John Nolen, Landscape Architect and City Planner

John Nolen, Landscape Architect and City Planner

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 368
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    John Nolen, Landscape Architect and City Planner
    Book Description:

    John Nolen (1869–1937) was the first American to identify himself exclusively as a town and city planner. In 1903, at the age of thirtyfour, he enrolled in the new Harvard University program in landscape architecture, studying under Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and Arthur Shurcliff. Two years later, he opened his own office in Harvard Square. Over the course of his career, Nolen and his firm completed more than four hundred projects, including comprehensive plans for more than twentyfive cities, across the United States. Like other progressive reformers of his era, Nolen looked to Europe for models to structure the rapid urbanization defining modern life into more efficient and livable form. His books, including New Towns for Old: Achievements in Civic Improvement in Some American Small Towns and Neighborhoods, promoted the new practice of city planning and were widely influential. In this insightful biography, R. Bruce Stephenson analyzes the details of Nolen’s many experiments, illuminating the planning principles he used in laying out communities from Mariemont, Ohio, to Venice, Florida. Stephenson concludes by discussing the potential of Nolen’s work as a model of a sustainable vision relevant to American civic culture today.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-303-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Architecture and Architectural History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE (pp. ix-x)
    Robin Karson
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. xi-1)
  5. [Illustration] (pp. 2-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-6)

    In 1927, Lewis Mumford identified John Nolen as the one city planner who “realizes where the path of intelligent and humane achievement will lead in the next generation.”¹ A pioneer in the emerging field of city planning, Nolen was at the height of his career. He had just completedNew Towns for Old, a groundbreaking book that both summarized the collective goals of the profession and outlined his plan for guiding America’s future urban development.

    Mumford understood Nolen’s influence as a missionary of city and town planning to be his greatest contribution to the field. After visiting Letchworth, England, in...

  7. 1 THE RISE OF AN URBAN REFORMER, 1869–1902 (pp. 7-30)

    On July 14, 1869, Matilda Nolen gave birth to her third child and first boy, John. The family lived in central Philadelphia, where John’s father, John Christopher “Shay” Nolen, owned and managed a small hotel. The City of Brotherly Love was hardly the wholesome, green country town William Penn had envisioned when planning it two centuries before. Fraudulent elections, cholera epidemics, crime, and opportunism marked the booming post–Civil War years in the city of over 600,000 inhabitants. One of the world’s leading industrial centers, Philadelphia was also the home of a powerful and corrupt political machine controlled by James...

  8. 2 LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT, 1902–1905 (pp. 31-46)

    ReadingCharles Eliot, Landscape Architectstirred Nolen’s ambition and spirit. “President Eliot’s book is sacred,” he proclaimed in a letter to Alan Harris, an Englishman associated with the university extension.¹ The handsomely illustrated biography and anthology recounted the life of a lover of nature, planner, and park advocate. Before his death at age thirty-seven, Charles Eliot had expanded the field to include regional park planning and his work led to the establishment of the Trustees of Public Reservations, the nation’s first land conservancy. Nolen, who turned thirty-three in July 1902, was impressed with Eliot’s accomplishments. By summer’s end, he found...

  9. 3 CHARLOTTE, LETCHWORTH, AND SAVANNAH, 1905–1907 (pp. 47-68)

    In April 1905, George Stephens, the secretary-treasurer of the Park and Tree Commission in Charlotte, had contacted the president of Harvard to find a reputable landscape architect who could design a model park system for North Carolina’s largest city. After receiving Nolen’s name, Stephens wrote to the novice practitioner describing the opportunity and requesting a fee schedule. Nolen’s rate of $25 a day plus expenses was more than expected, but with references from Charles W. Eliot and Horace J. McFarland, president of the American Civic Association, Stephens convinced the commissioners to award Nolen the contract.¹

    Stephens had high hopes for...

