We are currently celebrating the centenary of first movements, exhibitions, congresses and competitions on urbanism which took place in Europe. For this reason several scientific meetings encourage the discussion on history of urbanism and towns on the Twentieth Century. For essence, journal «Ciudades» dedicated its 6th issue (2001) to the centenary of the launch of «Garden Cities of Tomorrow» (http://www3.uva.es/iuu/ciud06.htm); the Berlin University of Technology has inaugurated the exhibition “City visions 1910 / 2010. Berlin Paris London Chicago. 100 years General Urban Design Exhibition in Berlin (‘Allgemeine StädtebauAusstellung in Berlin’)” (http://architekturmuseum.ub.tu-berlin.de/index.php?set=1&p=451&LANG=EN); a powerful group of research laboratories located in Paris has already organised two congresses on the topic «Inventer le Grand Paris», starting with the works of the Commission of Extension of Paris from 1913 to 1919 http://www.citechaillot.fr/fr/auditorium/colloques_conferences_et_debats/ colloques/25377-inventer_le_grand_paris.html), and the Bauhaus Universität Weimar is preparing the commemoration of its own foundation. All these germinalevents have in common their internationality. Explicit purpose in some of them, effect non-followed as a priority by others, the impact caused by all them gives proof of an early discourse on urban planning that, as stated by several authors, will go beyond countries and even continents, and will define shared historical foundations for many declinations, local and national, of modern urban planning.
Furthermore, the centenary events previously cited illustrate the internationalisation of a production of performances which, anticipating global changes on urban space, connect specifically a concrete moment of urban society evolution with a concrete moment of urban thought. Indeed, the international reflection on urban questions has proved to be one of the facets of the largest mouvement of social reform born in XIXth Century. This movement has accompanied the historical evolution of European and American societies since contemporary age and up to nowadays. This way, common history of urban planning is inscribed into an urban history, which is also common. Nevertheless, few books give an overview of this fact.
Beyond national, regional or local variations, it seems that urban history and urban planning history of many European countries follow common chronological patterns. In the middle of the XIXth Century, industrialization, combined with growth of cities, induces new urban conditions and lifestyles, and, with them, new problems of any kind (social, political, economic, hygienic, functional, etc.) will be formulated. Between the solutions, innovative urban policies, named differently in each place (for essence the Spanish population widenings, Haussmann’s interior reform, “interior widening” from Viennese Ring, etc.) emerge. Their common ground is the modernization of the city, the rationalisation of infrastructures and networks and the construction of new urban landscapes. Between the late XIXth and the early XXth, large modern streets, lined by buildings paradoxically eclectics –style named at times, precisely, “international”–, are constructed in metropolis across Europe. The headquarters of rising institutions based on capitalist and bourgeois society (banks, hotels, department stores and theatres) settle in the most accessible lands, put under unceasing expropriations (both literally and figuratively). The city of business and the construction of the city –its land and its buildings– are being celebrated as a business, the great novelty of XIXth Century. Between 1890 and the 1920s “social question”, formulated decades earlier by XIXth-Century bourgeois reformism, is object of further pressure in different countries. In the wake of the “housing question”, whose roots are quickly proved to be far from sectorial measures promoted by new policies of social housing, the question starts to be reformulated as “urban” : the greater cities question. Then, urban planning emerges as a discipline, between research and action, and the profession of urban planner is shaped. The reflection on urban planning, under the imperatives of hygiene and “comfort” (functionality) providing urgently salubrious, familiar and affordable housing, will inspire a new thought about city. This thought will be sponsored, mainly, by progressive sections –even “socialists”– of bourgeoisie and will be developed at the same time that working classes unionize (both in industrial metropolis such as Paris or Barcelona and lees industrial ones like Valencia) and the opposing worker movement grows.
After exploratory formulations and pioneer experiences, usually of private initiative, it is in the 1920’s and 1930’s when public authorities committed for the first time to experiment the ideas previously considered in many European countries –both those with parliamentary and non-parliamentary systems–. Social housing policies (casas baratas, habitations à bon marché, council houses, case popolare…) and incipient urban planning will benefit from this boost.
