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Our Cities and The City: Incompatible Classics?
Planning Perspectives
  • Carl Abbott, Portland State University
Document Type
Publication Date
  • Lewis Mumford (1895-1990),
  • Charles Edward Merriam (1874-1953),
  • Louis Wirth (1897-1952),
  • United States. Congress. House. Committee on Natural Resources,
  • Urban policy -- United States -- History
At the end of the 1930s, Americans interested in the fates and futures of their cities had the opportunity to consider two new efforts to summarize urban problems and propose solutions. The first was Our Cities: Their Role in the National Economy, published in 1937 under the auspices of the National Resources Board. The second was The City, a film sponsored by the American Institute of Planners for showing at the New York world's fair in 1939. The report and the film arose out of different analytical traditions, the first from the approach that embedded urban planning within a larger field of social science and policy making and the second from the physical planning and design tradition that had marked planning practice in the first third of the twentieth century. This article considers the origins of the two texts, compares their topical coverage and prescriptions for change, and argues that their differences encapsulated a deep tension that has continued to be manifest within urban planning in the USA into the present century.

This is an Author's Original Manuscript of an article whose final and definitive form, the Version of Record, has been published in Planning Perspectives 2012 [copyright Taylor & Francis], available online at:

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Citation Information
Carl Abbott. "Our Cities and The City: Incompatible Classics?" Planning Perspectives (2011)
Available at: