Two of the earliest colonial leaders in America, General Oglethorpe and William Penn, laid down plans for cities which today place Oglethorpe, Georgia, and Philadelphia delphia far ahead of such haphazard developments as Boston. The nation's capital, designed by Major L'Enfant, has a number of radiating avenues converging upon the central dome of the Capitol. Although his plan was forgotten for many years, interest in it was revived during the administration of President Wilson, when new buildings had to be constructed to accommodate the increased governmental activity.
The prime difficulty in most city planning until the 20th century was due to the fact that too few trained individuals had given specific thought to such problems as the regulation of traffic, control of the ingress of food stuffs, and the elimination of waste material. No one had considered the city as a greatly magnified human being which needed light, air, and exercise, as well as protection from the smoke and noise of the machine. As cities simply grew, with the great concentration of population in the slums and with the advent of the skyscrapers, daily drawing their thousands of occupants from suburban areas, the problems of congestion and health control eventually forced the architects to think in terms of the efficiently planned metropolis. In the 20th century, a few enlightened industrialists also began to perceive that well-housed, healthy workers are a necessary part of the long-range planning for a stable industrial civilization.
Since each community represents a tremendous capital investment owned by countless individuals, many of whom will be affected adversely by any change proposed, the problem of city planning in the towns already built becomes primarily one of a social and political nature. New laws must be passed enabling local governments to condemn unsafe and unsanitary areas. New funds must be voted to buy land on which to construct high-speed roadways or the necessary parks to accommodate great populations. The chief problems of city planning for the latter half of the 20th century continue to be those of slum clearance, adequate housing for the lower salaried classes, more rapid and efficient means of communication for traffic and commodities, and the making available of adequate healthy recreational centers for anemic city dwellers.
The practical city, of necessity, looks well. The grouping or zoning of the city's various functions necessitates that those buildings which have to do with government and the commercial life be arranged in the center, like the medieval Rathäuser and the guildhalls. From this center the brain of the city can most easily control the industrial and transportational developments that connect it with the outside world. Naturally, the problems differ somewhat between seaport and inland towns. Residential facilities must be regulated by the presence or absence of nuisance factors, such as smoke, noise, and poisonous fumes, connected with the city's industrial plants.
Many city governments or groups of businessmen interested in real estate engaged architects to study the problems of city planning after the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. New York passed her tenement-house act in 1900, after many surveys showed that conditions were rapidly growing worse. Chicago and San Francisco developed city plans for further development in 1910; Cleveland and Philadelphia followed. In most of these plans definite attempts were made to arrange governmental office sections with regard to monumental groupings of buildings, the employment of vistas, focal points of interest, and the regulation of monuments along lines laid down by the Parisian city planners during the Napoleonic Empire. These had already been partially successful in the case of Washington and Philadelphia. New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago becoming increasingly conscious of the necessity for adequate parkways and recreation centers, developed the terminal facilities of their railways and motor roads to care for the increased suburban commuting populations, many of whom traveled as much as 80 miles a day to and from work.