After Second World War, between the 1950s and the mid-1970s, cities’ growth in Franco’s Spain, Gaulle’s France, German Democratic Republic or other countries is enormous, although with cadences and differentiated features. Probably urban societies are experimenting at this time the greatest and fastest transformation of all the Century. Consumer society is set up and new middle classes reach the peak of the path started half a century ago. Since the half of the 1950s, public authorities of all Europe will invest on residential building massively in order to end with “housing problem”, either by direct actions (socialist countries), indirect actions (promoting private initiative) or in a mixed way (as many capitalist countries). These actions, aiming at the production of enough homes, prioritize rent regime (socialist and enough capitalist countries) and, to a lesser extent, promote property (Spanish case, for essence). Urban planning is generalised and institutionalised because of the development of Construction Law. All these changes are integrated within the spreading public intervention and the development of Welfare States, which will resolve quantitatively the problem of mass urban housing, previously formulated by reformist social thinkers since the XIXth Century, during the establishment of industrial age. Nevertheless, new urban spaces cover the novel organizations, characteristic of functionalist urban planning, and, more or less exclusively, shapes associated to open block. Finally, between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980 there is a moment when, after a critical diagnostic of the stage of growth, this extension of city ends. While cities are increasingly expelling industrial activities from the most consolidated urban areas, citizens’ movements reveal a deep urban crisis, and at the same time they make urban planning’s political dimension clear, asking for its democratization. By then, the question of historical sites is initially defined, occupying a significant place among the contradictions of urban practice at the age.
Since the 1990’s, UE has emerged as a new and powerful urban agent. Arguments for cohesion and territorial balance are announcing a strong development of infrastructures, especially in countries “objective 1”. The effects of this development on urbanised areas are linked to a huge building boom, with different chronologies and intensities in each country, and a generalised turn of housing policies towards a more extent access to property. In the context of the increasingly financing of economy and the diversification of urban socio-spatial segregation, urban policies focus on attracting investments and regenerating neighbourhoods in decline.
This accelerated review of more than a century of European History tries to emphasize the existence of a common frame, in which urban histories of particular cities or countries are developed. The shared features put into question local approaches not including this common frame or those approaches which do not consider as local particularities some elements shared (more or less) by all Europe. Nevertheless, the contributions to local or national history, even the ones which fall into this objection, have provided an important accumulation of data along decades. This data have enabled the documentation of the European history that, today, begins to be well known, globally and as a general framework; even if international viewpoints have still difficulties to go beyond the simple juxtaposition of national analysis or studies on urban ideas.
Being conscious of these common features, the present monographic of «Ciudades» questioned on the ways or ways to investigate and write European Urban and Urban Planning History. The main question was about the most convenient study framework in order to understand the evolution over time of the nature of urban facts characteristic of the so-called “XXth Century”. Indeed, the call proposed, on the one hand, the question on the geographical frameworks which could overtake the limits of local monographs and show the most general evolutions of the age (in a historical moment crossed by (de)colonization, conflicts, deep political changes and wars, what or which could be the pertinent territorial frameworks which not only would create changing polarities but also will redesign national and international frontiers?); On the other hand, at the same time, the call of our journal also questioned on the most relevant temporal scope, “20th Century”, which should be taken into account (a “long Century” defined by economic cycles, covering since 1880 or even since 1860; or a short Century starting, in terms of urban construction, with the First World War, and ending, paradoxically, with the consolidation of European Union as an international urban actor?). Underlying all this, other questions were also indicated: which are the most relevant categories of analysis? Which are the pertinent scales for the observation? Which would be the most appropriated use of comparative approach? Etc.
During the last twenty years, that is, after becoming aware of the common character of European history, researchers have been especially interested on the flow of ideas and experiences. Following the path of national or even local histories, it has been necessary to understand how, why and in which way the same idea could be followed by very different countries, for example England or Belgium. This way, trips of architects and their meetings in congresses have been studied, the progression and editorial history of outstanding books have been followed and the circulation of some techniques has been observed10. Among these researches, the original experience «L’aventure des mots de la ville»11 should be highlighted. This contribution does not follow men, books or objects, but words and their travel from one place to another or from an age to another in order to document their circulation, their implications and what they left in the path. Like this, reform movement in the early XXth Century and the starting of urban planning have been analysed at transnational level. This is not the case of other important topics for the construction of European contemporary cities, such as the production of suburbs or marginal parcelling or the evolution of retail sale mechanisms, for example.
On the other hand, this transnational approach, consisting on the exploration of links between local or national experiences, is, obviously, only one possible focus of European urban history, and is far from running this question out. Furthermore, this focus is especially relevant for the study of ideas, public policies or coordinated movements. That is, the urban planning resulting from formal, planned, or anticipated processes, rather than the existing urban city and society, with all their dynamism, diversity and heterogeneity. The fabric of the city is always the result of actors which –obviously- hold an own constructive and urban culture resulting from their experience. This statement can be applied for the Andalucian coming from Jaén who builds its shack in Pozo del Tío Raimundo (Madrid) in the 1950s, copying Jaen’s typical rural house with all available resources. But the statement is also valid for urban planners participating in major international forums and trying to import innovations to the countries and towns where they develop their profession. Nevertheless, the study of the flow of ideas, very focused on international specialised circuits, only illustrates a negligible part of all local events. The understanding of European urban history also implies the illustration of the way in which this common history is locally drawn. To do this, obviously, the exploration of cases must continue. The question is, then, how do we articulate these cases within a European history?
