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The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal

Postwar Urbanism from New York to Berlin

Publication supported by the Neil Harris Endowment Fund

The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal examines how postwar thinkers from both sides of the Atlantic considered urban landscapes radically changed by the political and physical realities of sprawl, urban decay, and urban renewal. With a sweep that encompasses New York, London, Berlin, Philadelphia, and Toronto, among others, Christopher Klemek traces changing responses to the challenging issues that most affected the lives of the world’s cities. 

In the postwar decades, the principles of modernist planning came to be challenged—in the grassroots revolts against the building of freeways through urban neighborhoods, for instance, or by academic critiques of slum clearance policy agendas—and then began to collapse entirely. Over the 1960s, several alternative views of city life emerged among neighborhood activists, New Left social scientists, and neoconservative critics. Ultimately, while a pessimistic view of urban crisis may have won out in the United States and Great Britain, Klemek demonstrates that other countries more successfully harmonized urban renewal and its alternatives. Thismuch anticipated book provides one of the first truly international perspectives on issues central to historians and planners alike, making it essential reading for anyone engaged with either field.

328 pages | 77 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Historical Studies of Urban America

History: American History, European History, Urban History


“Klemek’s much-anticipated and greatly needed transatlantic pursuit of modernist planning and its failures does not disappoint. With deep research and sparkling insight, Klemek brings to life the urban dreams of planners, architects, public officials, activists, and social scientists in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The collapse of urban renewal is a complex story, and Klemek captures it with subtlety and wisdom.”

Lizabeth Cohen, author of A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America

“Christopher Klemek has written a remarkably comprehensive and sophisticated account of the rise and fall of what he calls the urban renewal order—the great effort to reorder and rebuild cities in the postwar world, based on the triumph of modernist architecture and planning, a self-confident elite of city planners, and  huge government programs. It reshaped New York, London, Berlin, and other cities. But it all came crashing down, in different ways in different countries and cities, not least because of the writing and activism of Jane Jacobs, whose influence spread far beyond her New York, where she first confronted—and confounded—the urban renewal order.”

Nathan Glazer, Harvard University

“Klemek’s account reads like an adventure story. He wears his intercontinental, interdisciplinary scholarship lightly, yet produces profound answers to questions left hanging for sixty years: why, for example, during the Nixon and Reagan eras, local planning agencies felt like haunted houses; how big city building projects got (and get) botched through the agendas of their stakeholders; and why the best metaphor for the urban architect or planner is not the sailor at the helm but the surfer catching the waves. However, for young architects and planners now reappraising the 1960s and 1970s, Klemek offers more than illumination of a downfall and sly prescriptions.  The book is an introduction to the role of social conscience in their careers, suggesting that this was not just ‘an old hangup of the 1960s,’ that there can be, must be, ways of showing social concern in the 2010s and beyond—and methods to avoid the traps that snared our earlier efforts.”

Denise Scott Brown, architect and planner

“Christopher Klemek has written an erudite transnational history of modernist planning and its discontents. Sweeping from Berlin to Toronto, from London to New York, and from Philadelphia to Boston, Klemek takes intellectual history to the streets. This is a major contribution to the fields of urbanism, architecture, planning, and the history of ideas and public policy.”

Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

“Christopher Klemek offers fresh insights into topics of broad interest—above all, the failure of urban renewal programs—and into well-known personalities such as Jane Jacobs and Denise Scott Brown. This book is the first to add international dimensions to its subject, recasting the story of US urban renewal as the end of a transatlantic consensus. A compelling and original book.”

Brian Ladd, author of Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age

“Klemek’s insightful, original, transatlantic perspective on the fate of what he calls the ‘urban renewal order’ offers a useful addition to the growing literature on postwar urbanism.”


“An outstanding beginning to tracing the transnational flow of renewal ideas and recognizing the mimetic quality of urban policy.”

Planning Perspectives

“This book provides a valuable interpretation of the transformations in postwar urban planning in the United States. . . . A conceptually farsighted study.”

American Historical Review

“[Klemek’s] study succeeds in presenting the material in a succinct and comprehensible manner that speaks to the importance of transatlantic and global communication of ideas, while underscoring the enduring nature of the local in an increasingly technical and homogenized world.”

Yearbook of German-American Studies

 “This is a work of enormous ambition and deep research. Klemek gives urban planning and architectural ideas the respect they deserve, and provides an ideal opening to what one hopes will be an ongoing conversation about the possibilities, limits and shifting priorities of urban planning on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Social History

The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal demonstrates convincingly how valuable it is to reexamine urban renewal outside the typical national and single-city context and employing the international diffusion perspective. . . . Suffice it to say, this is an important book that would benefit in so many ways courses in planning history and theory, and should guide future research in this important planning field.”

Journal of Planning Education and Research

Table of Contents


Introduction: The Final Frontier

I. Interlocking Foundations of the Urban Renewal Order

1. Atlantic Crossings of the Urban Renewal Order: From Interwar Berlin, via Wartime London, to Postwar Toronto

2. Assembling the Four Pillars: An Urban Renewal Order Takes Shape in the United States, 1934–66

II. Converging Critiques of the Urban Renewal Order

3. Aesthetic Critiques: The Urbanist Establishment Rediscovers the Old City

4. Policy Objections: Social Scientists Question the Urban Renewal Order

5. Outsider’s Revolt: Jane Jacobs and Outright Rejection from Beyond the Urbanist Establishment

III. The Transatlantic Collapse of the Urban Renewal Order

6. The First Wave of Resistance: Freeway Revolts

7. The Tide Shifts: Neighborhood Protectionism

8. A Bitter End? Self-Destruction by Democracy

IV. Aftermath(s): Ideological Polarization and Political Struggle after the Fall of the Urban Renewal Order

9. New Left Urbanism vs. Neocon Urban Crisis: Divergent Intellectual Responses in the United States

10. The Anti-experts: Citizen Participation, Advocacy Planning, and the Urbanist Establishment

11. Nixon Urbanistes and “the Waterloo of Planning”

12. Softer Landings after the Fall: Divergent Legacies of the Urban Renewal Order

Conclusion: First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin





Associate of Collegiate Schools of Planning: Paul Davidoff Book Award

Society of Architectural Historians: Spiro Kostof Book Award

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