The impact of sanitary reform upon American urban planning, 1840-1890

Peterson, J. (1979). “The impact of sanitary reform upon American urban planning, 1840-1890.” Journal of Social History 13(1): 83-103.

– Confluence of social and technological currents heavily influenced the character and timing of sanitary reform in the US –
Sanitary reform based in filth (miasma) theory
Reformers functioned like planners (demanded fundamental restructuring of the physical basis of urban life) before it was a formal profession

– Three major ways that sanitary reform provided planning alternatives to the organic, piecemeal growth , typical of the time… –
Water-carriage sewerage
Sanitary survey planning
Townsite consciousness – heightened sensitivity to the health implications of a city’s site and structure

– Water-carriage sewerage –
Facilitated gravity-flow of waterborne waste to outfall points beyond the immediate environment of the urban dweller
Reaction to “private lot waste removal” (public sewers intended to prevent flooding

– Sanitary Surveys –
Building-to-building data collection to identify prevalent diseases
Led to a comprehensive sanitary plan for Memphis following a yellow fever outbreak
ventilation of city houses
replacement of cisterns with public water supply
lifting buildings more than 2 feet off the ground
repaving streets (and more)

– Townsite Consciousness –
Increased considerations for natural conditions of site that influence the health of residents
Olmstead, in particular, was very conscious of the terrain, drainage ( a reflection on public though of the era)

Sanitary Reform, particularly with townsite consciousness symbolized greater inclusion and comprehensiveness in planning and city making
however this vision actually gave way to specialized planning and municipal  fragmentation that prevented the great vision from beginning a reality.


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