As already mentioned, the collective book that juxtaposes local or national experiences about a common subject or moment is the most experienced form, and this one has usually been successful. That is the case of large housing states, financing of social house13, development of garden cities, official urban planning of “dictatorships”, etc. This kind of comparison is interesting because it enables to draw accurately the relevant levels of understanding for each question. The juxtaposition of cases, of its similarities and differences, causes the apparition of the facts explained, in each case, by elements of international or European scope. But this juxtaposition also reveals the effect of each particular context –political, social, etc.– In other words, an appropriated use of comparison does not consist on investigations limited to the searching of similarities –reductionism operation– but on the contrast of experiences. This is the only way to broaden knowledge about reality in all the complexity of their particular mechanisms. For example, once stated that, in the majority of European countries, in the 1950s and 1960s, public authorities invest money to promote the construction of low-cost homes or try to control the expansion of cities, there is the most interesting to do: to understand in which measure this activities are done differently, for example, in a parliamentary and very industrialised country, such as United Kingdom, and in a dictatorial and rural one, as Spain.
Attempts to keep a history at the town level, also devised with European Urban History, include –in a remarkable position- «Historia de las ciudades europeas» (partly frustrated). Only two of the volumes initially planned were published. They were dedicated to the Iberian Peninsula and France16, following the same methodology and format: one chapter for each town in double-page, a synthesis text and a historical cartography. The juxtaposition of these plans and large periods in the history of several towns draws a suggestive picture of European urban phenomenon in its diversity.
Another interesting combination of global viewpoint and deep research for a particular case is, for example, the exploration of three “situated” cases in the same study experimented by Christian Topalov17, including: Charles Booth’s works on London in the 1880s, Maurice Halbwachs’ ones of Paris in the early XXth Century and Robert Park’s ones on Chicago in the 1920s. The three cases are treated taking into account the singularity and complexity of each local context, but all together support another range of reading, the one regarding the disciplinary history of sociology.
To compare, on the one hand, proposals of the call of «Ciudades» 19 (2016) and, on the other hand, responses received, has set off several reflections, some of them suggested here. It is interesting for us to observe that part of the articles proposed have supported the problems and challenges pointed in the call, but questions about the relevance of European framework have been put off centre. Some of these articles propose critics on urban or urban planning historiography (in the XXth Century). Others, departing from European cases at the XXth Century, experience the international dimension of urban planning history, on the basis of the comparison of similar experiences in different countries or analysing the effects (resistances or influences) of certain experiences in countries other than those where the experienced were originated. All this can be interpreted as a relative validation of general interests expressed by the Journal and the same time certain dismissal of direct questions on temporary and territorial frames. Furthermore, part of the articles received is made up of historical-urbanistic case analyses that do not reflect explicitly on any of the historiographical or methodological questions or experimentations expected in the call. Then, we have accepted as evidence that, for many authors, production of urban history is more interesting than questioning how this history is produced. This fact has invited us to reformulate the title of the monographic.
Regarding exploration of trans and international perspectives, Beatriz Fernández Agueda defends history understood as a method of action. In “From the limit of urbanization to the limit of the urban: the territorial configuration of Greater Paris and Greater Madrid (1910-1939)”, she proposes a simultaneous reading of urban planning processes which occurred at the same time in both cities, and of their interactions with social and political construction of each territory. Using comparison method, the author highlights historical differences perceived in both cases and she advances, by analogy, some hypothesis to throw light on some current questions, mainly the limit of urban territories. Fernández Águeda insists on the construction of “Great City’s story” and the progressive formation of urban culture on the basis of a debate, in which evolution plans (included some not executed) are especially important. It is normally believed that theoretical bases of urban planning were stablished before war conflicts of the 1930s, and that World War was the turning point between the reflection time and the material construction of the metropolis of the XXth Century. But, in contrast to this common idea, the urban planner, with the comparative cases study of French and Spanish capitals, shows that those were not only times for theoretical reflection, but also, and mainly, “times of urban action”, not so much in terms of materializations, but in terms of the institutional creations which would enable the enormous urban spread in the 1950s. Indeed, in both cities, between the 1920s and the 1930s big city and its limits, urban agents involved in city and first specific legal frameworks were defined, inspired by international flow of ideas at the age. In particular, competitions of 1919 and 1920, overtaking the lack of legal support, shared an important role in legalising the elaboration of global urban plans capable of facing new challenges proposed by large conurbations.
