Learning Place: Education and Planning in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, 1934-1955
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“Learning Place” traces the development of educational ideas amongst professional planners at the federal, regional, and local levels. As federal funds became available for the construction and re-construction of cities and regions in response to the economic crisis and world war of the 1930s and 1940s, two educational ideas amongst planners gained national attention and federal sanction. The first idea, “education in design terms,” sought to create new city and regional neighborhoods with schools and informal educative spaces as central design features in the realization of an ideal community. The second idea, “educating the public,” sought to create public awareness of, and assent to, the role of planning as an interventionist alternative to both laissez faire economics and political-economic revolution. Planners recruited educators and used educational technologies to ‘educate the public’ about planning through school curriculum, civic projects, and/or as a public relations or propaganda effort. Planners in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest– including public housing advocates, large-scale real estate developers, members of social welfare organizations, and business leaders– clashed as they maneuvered between federal dictates, local pressures, and each other in their efforts to guide the policies and practices that would make new places in the city and region. On the one hand, a small but influential group of democratic placemakers– led by Jesse Epstein and the Seattle Housing Authority– advocated the design and construction of places grounded in use value, with schools and informal educative spaces as a means of bringing heterogeneous groups of people together with the goal of dissolving antagonisms. They educated the public about their plans and designs by showing places as populated, diverse, and active. On the other hand, economic placemakers– led by members of the Pacific Northwest Regional Planning Commission and the Seattle Real Estate Board– advocated the construction of places grounded in exchange value, with central schools and informal educative spaces as amenities that increased the economic value of land and as markers that delimited inclusion and exclusion. They educated the public about their plans and designs by quite literally showing places as numerical values or by displaying them as efficient, ordered, and homogeneous. While economic placemakers used federal planning and housing policies to increase their power and increase racial segregation in schools and neighborhoods between 1934 and 1955, democratic placemakers remained active. Their alternative conceptualizations of place are a potential resource for a creative politics and a disciplined analysis and critique of proposed housing, school, and (sub)urban policies in our own time.
- Education - Seattle