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THIS is not an ordinary book on city planning. It is oblong and will therefore not fit into one's bookcase; it is illustrated with cartoons; it jumbles the authors’ social views with their views on physical planning; when one gets ready to shout agreement on one page, one is driven to brooding on the next. But then according to the blurbs, architect Percival dislikes efficiency, while Paul’s ideas ‘are a ballet...as cerebral as a chess game where the players have been hopped up with benzedrine.’ you are granted a kind of explanation at the end of the book: ‘somewhat playful we trust it is; for the dialectical muse cannot help but be both tragic and comic; for she is full of reversals.’...The Goodman’s perform their best service in their inspirational capacity. Cities cannot be dismantled and rebuilt along the neat lines of a rhapsodic blueprint. There are sad entrepreneurial truths and political realities. Yet interest in living is more important than interest on capital. And somewhere between city building and castle building lies a reachable goal. To state it is the true function of today’s really imaginative planner.
- Charles Abrams. Commentary, 1947
Percival Goodman (1904-89) was an architect, planner, artist, and writer. His built and unbuilt projects were inspired by his strong commitment to social ideals. With his brother Paul Goodman (1911-72), the sociologist, writer, and founder of Gestalt Therapy, they wrote Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life (1947), which influenced a generation of architects and planners and became an important catalyst of ideas in the 1960s and early 1970s about participatory architecture, cooperative living, environmental design, anarchism, and the design professional as an advocate for improved social conditions.
A survey of modern and contemporary anarchist theory and praxis reveals principles, visions, and strategies that are much closely aligned with planners' professional ethics than many likely realize. At its core, anarchism subscribes to, and strives to enact, a core set of ethical and political values: community self-organization, anti-authoritarianism and horizontality, cooperation and mutual aid, spontaneity, creative expression, and, importantly, interest in spatial and social experimentation.
Paul and Percival Goodman begin their work by describing community planning in the past hundred years in terms of certain “types.”
The Goodmans determine three types by asking:
- What is the relationship between the arrangements for working and the arrangements for "living" (animal, domestic, avocational, and recreational)?
- What is the relation in the plan between production and consumption?
- The Green Belt—Garden Cities and Satellite Towns; City neighborhoods and the Ville Radieuse
- Industrial Plans—the Plan for Moscow; the Lineal City; Dymaxion
- Integrated Plans—Broadacres and the Homestead; the Marxist regional plan and collective farming; the T.V.A.
The first class, controlling the technology, concentrates on amenity of living where the home is protected from industry; the second starts from arrangements for production and the use of technology where the home is not protected; the third looks for some principle of symbiosis or new integration.
While exploring these examples and types, the Goodmans raise the questions:
Are the planner’s standards petit bourgeois? • are primary necessities overlooked in favor of secondary ones? • Is the ‘standard of living’ which the plan is designed to maintain and extend really worth the trouble? • Are current housing standards and superblocks culturally constructive?
Planning of any kind does fix for years, often decades, a pattern of living. Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse is shown to be the reflection of the status quo, the maximum of speed, the minimum of flexibility. (It is "a super machine," not a city at all.) Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion plans are shown to be ‘comically spiritual and austere.’ Various russian schemes are criticized and found to be a blend of transitional technology and symbolic socialism, failing as all other plans have failed to combine urban sophistication with rural self-sufficiency. Wright's Broadacre City is found to ignore too many facets of life to make its intuitions convincing.
In an attempt to synthesize the valuable material from past planning with their economic and political moment (first in 1947, then in 1960 with the second edition), the Goodmans present three alternative models of city choices with regard to technology, surplus, and the relation of means and ends, and we ask what each formula gives us in economics, politics, education, domestic standards, popular and high culture, and other functions of the community.
We live, the Goodmans point out, in a surplus technology which has freed us potentially from physical necessities which were once compulsive; yet the very canons of this technology belittle major human needs and give to physical efficiency the status of an exclusive purpose: so that much of our boasted efficiency consists in doing with technical adroitness something that should not, in the light of maturer human purposes, be done at all.
This is an invitation to consider alternatives.
These three models are not plans, they are analyses; they refer to no site; they have no style, which comes only in building something concrete; and most important, there is no population that purely makes these alternative choices as we present them. People in fact want a mixture of the three, in varying proportions depending on their traditions and circumstances.
“The City of Efficient Consumption”
“The City of Efficient Consumption” is worked out in considerable detail to show the logical conclusions to which American standards are heading without re-evaluation of objectives. The department store is taken as the kernel, combined with features from the Ville Radieuse and made tolerable by the addition of the Carnival or Saturnalia. Based upon mass production and consumptive emulation, the city itself turned into a sort of superdepartment store under one roof.
Here the psychologist adds the essential compensatory mechanism. We have been shown by Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, or Anthony West the grim and frustrating consequences of our complacency. Our city plans have either been too baroque or too puritanical. The community center, or even the pub cannot exorcize Pan.
