A Comprehensive Thinker

Harland Bartholomew, AuthentiCity

Harland Bartholomew, AuthentiCity, accessed 2/1/14

Harland Bartholomew defined urban planning as a profession. Not only was he the nation’s first full time planner, but he also contributed ideas and theories that are still being debated in today’s planning profession. His ideas and theories centered on gaining a comprehensive knowledge about the city. Although he was a trained engineer his career was focused on urban planning issues; such as how transportation can shape the city. The principles of his ideas on where transportation systems should be placed are one of the most influential factors still affecting communities today. He had an influential reach on the practice of planning through several books on land use and zoning, a firm that he started which still practices, he also taught at the University of Illinois from 1920 to 1956. Besides defining the profession of planning, many of his ideas are still coming in handy to planners wanting to make a difference in their community. Looking at his legacy may reveal important information in the current situations that planners find themselves. One example of this is the neighborhood movement that planners are starting to place more importance on in recent years. Harland Bartholomew realized it years ago.

The neighborhood movement began long before today, and a review of historic figures such as Harland Bartholomew ideas, may shed light on where to go next. Historically, neighborhood planning has been neglected. Why is this?

Harland Bartholomew was a comprehensive thinker. His firm Harland Bartholomew and Associates started in 1919 emphasized the importance of comprehensive city plans. Comprehensive ideals shaped Bartholomew’s interest in preserving the neighborhoods and enhancing its potential through planning. Harland Bartholomew realized that major changed were happening in American society due to the car.

Harland Bartholomew saw the importance of preserving neighborhoods as society was undergoing major changes from the automobile. His ideas changed the way neighborhoods thought of themselves. Bartholomew created a model “neighborhood improvement act” under the National Association of Real Estate boards. The act centered on the ideas of preservation. The neighborhood improvement act took into account that unsightly conditions detract from the aesthetic quality of the neighborhood and therefore discourages active attachment by the neighborhoods residents. The act called for a combination of clearance and rehabilitation to combat problems of neighborhood blight. Bartholomew suggested that property owners in neighborhood associations form improvement associations that would function as local planning units. The ideas behind this were to have a group of invested neighborhood residents create a comprehensive plan for their community and then work with local government to implement it. He was one of the first to think of cities as divided by neighborhoods. The ideas of conserving neighborhoods from deterioration were the legacy of Harland’s work. It was this type of comprehensive thinking gave neighborhoods the tools and capacity to protect their interest.

At the prime of Harland Bartholomew’s career, many people were not listening to the concerns he had with neighborhoods. During his time, cities were considered successful by the higher rate of population growth. This type of national demeanor left many cities with areas of blight, and slums. Bartholomew was empathetic towards these areas and spent a large portion of his career working towards enhancing neighborhood capacity.

During the Great Depression, Harland Bartholomew created the Urban Land Policy for St. Louis in 1936. His research found that blighted areas ended up costing the city municipality more money from the constant stream of services needed in those areas. He proposed a series of policies that St. Louis should enact to become responsible for its blighted areas. The proposals were things like: enact a minimum standard housing code, rehabilitate existing buildings whenever possible, remove unsafe and obsolete buildings, organize residential areas into neighborhood units and low cost housing should be built in older residential areas. The city of St. Louis tended to agree, but lacked the ability to enforce these actions. Many people suggest that the result of this was the city of St. Louis declined in numbers from 800,000 people in 1936 to 400,000 people in 1993. After this research Bartholomew spoke and wrote about the research, always promoting that neighborhoods are key areas to plan for.

The current movement towards giving neighborhoods capacity to enhance their community can learn from Harland Bartholomew. Planning professionals should build upon the knowledge and legacy of Harland Bartholomew.