Although the Athens Charter was designed with European cities in mind, European states applied its prescriptions selectively. The modernist functional city was primarily used as a model for designing new residential quarters on the periphery of existing cities in the 1950s and 1960s. Some examples include Bijlmeer on the outskirts of Amsterdam, Hoogvliet, in Rotterdam; various suburbs of Paris, Toulouse, and other French cities; Cumbernauld, near
Glasgow, and other new towns in the United Kingdom; and suburbs of various Italian cities, particularly in the industrialized North. Reconstruction of the existing urban fabric was mostly limited to cities that had been destroyed by bombing raids, such as Le Havre, Coventry, Rotterdam, and Stuttgart. Even here, the new city centers were rarely built in an uncompromising modernist style or functionalist form: beyond its sleek functionalist aesthetic, Le Havre retained a traditional urban morphology, and German cities that opted to re-build in a modernist style and form tended to restrict this transformation to the commercial and public center, keeping to a more traditional appearance for residential areas.13
Why did postwar Western Europe embrace the Athens Charter model? It appears that several interrelated trends created an irresistible momentum. In examining the sources of the wave of modernist urban “renewal” that swept through Great Britain and Germany, as well as the United States and Canada, Christopher Klemek has identified four “pillars” a shift in popular taste and culture toward modernism, the professionalization of urbanism and the cre-dentialing of experts in this field, the growing involvement of national governments in planning, and the promotion of redevelopment schemes by ambitious local entrepreneurs. In this view, this movement was to a large extent driven by actors who stood to profit from an expansion of their power and authority.14
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But if governments engaged in the redevelopment of existing city districts and the construction of new settlements according to the modernist function-alist concept, it was also because they perceived a need for such large-scale intervention. Florian Urban has provided additional insight into the motivations of national governments for engaging in the mass construction of standardized housing. For Urban, a consensus emerged in states around the world that “state authorities were to take responsibility for the welfare of their citizens and counteract social polarization.”15 For Michael Harloe, in contrast, the motivations of Western European governments were more pragmatic. He argues that the construction of new suburbs grew out of a new concept of the national state’s role in the economy, particularly in the provision of housing to the population, that was derived from the ideas of engineer and management theorist Frederick W. Taylor and industrialist Henry Ford. Taylor argued that “a strictly systematized organization of labor” would lead to increases in productivity and therefore to higher wages, and Ford established that, by passing the savings on to his employees, he could increase their level of consumption of consumer goods, which in turn benefited industry. 16 Applied to the question of housing, this simply meant that, in attempting to rebuild their economies, European states made a concerted effort through social housing programs to systematize the production of housing, driving down its cost. In this way, they could pass on the savings to their citizens, who would pay lower rents, leaving them with more disposable income with which to fuel the economy through consumption. Alternatively, as in France, they could keep workers’ wages low, allowing industries to rein-vest their profits into their modernization. 17 An urban planning concept like the Athens Charter that provided bright, well-ventilated, modern apartments to workers while keeping the cost of housing low by using land efficiently, embrac-ing the industrialized production of housing, and collectivizing certain types of spaces (such as laundry rooms, playgrounds, and parking lots), furthered this objective. These modern apartments, in turn, promoted consumerism by en-couraging their inhabitants to buy appropriate furnishings and appliances for their new lifestyle.18 In other words, these states embraced the Athens Charter because its prescriptions for the production of urban space fit neatly into the welfare state model of economic modernization.
Rosemary Wakeman further refines our understanding of the relation be-tween urban planning and political economy in the French case with her study of Toulouse. After the war, the French state undertook a modernization of the national economy based on the “combined forces of the French bureaucracy and corporate capitalism.” This modernization was premised on the applica-tion of Fordism on a national scale: “technological innovation, control over labor, steering the country’s resources toward automated production and mass consumption in novel industries, and infusing a new will and spirit into French business and practices.” Modernism was the “aesthetic arm of the ra-tionalist, progressive outlook that infused French public policy and the tech-nocratic agenda.”19 Facilitated by the Plan Courant of 1953, which created a system of state loans to private investors, France dealt with the crushing hous-ing shortage that resulted from urbanization by launching an unprecedented housing construction campaign, which took the form of Grands Ensembles functionalist, self-contained, mostly suburban housing developments of modernist towers and slabs placed in greenery. The boom years of the “Trente Glo-rieuses,” replicated across Western Europe, appeared to validate this approach.
Wakeman reminds us, however, that modernization was not a monolithic concept. Rather, it was the product of “battles, debates, special interests and compromises.”20 Indeed, attempts by local authorities to impose their vision of urban regeneration met with opposition from locals, as well as impersonal ob-stacles such as land speculation and increasing automobile usage. These strug-gles resulted in a redefinition of what was modern. Moreover, different state levels also had diverging modernization projects. Thus, the initial concept for modernizing Toulouse, steeped in left-wing progressivism that had its roots in the Resistance and was championed by its socialist mayor Raymond Badiou, was to build new public housing while limiting the spatial expansion of the city. As the central French state asserted its overriding control over regional and local affairs, it replaced this concept in 1963 with an alternative modern-ization project. Fears of urban sprawl were jettisoned as the city was reimag-ined as a regional economic growth pole, with new satellite cities sprouting at some distance from it.21
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