The growth of cities during the last two centuries went on more rapidly than it had done since the twelfth or thirteenth century, when the historic towns of medieval Europe were taking form. But until the new towns came into existence hardly a single city was conceived as a whole, with public provision for all the physical and social components needed for a well-balanced environment. Meanwhile, in the very act of growth the older cities, which had once met many of the requirements for a high urban culture, became steadily more crowded, more insanitary, more confused, more inefficient, and more unlovable, indeed often positively repellent.
In retrospect, one can easily understand how this happened. For the most part the growth of towns was fostered by forces that had no concern for city life as such: the city was the creation of the land speculator, the estate agent, the banker, of the railroad, the tramway, and the motor car, of the factory system and of bureaucratic business organization. Even those who as architects, planners, or utopian dreamers conceived new forms for the city thought mainly in terms of new materials and mechanical processes: they dreamed of towns covered with steel and glass, of towns proliferating underground. Even now they dream of towns dominated by sixty-storey office buildings and flats, stalking over the landscape in slabs and towers, or they imagine linear towns, continuous urban ribbons for rapid transportation, forming a new pattern in which motorized rapid locomotion would not so much serve the city as become its main reason for existence.
Today these dusty stereotypes still often dominate, openly or secretly, fresh proposals for modernizing the city; for it is perhaps natural for our contemporaries who are still old-fashioned enough to overvalue mechanical invention, mass production, and applied science to conceive the new forms of the city solely in terms favourable to the machine, and to an ever larger exploitation of the machine's capability. In the development of the actual town, fortunately, some attention to biological and social needs, some acknowledgement of public concern, played a part from the middle of the nineteenth century on: parks were laid out, minimal standards were fixed for street widths, for open spaces, for waste disposal and sanitation and eventually, particularly since 1920, for housing itself. But no new norms or standards were erected for the overgrown city itself: its overcrowding, its disorganization, its long dismal journeys to work, above all the continued extension of its area and the growth of its population were looked upon as marks of urban success.
Even those who sought to escape the liabilities of congestion and over-