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Best-Laid Plans

The Promises and Pitfalls of the New Deal’s Greenbelt Towns

A history of the New Deal program intended to improve the living conditions of America’s underclass.

In 1935, under the direction of the Resettlement Administration, the United States government embarked on a New Deal program to construct new suburban towns for the working class. Teams of architects, engineers, and city planners, along with thousands of workers, brought three such communities to life: Greenbelt, Maryland; Greendale, Wisconsin; and Greenhills, Ohio. President Franklin Roosevelt saw this as a way to create jobs. Resettlement Administration head Rexford Tugwell longed to improve the living conditions of the nation’s underclass.

In Best-Laid Plans, Julie Turner identifies where the Greenbelt Towns succeeded and where they failed. The program suffered under the burden of too many competing goals: maximum job creation at minimal cost, exquisite town planning that would provide modest residences for low-income families, progressive innovation that would serve to honor and reinforce traditional American values. Yet the Greenbelt program succeeded in one respect—providing new homes in well-planned communities that continue to welcome residents.

Town planning and suburbanization did not follow the blueprint of the Greenbelt model and instead took a turn toward the suburban sprawl we know today. The Greenbelt towns may represent an unrealistic dream, but they show an imagined way of American life that continues to appeal and hints at what might have been possible.

330 pages | 70 halftones | 6 1/4 x 9 1/4

History: American History, Urban History

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