The US armed the Soviet Union to the teeth as an ally against Germany, in the process creating a postwar enemy it has spent trillions combatting. The atomic age also spurred city planners into central planning action to disperse city inhabitants which triggered urban blight and suburban sprawl. Jefferson wrote: “I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man”; and noted that “the inhabitants of the commercial cities are as different in sentiment and character from the country people as any two distinct nations, and are as clamorous against the order of things [republicanism] established by the agricultural interest.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Atomic Jolt Forward for City Planners
“In the atomic age, [a] report concluded, it was the nation’s newspapers that would “set the pattern and pace” of the public’s scientific knowledge and hence determine its ability to make informed decisions on life-and-death issues.”
City planner Tracy B. Augur told the American Institute of Planners in 1946 that the planning profession had a crucial role to play in guiding the urban dispersal being widely advocated as a civil defense measure. If properly conducted, he said, such a project would involve not just piecemeal resettlement [of Americans outside cities], but a whole new urban planning approach.
The starting point, he went on, was for experts to define “the qualities of social life that are worth having” and then to “plan the kind of urban structure that will make them more fully possible.” Demonstrating the readiness of his profession to rise to this challenge, Augur presented a series of charts showing how a “typical city of half a million could be rearranged from a concentrated to a dispersed form without weakening its capacity to function as a single metropolitan unit.”
Such a systematic attack on the problems of the city, Augur insisted, was in any case overdue. “Long before the threat of the atomic bomb,” he said, urban planners had warned of the need for comprehensive programs to save the American city from “the blight . . . gnawing at its innards” and to convey to the larger society their dream of a totally-planned urban environment. Now suddenly Hiroshima and Nagasaki had propelled the question of the urban future to the top of the public’s agenda.
In the realm of city planning, Augur concluded hopefully, “the threat of atomic bombing may prove a useful spur to jolt us forward!”
At long last, city planners would assume the central social role they had long sought. Having lost the public ear after their heyday in the Progressive Era, city planners, under the spur of the atomic threat, would finally take charge of urban development and guide it along rational lines.
In a 1947 address to the National Recreation Association, a longtime activist in the park and playground movement painted the familiar grim picture of mass leisure in the atomic age, but hastened to offer a solution: “The answer to all this is, of course, Education and Recreation.”
The government must take the lead, he said, in expanding the nation’s recreational resources, including “parks and playgrounds, game reserves, public theaters, opera houses, orchestras, [and] hobby centers.”
Echoing Tracy Augur’s message to the city planners, this speaker assured the recreation specialists that their profession would be crucial to society’s survival in the era of atomic energy. “Unless ability to make wise use of leisure increases,” he insisted, “there is no doubt that our civilization is doomed.”
However implausible and even comic such views seem in retrospect, they were advanced in all earnestness in the perfervid post-Hiroshima cultural climate.”
(By the Bomb’s Early Light, American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, Paul Boyer, UNC Press, 1994, pp. 152-153)