May 15 2013

European Influences on Early American Planning: A Review and Summary of “Town Planning in Frontier America” by John Reps

San Francisco's 1848 plan. Note the assumption that the bay would be filled in to allow for more development, even 200 years ago.

This is the third post in a three-part series reviewing and summarizing the CNU21 suggested reading list. CNU21 is this year’s annual Congress for the New Urbanism conference and will be held at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah May 29th through June 1st, 2013. The first review and summary discussed, “Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning,” by John W. Reps. The second review and summary covered, “Mormon Country” by Wallace Stegner.

First published in 1965 and last printed in 1980, “Town Planning in Frontier America” by John Reps discusses everything a typical college “Intro to Urban Planning” course would discuss. That being said, you should skip this book if you’ve ever taken a basic urban planning history course.

John Reps has written 14 other works in addition to “Town Planning in Frontier America.” As a result, the “father of American planning history” has earned a plethora of awards and titles throughout his long academic career.

This book has much more soul and enthusiasm than “American West.” “Frontier America” was one of Reps’ earliest works, and his youthful excitement provokes the words to jump off their pages. There is a clear style difference between these books of his CNU has recommended. If “American West” didn’t sound like your bag, “Frontier America” will surely peak your interest.

“Frontier America” has a far wider scope than the title implies. The introduction focuses on European planning. Throughout the book, Reps relates classic European planning techniques back to early American planning. Reps’ use of the word “frontier” in the title is a little misleading as the book discusses early plans for all major cities from coast to coast.Redraft of the Castello Plan of New Amsterdam in 1660, redrawn in 1916 by John Wolcott Adams and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes

“Frontier America” is a reasonable 328 pages. Anyone who is comfortable reading at a 9th grade level should have no troubles connecting with Reps through this book. It’s a fun read for those who want to know the basics of American planning history, with a dash of European planning history mixed in.

However, it feels so much like an outline for “American West.” He is obviously going for breadth rather than depth, from what I notice of his pacing. “American West” fills that depth while maintaining the breadth. Many of the images in “Frontier America” are in “American West,” though the latter displays them in a higher quality and larger size.

The other two books on the CNU21 reading list are obviously tied to Salt Lake City, Western planning, and/or Mormon culture. “Town Planning” seems so out of place on this list. Just the last ten pages or so discuss Mormon frontier planning, and much of that reads like an outline for “American West.”

If you’re interested in the “Western Grid, Applications for the Future,” or the “Great American Grid Debate,” breakout sessions at CNU21, I suggest reading “Town Planning” to better prime your perspectives and thoughts for the session.

There are just 24 copies available on Amazon. To find a copy for yourself, the ISBN-13 is: 978-0826203168.

Have you noticed similarities between historic American cities and European cities?

Credit: References and images linked to sources.

Aascot Holt

Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a brick 1936 kit house. She is most intrigued by small-city and small town planning, parks and recreation planning, long-range planning, and historic preservation. She hopes to continue her habit of being involved with many planning projects at a time, and fears being pigeonholed. Aascot maintains the “Being A Planning Student” Tumblr as well as her planning-centric blog, The Comprehensive. She is currently writing Cheney, WA’s entirely new comprehensive parks, recreation, and trails plan, completely pro bono. More can be learned about her endeavors via LinkedIn.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 at 9:28 am and is filed under Content, Education and Careers, Environmental Design, History/Preservation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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