In convergence with some aspects of Fernandez Águeda’s article, Rodrigo Santos de Faria’s work, “Urbanism and municipal development in Europe: the municipalist congresses of the Spanish Municipes Union”, analyses the subjects discussed during the 1920s within this association (and also within the International Union of Municipes, or UIV –the French initials–). The aim of this work is to highlight the contribution of Spanish and European (and probably American) municipalist movements to the urbanistic discussion of the age, and, more specifically, to knowledge flow and to the construction and articulation of professional and institutional networks about questions like urban development, management and planning, or inter-municipal cooperation on the subject.
Without leaving international flow of ideas and its relationship with the evolution of local action, Eliseu Gonçalves’ and Rui J. G. Ramos’ text, “Working-class housing first proposals in Oporto: the single-family house, the Carré Mulhousien and the cité-jardin”, deals with the problem on working-class housing. Thus, the text addresses this question by analysing the adoption of the well-known model of the Société mulhousienne des cités ouvrières in Portuguese city, and showing the superposition in this model’s experiences of a complex scheme of political, realstate, architectonic and urbanistic planning aspects.
The contribution of José Luis Gómez Ordóñez and Celia Martínez Hidalgo, “The Historic city: behind the façade, the shape of the ground”, starting from a teaching experience located in Granada’s historic centre, suggests a critic of Urban History from Urban Planning’s viewpoint (considering the latter a discipline focused, in general, on prospective, and, specifically, on the design of urban spatial transformation). Following the authors, “these histories on urban planning that describe the destruction-construction of the city at concrete moments and put these moments in political, social or economic frames” enrich urban knowledge with their “generic frames”. Nevertheless, this urban knowledge is also improved by histories that focus, in the same temporary frame, “on other cities’ and even on other countries’ events”, or on “the analysis of the theoretical-professional controversies of their time”. Claiming that “urbanism can have architectonic, sociological or cultural aspects… but its discourse is always hatched taking into account the appropriated tools for each focus”, they defend that space, at different ranges, “is a main explanatory variable”. They also defend that “another look to this scenery from the past is possible”, that is, this space’s project and construction, its consecutive destructions, rehabilitations and reconstructions.
Carmen Delgado Viñas, for her part, in “Views of the city from Geography, History and Urbanism. State of the art at the beginning of XXIst Century”, proposes a perspective on the evolution of Spanish Urban Geography, and the relationships and tensions with other disciplines around the study of the city, a complex and not readily understood objet. The ambitious tour, starting in the early XXth Century and getting its flashpoint in the 1970s, ends with an analysis of the state of the art since the 1990s. Finally, to conclude, the author states that “Urban Geography is, nowadays, in a crossroad, looking for new ways of understanding urban space from its meeting with other social sciences that are opened towards the urban”.
Finally, two articles on urban history circumscribed to national or local study cases have been selected for this monographic, putting into value their interesting methods of analysis and subjects. The subject of the first one, Paola Ianni’s article, “The importance of the historical city in Italy: cultural changes by reading the post-seismic reconstruction processes in the last fifty years”, is Italian historical centres affected by earthquakes in the last half-century. On the basis of the study of reconstruction policies performed in these centres, she characterises the evolution of values assessed to this kind of urban fabrics in Italy.
For its part, Juan Luis Rivas Navarro’s and Belén Bravo Rodríguez’s text, “Approach to the first Southern periphery of Granada: from the orchards to the urban villas (1920-1951)”, is remarkable because it studies thoroughly the problem of the history of “first peripheries”. This study is inspired by the conscience that the scale jump of city at the turn of the century gives these peripheries the role of “main space for the exchange between metropolitan area and historical centre, keeping at the same time their role as space in transformation”. This implies an urban planning challenge for which authors also claim an historical approach, not without methodological difficulties.
Indeed, history of urban discipline cannot be identified with History of Urbanization, understanding the latter as the construction of physical urban space, and neither of them can be treated independently from history in general. On the other hand, the identification of urbanization with urban planning and other forms of urban prospective still leads to misunderstandings; and, at the same time, from an historical perspective, certain plans are more valued in relation to the spatial transformations materialised according to the details drawn in plans than in relation with their historical context, including own urban planning’s context in its moment. Probably, the spatial turn experienced by urban historians means the awareness of these relationships, at the same time that, at the transdisciplinary level, this turn also implies an invitation for urban geographers and urban planners to consider, similarly, an historical turn; that is, a turn towards a bigger attention to methods of History. The insistence on this idea in a journal in which the majority of contributions come from urban planners looks especially relevant, as, like the vibrant introduction of the mentioned book «Histoires d’enquêtes. Londres, Paris, Chicago (1880-1930)» warns, “history of disciplines is usually written by its practicants” and not by historians, because of reasons which are “so solid as the own disciplinary institutions”, as “the control of an expert group’s history or memory is the means for establishing an authority in this group”.