Ohio History Journal

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Obstacles to Plan Implementation in the

Age of Comprehensive City Planning:

Cincinnati's Experience




During the period from roughly 1915 to 1945, when city planning became

institutionalized in the United States, efforts to rationalize the city through

comprehensive city planning often met with only measured success.1 This

stemmed, in part, from the nature of planning itself in that planning, at one

level, was just that, planning, a vision to guide the future development of the

city. Realizing the city plan represented a very different matter, one that ne-

cessitated overcoming an often mind-boggling array of obstacles: city council

members or administrators who lacked a strong commitment to planning,

competing interest groups that viewed planning from the perspective of their

own special concerns, and budgets that did not match the aspirations of city

planners. Although troublesome, these problems were not what one might

call structural, as were those presented by non-municipal governing bodies,

which included the county, state, and federal governments. Because their au-

thority did not derive from, or superceded, city government, these units of

government could ignore the recommendations of local city planning com-

missions when making decisions about the design or location of county,

state, or federal improvement projects.

This created special difficulties for city planning commissions trying to

uphold the basic principles of comprehensive city planning, which sought to

secure the welfare of the city as a whole while simultaneously viewing it as a

pluralistic entity composed of separate but equal and interdependent parts,

groups, and systems. This perceived interdependence meant that planning for

one aspect of the city's physical development would necessitate a thorough

consideration of its relationship to all others, or what planners called

"coordination," a key concept in comprehensive city planning. Having

adopted such notions, city planners were made uneasy by the thought of the

federal government or a county or state government going forward with a pro-

ject affecting a particular city without the advice of the local city planning


Robert A. Burnham is Assistant Professor of History at Macon College.


1. For an assessment of the success of city planning through the 1930s, see Robert A.

Walker, The Planning Function in Urban Government (Chicago, 1941), ix, 133, 135-36, 153-