Planning Europe's Capital Cities: Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Urban Development

Planning Europe's Capital Cities: Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Urban Development

Planning Europe's Capital Cities: Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Urban Development

Planning Europe's Capital Cities: Aspects of Nineteenth-Century Urban Development


During the nineteenth century many of Europe's capital cities were subject to major expansion and improvement schemes. From Vienna's Ringstrasse to the boulevards of Paris, the townscapes which emerged still shape today's cities and are an inalienable part of European cultural heritage.
In Planning Europe's Capital Cities, Thomas Hall examines the planning process in fifteen of those cities and addresses the following questions: when and why did planning begin, and what problems was it meant to solve? who developed the projects, and how, and who made the decisions? what urban ideas are expressed in the projects? what were the legal consequences of the plans, and how did they actually affect subsequent urban development in the individual cities? what similarities or differences can be identified between the various schemes? how have such schemes affected the development of urban planning in general?
His detailed analysis shows us that the capital city projects of the nineteenth century were central to the evolution of modern planning and of far greater impact and importance than the urban theories and experiments of the Utopians.


Thomas Hall's Planning Europe's Capital Cities is a labour of love and a major contribution to the burgeoning international literature on planning history. The product of many years of research, it was first published in German in 1986; but its author has comprehensively revised and updated it for this, its introduction to the English-speaking world. And here, it will fill an evident gap in the available scholarship: the more so since Englishspeaking academics are perhaps more likely than German-speaking ones to access the vast range of sources on which Hall has based his work.

It is important, as the author stresses at the outset of his own Introduction (chapter 1), to stress what he has sought to do and what not to do. This is an account of European city planning between 1800 and 1900 but in particular between 1850 and 1880: a first golden age of planning, but one that strictly acted as precursor to the twentieth-century history that most students of planning know. It was as different from modern planning as it is possible to imagine; it was concerned centrally with form and appearance, very little with social objective or social content. It was, therefore, a late manifestation of a long involvement in urban affairs, that-as Hall shows in chapter 3-had started with the ancient Greeks and Romans and had flowered again in the Renaissance; it was an end rather than a beginning.

Yet, as he demonstrates in the first of the general analytic chapters that conclude the book (chapter 18), it was very much impelled by the same pressures and the same incentives to action; above all, the unprecedented growth that overtook one European city after another, as high birth rates allied with agrarian and industrial revolutions took people off the land and into the towns. Deliberately, Hall does not treat these pressures in detail; he takes them as given. Nor does he treat the results in terms of peripheral expansion and suburban deconcentration, enabled and propelled by the new nineteenth-century transport technologies; those seeking an account of those processes must find it elsewhere. Again quite deliberately, he treats only the innermost city that had come into being by about 1850 or at the latest 1880: the area today characterized as the central business district, together with selected inner suburbs.

Within this area, as he shows, there were acute pressures, above all of public health and traffic: as more and more people poured in, poor as well as rich, housing densities increased and housing conditions deteriorated; traffic congealed, crammed on to medieval streets, above all on the approaches to the new railway stations. The response, in city after city, was the cutting of new streets and the rebuilding of the blocks between them, often without regard to the fates of those displaced; and plans for urban extensions in the form of geometrically regular apartment blocks separated by wide streets. Overall, perhaps, an improvement-though, as often as not, overwhelmed by a new flood of in-migrants.

In virtually every city, this general story is the same. And usually, Hall shows, the agent was a regal or imperial power, concerned in the process to assert itself and commemorate itself by means of a grand design. The partnership of Napoleon III and Haussmann, in Paris, is

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