn’t want to leave nothing for a month. Here’s a little something about a book that I read last semester.

D.J. Waldie’s Holy Land describes a city that may not be of the future, per se, but was certainly a utopia to some. Waldie grew up and still lives in a tract home in Lakewood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Built in the years after World War II, Lakewood was the second “new” suburb in the United States, following in the footsteps of Levittown, New York. The book itself is a lyrical examination of a life in a place, and a place through the lives in it.

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Vienna’s Seaside City

Seestadt Aspern, literally the seaside city at Aspern, is home to Smart City Wien’s large-scale experiments. The planned community of 20,000 people in the northeast corner of Vienna will be completed in 2028. Much like Masdar City, Aspern aims to act as a “living laboratory” to prove various new technologies, from smart electric meters to entire smart energy grids. Aspern Smart City Research (ASCR), the company in charge of research in Aspern, sorts its projects into four “Smart” areas: Building, Grid, User, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

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Teaching an Old City New Tricks in Vienna

Vienna, Austria stands apart from other cities I have written about in a number of ways:

  • It’s the first–although probably not the last–I’ve noted that existed well before being envisioned as a city of the future.
  • It’s one of the most successful cities in the world. It is widely recognized both for its exceptional quality of life and, more recently, as one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world.

However, such a community still faces problems. The Smart City Wien (literally, Smart City Vienna) initiative, created in 2011, lays out the issues of the modern city and Vienna’s commitment to solving them.

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Garden Cities Around the World

Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities have inspired almost every aspect of modern urban planning. Most suburbs, and many cities, draw on bits and pieces of the design. There are a number who have actually aspired, at least in name, to be true garden cities. It is worth noting that very few have even attempted Howard’s drastic economic and social ideas, and those that did abandoned them not long after founding.

The full list and map of “official” garden cities according to the International Garden Cities Institute, can be found here, but here I’ll just be looking at a few I find interesting.

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Ebenezer Howard and Letchworth: The First Garden City

Ask anyone who’s studied urban planning to explain the field’s history and one of the first names you’ll hear will is Ebenezer Howard.

Howard was an English shorthand typist in the late 19thand early 20thcenturies. While working in Chicago, he saw the troubles of modern cities, such as rampant growth and housing shortages. He witnessed the struggle to resolve these issues in England after returning to London as a parliamentary reporter.

In his 1898 book, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (reprinted in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow), Howard laid out his solution: the garden city. Just five years after the book’s release, the first of these communities was founded: Letchworth Garden City, in Hertfordshire County, north of London.

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