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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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Best-Laid Plans is a thoughtful and incisive account of one of the New Deal’s important programs in the 1930s. Julie D. Turner provides a crisp assessment of how the program—large, messy, and complex—came about and shows what it accomplished in a book that is a pleasure to read.”

Allan D. Winkler, Professor of History Emeritus, Miami University

“As America enters a new age of economic and environmental crisis, where good housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable, the story of the Greenbelt towns could not be more relevant. This book is an excellent and honest exploration of one of our country’s most interesting attempts to create true social democracy.”

Robert Gioelli, Associate Professor of History, University of Cincinnati Blue Ash

“America's three New Deal Greenbelt Towns are built monuments to the vision, creativity, and problem-solving of one of the nation's most challenging moments. While far from perfect, they were bold innovative solutions to aging urban housing and nationwide unemployment. Julie Turner's new study asks all the right questions to place these national landmarks in their larger context and skillfully combines excellent research and compelling prose to build an engaging exploration of Greenhills, Greendale, and Greenbelt.”

Anne Delano Steinert, Visiting Assistant Professor of History, University of Cincinnati; co-creator the New Deal Neighbors oral history project

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