  10. 4 CITY PLANNER, 1907–1908 (pp. 69-92)

    By 1907 John Nolen was developing a new tool to order the twentieth-century American city. His comprehensive plan, which typically included a park plan, civic center plan, and rudimentary transportation system, spoke to the progressive concern for the public good; President Theodore Roosevelt had proclaimed that property was subject to regulation “to whatever degree the public welfare may require.”¹ A range of issues now fell under the purview of city planners: the subdivision of land, siting of civic buildings, and conservation of resources, as well as considerations related to recreation, transportation, public health, and social justice.² “Imagination, courage, and public...

  11. 5 CITY PLANNING IN AMERICA AND EUROPE, 1908–1911 (pp. 93-116)

    In January 1908 Nolen received a letter from John M. Olin, president of the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association, describing a unique opportunity.¹ Inspired by the German model of higher education, the “Wisconsin Idea” was employing faculty expertise to advance government reform.² Olin hoped to create a partnership between the university and the city by hiring Nolen as a professor who could offer a course in landscape design and also work as an urban planner in Madison.³ After meeting with Charles H. Haskins, a Harvard history professor who had also taught at the University of Wisconsin, Nolen decided to...

  12. 6 MODEL SUBURBS AND INDUSTRIAL VILLAGES, 1909–1918 (pp. 117-148)

    John Nolen moved to the forefront of the city planning profession on the strength of his comprehensive city plans, but as his practice expanded his interest turned to the planning of towns. The Myers Park commission offered the possibility of creating a unified civic design on a more intimate scale than a city plan. For the design of Myers Park, Nolen drew on his experience developing his first town plan for Montclair, New Jersey. In 1906, Nolen had introduced the concept of town planning to a sizable local audience at an event sponsored by the Montclair Municipal Art Commission. Two...

  13. 7 KINGSPORT AND MARIEMONT, 1919–1926 (pp. 149-172)

    New Idealswas written for the nearly three American million soldiers stationed in Europe, but with the turn to resolution of the global conflict in late 1918, it was issued to a different audience. The author’s “gift of terse expression will serve quite as well for the civilian and the student,” J. Horace McFarland wrote in a review.¹ The exigencies of World War I had turned the garden city into federal policy, and like Nolen, McFarland expected the investment in working-class housing to live on as a dividend of peace. A month after the armistice, the two men attended a...

  14. 8 FLORIDA, 1922–1931 (pp. 173-206)

    At a city planning conference in Jacksonville, John Nolen declared that the “story of Florida is a story of adventure romance written through a long history—four centuries… . The early search was for the Fountain of Youth and for gold, and the modern one is not essentially different.”¹ The lure of leisure and lucrative real estate made Florida, according to Lewis Mumford, “the desire of the heart and the end of human aspirations.”² During the 1920s Americans yearned to escape the routine of industrial life and experience paradise—if only for a brief time—and Florida was the destination.³...

  15. 9 THE DEAN OF AMERICAN CITY PLANNING, 1931–1937 (pp. 207-230)

    In 1931 an unexpected trip to Germany provided Nolen with some relief from the hopeless situation in Florida. Through a grant from the Oberlaender Trust, Nolen was able to launch a six-week study of German city planning and attend the conference of the International Federation of Housing and Town Planning in Berlin.¹ Arriving in Hamburg in late May, he found that the financial catastrophe born across the Atlantic had reached European shores. President Hoover’s moratorium on the acceptance of World War I reparation payments from Germany accomplished little. In June, Nolen assumed presidency of the International Federation of Housing and...

  16. EPILOGUE (pp. 231-234)

    Providing St. Petersburg with good city planning was John Nolen’s intent in 1923 when he drafted Florida’s first comprehensive city plan, a vision of an American Riviera with interconnected systems of parks and preserves giving public access to beaches and bays. To prevent “an unhappy situation on the shoreline through the excessive and illogical building out into the water,” Nolen instructed municipal officials to establish a bulkhead line limiting fills to areas contiguous with the coastline.¹ The recommendation went unheeded. In 1940 Harland Bartholomew, hired to update St. Petersburg’s city plan, dismissed Nolen’s work as the “optimistic opinion of the...

  17. NOTES (pp. 235-272)
  18. INDEX (pp. 273-300)
  19. Back Matter (pp. 301-302)


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