goto Appendx main menu Ring City : George Thrush
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Ring City as Evolving Type 
The history of centralized town planning is long and we need not review all of it here, but two specific aspects are particularly relevant to the fragmentation facing America's metropolitan areas today. One is the ideal city, or the city designed to represent a specific social or religious order. The other, often a related type, is the walled city of military fortification. 

An ideal city, in the words of Spiro Kostoff, "engraves a pattern of faith and government."9 The city becomes a diagram that articulates social order and hierarchy. It does so by clearly defining some spaces as more important than others. The center, key nodes, gates, etc., are all participants in a spatial order that is understandable to the inhabitants because it is reconciled with religious, civil, or military arrangements existing among them. Public spaces were clearly distinguished from private spaces; major routes from minor ones; and the sacred is kept distinct from the profane. The identity of the town is the edifice of the wall, coupled perhaps with the silhouette of its major building. So monarchies and holy cities are often planned centrally, because the structure of the society that they are designed to reflect is quite clear.

1. Plan of Palmanova, Italy, 1593. 
2. Plan of Milan, Italy, 1786, showing current and former layers of fortification and castle surrounded by its own fortified wall 
3. Plan of Milan, Italy, 1820, showing expansion of city and transformation of castle into a court expanding outward into the surrounding landscape 
4. Plan of Milan, Italy, 1877, showing vast expansion of city into larger region still organized by ring roads (now highways) 
Many European cities began on a centralized model, not only because they were holy, but because they were responding to the functional needs of military defense. The art and science of defensive fortifications was critical to a city's survival in many parts of Europe. Palmanova, Italy, just south of Venice is considered the premier example of this (figure 1). Such fortifications involved at least one layer and often many more of circumferential outer protective masonry wall that usually separated the city from the agricultural land surrounding it. Openings in the wall were limited to those necessary for the major travel routes to pass out  to neighboring destinations. As a result many cities began life with circular or polygonal walls around them. Indeed many cities (Milan, Italy, for example) have a history of several different layers of military fortifications embedded in their city plan (figures 2, 3, and 4). These layers read like a history of the growth of the city—something like the rings on a tree.Appendx 3 page break 130 | 133 As each successive layer of protective wall became obsolete, they created unique opportunities for these cities. The remaining circumferential paths connected the radial routes from the center of town and created new ways to move around the city. This same phenomenon occurred throughout Europe. 

As the need for these fortifications waned, many were torn down and replaced with what we now call ring roads.  Moscow, Paris, and Bologna are just a few examples of cities whose former defensive military perimeters evolved into  major  transportation infrastructure locations (figures 5-7). "In the old fortified cities, the walls were pulled down and converted into a continuous ringroad, while former direct approaches from the countryside were rationalized into straight radial roads linking the fattened suburban belt with the center."10 Trains, carriages, trolleys, buses, automobiles, cyclists, and pedestrians all traveled along these ring roads. In many cases, though, they also served as the location for new kinds of building.  Museums, concert halls, cultural attractions, and other developments of bourgeois society soon filled this zone between the old and the new city. Perhaps the best example of this is in Vienna, on the Ringstrasse

5. Plan of Moscow, Russia, 1808 
6. Plan of Paris, France, 1618 
7. Plan of Bologna, Italy, 1845 
8. Plan of Vienna, Austria, circa 1500 
The Ringstrasse performs more than just a transportation function, and serves as more than the site for buildings of cultural importance (figure 8). The Ringstrasse offers Vienna a secular identity as an alternative to the sacred one found in Appendx 3 page break 133 | 134 St. Stephens Cathedral, which dominates the center of the old city. Both the center and the Ringstrasse have civic importance, but the addition of the ring made multiple meanings possible. It also served as the armature for additional dense metropolitan growth (figure 9). These characteristics make ring planning particularly interesting as a means of representing diversity and increasing density in American cities. It seems to offer the chance to maintain a civil center, while at the same time creating a zone of civic importance that has room for many different voices. 

The other important aspect of the history of centrally planned cities and towns is their role in modern socialist and utopian visions: the ideal cities of our time. Charles Fourier's phalansteries were designed to house "2000 people of all races, classes, sexes, and ages," according to Spiro Kostoff. His City of Garantism was composed of concentric rings of commercial, industrial, and agricultural zones. This kind of city in relation to diagrammatic social order reached its high point with Ebenezer Howard in his 1898 book, Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Social Reform.11 His diagram of the "Group of Slumless Smokeless Cities" and his plans for the Garden City were strong evidence of his faith in the relationship of geometry and order to social reform (figure 10). Kostoff describes Howard's view of the Garden City as "an ideally balanced human environment where town and country met," and quotes Howard Appendx 3 page break 134 | 135 speaking of its attractions: "beauty of nature; social opportunity; fields and parks of easy access; low rents; high wages; low rates; plenty to do; low prices; no sweating; pure air and water; bright homes and gardens; no smoke; no slums; freedom; cooperation." But a particularly interesting aspect of these utopian communities from our perspective is that they were designed to maintain a relatively low density. Their goal was to achieve a socially harmonious relationship between people and nature by resisting excessive urbanization. We are now faced with precisely the opposite problem: our cities are losing their density, and we are hoping to use aspects of these centrally planned utopias to reurbanize them.

9. Plan of Vienna, Austria, 1901, showing growth based on the Ringstrasse 

10. Diagram number 7, "Group of slumless, smokeless cities," Ebenezer Howard, 1898 
So, these two types of centrally planned towns—one with roots in military fortifications yielding density, shared identity, spatial clarity, which then evolved into a city with ring roads separating its old and new sections; and the other being the modern prototype of the centrally planned utopian and socialist community, with its connection of geometric order to social harmony—give us useful background as we proceed toward solving the problems of fragmentation in late twentieth-century American cities.next page 

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