Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Citizen participation in city planning, New York City, 1945–1975
by Reaven, Marci, Ph.D., New York University, 2009, 397; 3365737
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores how the practice of city planning in New York City came to incorporate "citizen participation" in the three decades after World War II. At the beginning of this period, planning in New York was characterized by a lack of transparency, absence of citizen involvement, and the powerful, controlling presence of planning czar Robert Moses. By period's end, citizens had become accepted parties to land use decision-making, and formal procedures for involving citizens in planning had been written into local law.

I explain that this turning point came about not by premeditated campaign but by a cumulative process of change. Government, planning professionals, grassroots organizations, and civic and social agencies all participated. Among these actors were voluntary groups, including the Cooper Square Committee, a key focus here; the Citizens Union; members of community boards; advocacy planners; officials and citizens involved in the War on Poverty Programs; and city government figures, especially during Mayor John Lindsay's administration. I also look at the motivations and interactions that galvanized these protagonists. They reacted to the upheavals caused by urban renewal, but also to fears about citizen alienation in mass, urban society, and to anxieties about effective governance in New York. Alliances, good fortune, and strategy advanced the cause, but so did surmounting conflicts and obstacles.

What proponents shared was a belief that the practice of city planning should not exist outside of a democratic political framework. To challenge and change this state of affairs, they were willing to learn through practice and in public, to experiment and to innovate. I examine the process of “social learning” in which they elaborated ideas about housing, citizenship, and cities, and also created the organizational, institutional, and policy forms to carry those ideas forward. By 1975, their efforts had given rise to a public newly attentive to city planning who wanted to help shape its effects. Implementing that desire was circumscribed by the limited power that the drive for citizen participation achieved. But this study shows that the movement changed the political landscape of planning and gave more leverage to a broader range of stakeholders.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Bender, Thomas
Commitee: Gordon, Linda, Needham, Andrew, Phillips-Fein, Kimberly, Walkowitz, Daniel
School: New York University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Urban planning
Keywords: Abrams, Charles, Decentralization, Lower East Side, New York City, Settlement house, Thabit, Walter, Urban planning
Publication Number: 3365737
ISBN: 978-1-109-25893-6
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