The title of this book is a good encapsulation of its content. It is a thoroughly researched book about the period of development of our cities that existed well before the term “urban design” was used, yet this is exactly what was happening when our cities were in an early growth phase at the beginning of last century. The author has researched the theory and parallel developments in cities in Europe, and especially the City Beautiful Movement in North America.
Professor Robert Freestone has diverse research interests in urban studies and planning education and is highly regarded internationally for his expertise. He currently lectures at the University of NSW.
Developments and proposals for each Australian city are considered from the perspectives of city plans, civic centres, public spaces, campus design, parks and street and boulevard design. Canberra has a separate chapter that explores the brief and ideas that preceded the design competition. The Griffin plan is then compared to other entries and evaluated in the context of time.
The book is full of seductive black and white images of plans, photos and perspectives of schemes (built, partly built, and unbuilt), that are fascinating to consider a century on.
To my surprise I even came across a drawing dated 1956 of the Cultural Centre project in Perth drawn by my urban design professor at Manchester in the 1970s, Peter Dovell. This brought back memories of his conversations about Perth and its social and political environment during his time working there. This book should have interest and surprises for any Australian who want to learn more about an idealistic and visionary period of designing some of the cities they know. There are sure to be lessons here for any urban designer about vision, communication and the politics of developing cities.