"Out of our needs and wishes, we make our cities"
Released in 1965, the American Institute of Architects sponsored film No Time for Ugliness made the now-familiar case that American cities and towns were in dire need of good urban design.
The film is an odd mix of contemporary urbanist truisms — “scale of commerce built to human scale” or “too often the suburban tract seems to have come out of a mimeograph” or “a concern for the small things that are big” — and willful obliviousness to politics, race, and the destruction caused by urban renewal and highway construction. (While the biggest urban conflagrations of the 1960s were still to come, several riots had already erupted by 1965.) Still, the woes of the American city and suburb are attributed to individual families’ search for “peace, space, and privacy” combined with carelessness in land use.
The only moment of implicit structural critique comes near the beginning when the narrator indicts Americans for their neglect of urban design — ”all the people who didn’t see, or learned not to see” — as close-ups of buildings and engraved plaques labeled “state,” insurance,” “mortgages” and “court” flash by on screen. Otherwise, the focus on aesthetics and economic development leaves no room for challenges to the urban renewal project, whether through historic preservation or “complete renewal” of the slums that must be “uprooted and replaced.”
Renewal is offered as a cure for “rundown urban areas that are not well used that could be used to attract people with higher income and expand the tax base and breathe new life into the city.” Good design is also prescribed for low-income households; the St. Francis housing community in San Francisco provides a sterling example. Other examples of best design practices include a condo development in Lafayette Park (Detroit), a subdivision in Marin County, a riverwalk in San Antonio, and historic preservation in Georgetown (D.C.) and Jackson Square (SF).
The film enjoins viewers to make a visual survey of their communities, urge their local officials to implement a long-range community design program, regulate billboards and signs, and bury utility wires out of sight. At the conclusion, the narrator invokes the specter of an ever-burgeoning population and asks “will we have disorder or design?” The film ends with the sound of a bell tolling.
Adapted from anniekoh