In 1947, Paul Goodman and his brother Percival Goodman published Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life, their contribution to the decade’s vogue for grand schemes of urban planning. Paul Goodman was a young, anarchist writer and intellectual (later famous for Growing Up Absurd) who had grown up roaming the streets of New York. His brother Percival was an architect and urban theorist. Together, they sought to imagine a city redesigned to provide an ideal environment for human flourishing.
Their utopian plan for a complete reconstruction of New York was in some respects typical of the mid-twentieth-century fascination with transformative urban planning. Like a number of thinkers of their day, they anticipated the creation of a post-industrial city (“a world center of business, buying, style, entertainment, publishing, politics, and light manufacture”), and they were prepared to dramatically reshape the urban landscape in order to permit that new city to work in a humane and successful fashion. Like a number of thinkers at the time, too, they recognized and were concerned about the trend toward suburbanization. Their ideas about the way to respond to this development drew on a vocabulary of urban design (“slum clearance,” “master planning,” “super-block”) that was common among all the era’s plans for reconstructing the city.
But the Goodman brothers were also sharp critics of the era’s prevailing visions of the new city. In particular, Communitas attacked Robert Moses’s efforts to turn New York into an automobile-based metropolis, as well as Le Corbusier’s vision of the decentralized “radiant city” and the “garden city” view of the city-as-suburb championed by Ebenezer Howard and Louis Mumford. Against these prominent and influential theories, the Goodman brothers defended the city as a collection of intimate, urban neighborhoods where both community and personal freedom could flourish. In an appendix to Communitas, they therefore proposed a plan to redesign Manhattan as a car-free city. In some ways, their plan anticipates the views of the “new urbanists” who, following Jane Jacobs, have sought to defend the walkable, neighborhood city.
Follow the link below to Sierra Bintliff’s reconstruction of the Goodman brothers’ plan for Manhattan. Sierra’s creative re-presentation of the Goodmans’ work makes use of quotations and images from Communitas as well as contemporaneous pictures of New York by the celebrated photographer Andreas Feininger.
Paul and Percival Goodman’s
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