Problems of urban development have often inspired radical and even utopian solutions. The congested towns of the late nineteenth century led Ebenezer Howard to his vision of the garden city, a hybrid form of development which set the advantages of town living in a high quality rural environment. For Frank Lloyd Wright, the advent of mass car-use meant that it was no longer necessary to concentrate activities in cities. Instead, inspired by the independent rural lifestyle of Wisconsin of the 1890s, his ideal urban form was a completely dispersed, low density urban spread-Broadacre City.
Given the squalor which characterised urban life at the turn of the century, it is hardly surprising that many of these solutions involved the abandonment of existing towns and cities. Yet ironically, some of the most pressing problems of contemporary urban development have, in part, been a direct consequence of the visions of the pioneers. Garden cities have left behind both vast tracts of vacant urban land and areas in which the problems of congestion and poverty are as prevalent as ever. Broadacre has become little more than suburban sprawl. This is no coincidence. As Hall (1975, p. 80) noted, one of the defining characteristics of the pioneers was their preoccupation with the 'production of blueprints, or statements of the end-state of the city as they desired to see it'. In other words, they ignored the socio-economic processes which determine the feasibility of development.
Today's visionary solution is the compact city. Academics, environmentalists and, more recently, politicians have all been quick to adopt this as an all-embracing panacea for urban ills. Yet this contemporary vision displays the same lack of attention to the crucial question of feasibility. It has simply been assumed that the planning system alone can reverse the counter-urban patterns of development which have predominated over the last 40 or so years. Yet without the co-operation of the development industry, and in particular house-builders, the prospects for realising the long term goal of urban containment are remote.