Scheme I is drawn from the tastes and drives of America that are most obvious on the surface—its high production, high Standard of Living and artificially-induced demand, its busy full employment. Much of this is now characterized by our moralists as useless and unstable. There is sharp criticism of the skimping on public goods when the production of frivolous private goods is so unbridled. Even worse, it is pointed out that the superabundance of private goods without the leavening of public goods (education, social services, wiser use of land) is destructive of the satisfactions of even the private goods. It is the aim of Scheme I to answer these complaints, to show how both public and private goods in full quantity can cooperate, assuming that we have the productivity for everything, which we have.
To put it another way, our thought is to make a useless economy useful for something great, namely magnificence. The ideal of commercial grandeur is Venice, and we can aspire to it, to assume again the magnificence that human beings wear well. We have to think up some style or other to match the glamour of our coming interplanetary fleets.
“The New Commune”
One alternative to the scheme I dubious paradise (based on 1960s New York) is what the Goodmans call the New Commune: an organization of industrial and civic facilities for the purpose of breaking down the gap in time and space between production and consumption, reuniting agriculture and industry, reorganizing modern man's split activities and his split ego into a new working unity.
In their second model or paradigm, the Goodmans present their own values explicitly. It is designed to relieve the personal and productive environments more closely, to give the workers more interest in and control of their work, to include more psychological satisfactions and to be encompassed physically in small units with relative self-sufficiency.
Now, the new community has closed squares like those described by Camilo Sitte. Such squares are the definition of a city.
“Maximum Security—Minimum Regulation”
The third paradigm aims at a minimum standard of subsistence for all must be provided, and on this foundation, which requires the abolition of current distribution mechanism, a healthy superstructure can be erected. The idea of guaranteeing subsistence by dividing the economy rather than insurance is very old, and this proposal draws, as the authors freely acknowledge, upon Ralph Borsodi. In this it follows the plan of social insurance, which insures everyone, regardless of prospective need. Everyone is liable to a period of labor, or its equivalent, for the direct production of subsistence goods, and all are entitled to the goods.
And instead of limiting the class of persons, the limitation is set on the class of goods, subsistence goods. This kind is the most universally essential, so it is reasonable to require a universal service; nevertheless this part of the economy is not allowed to expand or raise its standards, therefore it cannot compete economically or dominate politically.
These three paradigms are, to repeat it, not plans; they are models for thinking about the possible relations of production and way of life. Our aim is to clarify a confused subject, to heighten the present low level of thinking; it is not to propose concrete plans for construction in particular places. We are going to discuss many big schemes, including a few of our own invention; but our purpose is a philosophical one: to ask what is socially implied in any such scheme as a way of life, and how each plan expresses some tendency of modern mankind. Naturally we too have an idea as to how we should like to live, but we are not going to try to sell it here. On the contrary! At present any plan will win our praise so long as it is really functional according to the criterion we have proposed: so long as it is aware of means and ends and is not, as a way of life, absurd.
Neofunctionalism is the authors' name for one of their most valuable conceptions and it gives a clue to their basic position, personally valuing the middle paradigm over the first and third.
Neofunctionalism does not content itself with making an efficient chair of the least material in the shortest time but first asks, “is the chair necessary?” Are the man hours of labor and the raw materials used to the best advantage in terms of man’s continuing welfare? In other words, what is the relation between the standard of living and the satisfactoriness of life?
Throughout their working lives the Goodmans kept coming back to the nature of functionalism and what its axioms and slogans meant for the planner. By the time of Communitas, they agreed that functionalism was much more than an artistic method; philosophically applied, analysis of the relations of formal means and practical ends should lay bare the social and economic assumptions of any plan. Thus functionalism could be used as a technique for criticizing already existing communities or as a theoretical method for exploring the means to particular social ends. In the fall of 1944 the Goodmans worked out one last step in using functionalism methodically as a tool of social analysis: “[T]he function itself must be subject to formal criticism: is it clear, ingenious, rational, proportionate to the other functions? Is it worthwhile?” neo-functionalism was their name for an attitude toward planning that asked these final questions of ethics and propriety in the commonwealth. The planner “must find as much significance in the functions as possible,” but he must “also see that the functions are as significant as possible.”
Only the second paradigm, integrating work and culture, had the neofunctionalist attitude built into its plan. In the New Commune, where the workplace was the center of political initiative and the city square and ongoing town meeting, planning would be a part of life, subject to continuous scrutiny on ethical as well as aesthetic and technical grounds. A neofunctionalist attitude would not in itself repair the rips in social fabric, but to bring the forthright connection back into awareness was essential to any possible remedy.
It was more important to have a neofunctionalist attitude, the habit of questioning ends and means rather than merely accepting what was already in place. This in turn would require that premises and implications be clear enough for ordinary citizens to judge them. Once neofunctionalist criteria had been formulated explicitly, much would follow.
Although the Goodmans sometimes spoke of neofunctionalism as a principle or set of principles like these, they more often characterized it, as an attitude—“a delicate one, difficult for Americans to grasp clearly.”
