Postwar city planning in Philadelphia: Edmund N. Bacon and the design of Washington Square East

Madeline L Cohen, University of Pennsylvania


Postwar city planning in the United States focused on reviving neglected urban centers and older neighborhoods. In Philadelphia, the city planning commission (PCPC) was directed by Edmund N. Bacon, who was trained as an architect and functioned as both an urban designer and a planning administrator. Bacon's ability to carry out his vision for the redevelopment of Washington Square East (WSE) was related to his personal involvement in the design process, and his official position within Philadelphia's city government. As a designer and Executive Director of the PCPC, Bacon was in a unique position to formulate a number of redevelopment projects, influence the evolution of the plans through various stages of the design process, and oversee the actual construction. The success of WSE was the result of many factors--Philadelphia's political reform in the early-1950s, the backing of members of the city's financial and business communities, and Bacon's own on-going policy to engage in a public dialogue in order to establish a wide base of support for his projects. But, in the end, it was Bacon's skill and determination in manipulating opportunities and circumstances toward his particular goals, that shaped the plan and the course of the redevelopment of WSE (and the city). Few postwar urban renewal projects were based so completely on a series of plans which, in addition to their intrinsic worth as urban designs, promoted the project by providing the public, politicians, business leaders and real estate developers, with visible (and understandable) solutions to complex urban problems. WSE was an important example of the power of urban design to serve as the key element in an overall strategy for the city's physical and economic recovery. Bacon's approach to city planning formed the basis of Philadelphia's postwar redevelopment program and, in turn, his success as an urban designer and administrator was central to his philosophy of city planning.

Subject Area

Architecture|Art History|Urban planning|Area planning & development

Recommended Citation

Cohen, Madeline L, "Postwar city planning in Philadelphia: Edmund N. Bacon and the design of Washington Square East" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9200327.