Skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

10 Towns That Changed America

Airs Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

St. Augustine, Florida, is America’s oldest colonial town and the first plann...

Credit: Courtesy of Barry Rabinowitz

Above: St. Augustine, Florida, is America’s oldest colonial town and the first planned town in America.

"10 Towns That Changed America," the third episode of the new three-part series 10 THAT CHANGED AMERICA, premieres Tuesday, April 19, 2016 at 8 p.m. on PBS.

Hosted by Geoffrey Baer, and presented nationally by WTTW Chicago, the program visits ten influential planned towns that transformed our ideas of community.

Most cities, towns, and suburbs have evolved organically over time — their design resulting from the disparate actions of individuals.

But these ten experimental towns were designed (or redesigned) from the ground up by visionary planners, and ordinary citizens who sought to change the lives of residents using architecture, design and urban planning.

Some of these planners were driven by ideology, others were trying to serve their own financial interests, but all had one thing in common: they believed in the power of our built environment to change the way we live.

Featuring interviews with architecture critic Paul Goldberger, historian Francesca Ammon, and architect Robert A.M. Stern, as well as the creators and residents of many of these towns, the program profiles ten towns that have had lasting impact on the way our cities and suburbs are designed.

From forward-looking towns such as Greenbelt, Maryland, to Seaside, Florida, a town that tries to recapture the past, from a radical suburb (Riverside, Illinois) to a city with divine inspiration (Salt Lake City, Utah), "10 Towns That Changed America" is an eye-opening look at the evolution of some of the places we call home.

10 Towns that Changed America | Preview

Ten “experimental” towns that did not evolve organically over time, but instead were designed (or redesigned) from the ground up by visionary architects, corporations, and citizens, who sought to change the lives of residents using architecture, design, and urban planning.

The ten towns, featured in chronological order, are:

St. Augustine, Florida: America’s oldest colonial town and the first planned town in America was designed using King Phillip II of Spain’s 148 “Laws of the Indies,” which governed how colonists should settle the new world.

The laws governed everything from the width of the streets to the proper place for the market.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Founded by Quaker William Penn as a pacifist outpost, Penn’s plan for Philadelphia was a spacious grid that called for wide streets and enormous residential lots.

Although Penn didn’t live to see it, his idealistic grid would prove enormously influential.

Photo credit: Courtesy of James Clark

Founded by Quaker William Penn as a pacifist outpost, Penn’s plan for Philadelphia, Pa. was a spacious grid that called for wide streets and enormous residential lots.

Salt Lake City, Utah: When the first blocks were laid out in this Mormon town in 1847, the man who planned it – Joseph Smith – was long dead.

But Salt Lake City, built by Brigham Young using Smith’s “Plat of the City of Zion,” combined divinely-inspired urban planning with a spiritual mission designed to create a city dedicated to God.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Alvaro Aguayo

Built by Brigham Young using Joseph Smith’s “Plat of the City of Zion,” Salt Lake City, Utah combined smart urban planning with a spiritual mission designed to create a city dedicated to God.

Riverside, Illinois: Best known as the designer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted was the mastermind behind one of America’s first planned suburbs.

Eschewing the standard grid pattern, Olmsted designed the suburb to complement the curvilinear nature of the Des Plaines River, and popularized the notion of a suburban retreat composed of winding streets and natural vistas.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Bill Richert

Best known as the designer of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted was the mastermind behind Riverside, Ill. one of America’s first planned suburbs.

Pullman, Illinois: In 1879, railroad car tycoon George Pullman started building a new factory town south of Chicago that would be a workers’ utopia – or so he thought. His architect, 26-year-old Solon S. Berman, created a variety of housing – large homes for managers and tenement blocks for unskilled workers, which Pullman would rent out at a profit.

When a strike ensued in 1893, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a company does not have the right to control the housing of its workers.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Bill Richert

Pullman, Chicago, Ill. In 1879, railroad car tycoon George Pullman started building a new factory town south of Chicago that would be a worker’s utopia – or so he thought.

Greenbelt, Maryland: Greenbelt was created to be the antidote to the traffic-filled, run-down cities of the Depression. Greenbelt’s planners created a paradise of footpaths, cul-de-sacs, and green space.

With the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, these ideas would influence the building of suburbs for years to come.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Santos Ramos

Greenbelt, Md., created to be the antidote to the slum-laden cities of the Depression, would serve as a model for American suburbs for years to come.

Levittown, New York: Between 1947 and 1951, Abraham Levitt and his sons William and Alfred built 17,447 houses in a former potato field on Long Island and named it Levittown.

Cheap and geared toward returning GIs and their young families, Levittown offered buyers an inroad into the American dream of home ownership – but only if you were white.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Jon Smith

Built between 1947 and 1951 by Abraham Levitt and his sons on a former Long Island potato field, Levittown, N.Y. afforded inexpensive homes to returning GIs and their young families.

Southwest District of Columbia: In the shadow of the National Mall was a long-standing African American community packed into row houses in cramped alleys.

City leaders, buoyed by the federal government’s “slum-clearing” urban renewal program, leveled the area and created a new type of community where shopping, housing, and entertainment existed in separate districts.

In the end, the project drove up real estate prices, drove out working-class African Americans, and started a trend that spread to cities across the country.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Santos Ramos

Southwest Washington, D.C., is one of the earliest examples of a government “slum-clearing” “urban renewal” program that levelled an established African-American community and replaced it with more expensive high rises.

Seaside, Florida: A resort town that offers a vision of the future that looks a lot like the past, Seaside is the passion project of Robert Davis, who summered there as a child.

When he inherited the land, Davis hired Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk to create an architecturally diverse, completely walkable town in a style that became known as New Urbanism.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Michael Smith

A resort town that offers a vision of the future that looks a lot like the past, Seaside,Fla. was designed by architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk in a style known as New Urbanism.

Pearl District - Portland, Oregon: The future of urban planning might look a lot like the Pearl District of Portland, where new and old exist side by side. A “transit-oriented development,” the Pearl is designed around public transportation.

Built on abandoned rail yards and warehouses, the Pearl is now a vibrant community with an economically diverse population and a vibrant street life.

Photo credit: Courtesy of James Clark

In Portland, Oregon’s Pearl District, the new and old exist side by side in a community built around public transportation.

Other episodes in the 10 THAT CHANGED AMERICA series are:

"10 Homes That Changed America" (Tuesday, April 5, 2016), which explores ten homes that transformed residential living, from grand estates such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, to the pueblos of Taos, New Mexico, and the tenements of 19th century New York.

10 Homes that Changed America | Preview

Preview of 10 Homes that Changed America

"10 Parks That Changed America" (Tuesday, April 12, 2016), which highlights ten visionaries who took open canvases of land and transformed them into serene spaces that offer city dwellers a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

10 Parks that Changed America | Preview

The story of 10 visionaries who took open canvases of God-forsaken land, and transformed them into serene spaces that offer city dwellers a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life.

This program is produced by Dan Protess and hosted by Geoffrey Baer. Series Producer is Dan Protess. Executive Producers are Dan Soles and V.J. McAleer.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.