The material brought into the book with the account of neofunctionalism finally caught the expressive lilt that they had been looking for. Rather than hypothetical fantasies or nostalgic snapshots, we are invited to contemplate actual conditions of our urban scene, for example the thriving ailanthus tree, the lowly plantain weed, both of them hardy survivors in the world of asphalt and autos. Why not cultivate what promises so fair? At least we can begin with all the powers of nature on our side. Certain other conditional possibilities demanded a more vigorous application of the new attitude—the rivers of New York could be rescued from the commuter highways for parks and beaches, swimming and sailing; the great art of the ages could be freed from its lock-and-key museums and restored to churches and city squares, to uplift the passerby as in Florence or Venice.
These were the ideas that engaged an artist's imagination, and Percy’s illustrations of neofunctionalism brightened their pages with vivid reminders of what the good life could be like. Percival’s graphic representations of community, along with captions intermesh so perfectly with the text of the Communitas that they are part of the very fabric of the work and are thus impossible to separate out or ignore when dealing with their vision of community. Some were obviously utopian—though not far-fetched or impractical, just against the tide—while others were more modest proposals, easily managed. To inculcate an attitude it was not necessary to move heaven and earth. As Paul often said in the period of the New Left, it was enough to change “two percent of this and four percent of that.” The direction of change, increasing competence and autonomy, was the significant thing.
Of the man-made things, the works of engineering and architecture and town plan are the heaviest and biggest part of what we experience. They lie underneath, they loom around, as the prepared place of our activity. Economically, they have the greatest amount of past labor frozen into them, as streets and highways, houses and bridges, and physical plant. Against this background we do our work and strive toward our ideals, or just live out our habits; yet because it is background, it tends to become taken for granted and to be unnoticed. A child accepts the man-made background itself as the inevitable nature of things; he does not realize that somebody once drew some lines on a piece of paper who might have drawn otherwise. But now, as engineer and architect once drew, people have to walk and live. The background of the physical plant and the foreground of human activity are profoundly and intimately dependent on one other.
Geddes was a holistic thinker, although the term itself was not coined until 1926, near the end of his life. All things biological and social, natural and cultural, scientific and artistic, theoretical and practical, were, for him, interlinked in basic and essential ways, leading him to transpose the basic biological triad of environment, function and organism, on to the Le Playist formula, place, work and family. Working during a late 19th and early 20th century period when the limitations of modernity were becoming increasingly apparent, much of Geddes’ aspirational thinking can be seen as an effort to create what he described as a “larger modernism.” In this regard, Geddes can be counted amongst those whom we portray as integrative holistic thinkers, people whose worldview draws them toward meaning-making narratives and frameworks that include the many dimensions of the human condition.
During a botanical expedition to Mexico City in 1879, the 25-year-old Geddes lost his eyesight due to an unidentified illness and he was sentenced for an indefinite term to a darkened room with bandages over his eyes. But this temporary blindness and enforced meditation yielded an insight. One day while feeling the objects in the room around him with his hands, he encountered the window and ran his fingers along the raised panes between the smooth glass rectangles. This tactile relationship between each equal area—a connection that could be made horizontally, vertically, or diagonally—made Geddes think of the connections that exist between different but equally important fields of human knowledge. He was soon folding pieces of paper into rectangles and mentally allotting subjects to each box.
Geddes asserted a reciprocal relationship between these domains. His 1927 quadrant diagram “Notation of Life” represented through a Town–City formula depicted as a circle at the center of the diagram and an Act-Deed formula along the outer frame. The former addresses interactions between the physical environment and social processes, while the latter describes the social behaviour of a human settlement. Combined in one visual narrative, Geddes suggests that these are inseparable dynamics that undergird a spiraling process by which humanity evolves through the crucible of the city.
The Notation of Life elucidates a co-emergent and dialectical process whereby local environmental traits inform people’s individual and collective identity, and this in turn expresses itself through physical alteration of the space in which they live. This creates the unique qualities that characterize a place, which recapitulates the process by informing individual and collective identity.
The Notation of Life is a call to action that contains Geddes methodology for the improvement of the human condition. The Notation of Life depicts a process whereby environmental characteristics in the upper left quadrant inform the “mind of the community” in the lower left quadrant. Spiraling counter-clockwise to the lower right quadrant, a simplified version of the NOL shows how the subjective and collective thought-world of residents is expressed through socio-economic ideals, ideas, and imagery. Here, ideals or ethics can be understood as that which is good, ideas correspond to science or that which is true, and imagery relates to art or the beautiful. These values are aspirational—or in Geddes terms “dreams”—that are best cultivated in the Cloister, Hermitage, University, and Studio. Characterized by contemplation, speculation, and freedom of thought, it is here that emotional commitment to aspirational values leads to “collective action,” expressed in the upper right quadrant through creation of The City in Deed.
In Geddes’ words: The “study of the community...[is]...an integrate, with material and immaterial structures and functions, which we call the City.”