Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA)
REGIONAL PLANNING ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA (RPAA)
A loose circle of friends, mainly from the New York City area, and never more that twenty-five members, the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA) shared a commitment to regionalism—the need to balance the healthy and indigenous cultural values of the hinterland with those of the metropolis, to substitute socialized for speculative land values, and to decentralize congested urban populations into architecturally planned cooperative communities similar to those built during World War I by the United States Housing Corporation and the Emergency Fleet Corporation.
The RPAA was founded in 1923 when, at the urging of the American Institute of Architecture Journal editor Charles H. Whitaker, Lewis Mumford had architect Clarence Stein convene at his Dakota apartment in Manhattan a small group of architects, foresters, and economists—many of them alumni of the war housing experiment—to discuss the waste of haphazard urban growth and the prospects for a new regional basis for civilization. By 1925 this mildly socialistic assemblage met variously at Whitaker's Twelve Opossum farm in New Jersey, Stein's Dakota apartment, or the Hudson Guild Farm in Netcong, New Jersey. The group consisted not only of Whitaker, Stein, and Mumford, but also of forester Benton MacKaye, economist Stuart Chase, architects Henry Wright, Russell Van Nest Black, Fred Ackerman, Robert D. Kohn, and Fred Bigger, social scientist Robert Bruere, and housers Edith Elmer Wood and Catherine Bauer.
RPAA members were deeply influenced by the ideas of not only Patrick Geddes, Thorstein Veblen, and Henry George, but also Ebenezer Howard, Raymond Unwin, Barry Parker, and the British Garden City Movement. The greenbelted British garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn Town, a train ride from London, inspired Wright's and Stein's garden communities in Sunnyside, New York, and Radburn, New Jersey. These communities featured superblock design, interior courts, schools, playgrounds, and other communal facilities.
Although neither Sunnyside nor Radburn achieved working-class affordability, the Great Depression and the New Deal convinced RPAA members that federal intervention would realize a true regional solution to the conundrum of affordable housing. Franklin D. Roosevelt had endorsed regionalism in his speeches, and by 1933 RPAA members Kohn, Ackerman, Stein, and MacKaye all served on New Deal agencies philosophically harmonious with association ideals. These agencies included the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Resettlement Administration, the National Resources Planning Board, and the Public Works Administration's Housing Division (headed by Kohn). Architecturally, much of the public housing built by the Housing Division met RPAA standards; however, the housing built under the 1937 United States Housing Act fell somewhat short of the mark. In 1935 both Stein and Fred Bigger worked on the design and construction of Greenbelt, Maryland, one of the new towns built by Rexford Tugwell's Suburban Division of the Resettlement Administration. Greenbelt largely recapitulated the agenda of the RPAA. However, by 1933 the RPAA had all but vanished. Stein and Mumford parted disagreeably, Whitaker fell ill, and Bauer shifted to housing activism. However, the association's legacy was indisputable.
Arnold, Joseph. The New Deal in the Suburbs: A History of the Greenbelt Town Program, 1935–1954. 1971.
Conkin, Paul. Tomorrow a New World: The New Deal Community Program. 1959.
Lubove, Roy. Community Planning in the 1920s: The Contribution of the Regional Planning Association of America. 1963.
Schaffer, Daniel. Garden Cities for America: The Radburn Experience. 1982.
Spann, Edward K. Designing Modern America: The Regional Planning Association of American and Its Members. 1996.
John F. Bauman