A glimpse at city planning from the 1930sBy
Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller shared this gem with the world via his Twitter account yesterday, and what you are seeing is a page from a 1937 children’s book that Fiorello La Guardia’s Committee on City Planning to introduce young New Yorkers to the concepts of urban life. It’s a great glimpse back in time, but so many of the issues — crosswalk safety, adequate airport space, zoning concerns — persist today, over 75 years after the book made its first appearance.
My favorite page, of course, is the one about the Elevateds because it underscores how we’ve gotten to where we are today. The New York of the late 1930s had more transit routes than the New York of the early 2010s because of the elevated, but with those structures came noise, darkness on the ground and, of course, inconvenience for drivers. Even in 1937, as the illustration showed, cars deserved the space more than trains do.
Today, we’re afraid of elevated. The planned train connection to La Guardia Airport died at the hands of NIMBYs who couldn’t stomach the idea of an elevated extension through Astoria even though technology, such as sound dampeners, and design have improved immensely since the BMT built the Astoria line. Now, we know why as an entire generation of future city planners were raised on a book that underscores the evils, but not the benefits, of elevated train lines.
Postscript: I had apparently overlooked this, but the Tri-State Transportation Campaign beat us all to the punch. TSTC’s Joseph Cutrufo took a deeper dive into the book in a post last week and also noted things haven’t changed. He profiled the pages for bridges, omnibuses (the “most modern way”), roads and crossings.