Published Date

January 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 33: What Will Your Town Be Like? (1945)

While many of the most interesting and unusual postwar community programs are being planned by small towns, the big cities in the United States also have been stirred by the consequences of war and the prospects of peace.

New York City, biggest of them all, has plans all drawn for spending $1,200,000,000 after the war to continue its program of building. Tunnels, bridges, and parkways are on the list, and apartment house communities so large they have their own theaters, department stores, and even churches.

New York is also planning new airports which will dwarf even La Guardia Field. New York City’s planners can “see by the record” that postwar international air transportation of both freight and passengers, as well as America’s new position as the world’s number one naval power, present challenges and new opportunities to New York- City as America’s major port.

Moreover, each of New York City’s five boroughs has its own committee to stimulate planning by private employers. Each of the boroughs in turn has other planning groups within it—so many, in fact, that altogether their names would fill nearly a page in the telephone directory.

Thus, while her businessmen plan for more jobs and more business after the war, the city itself is planning new and better ways to house the seven and a half million people who make up New York’s hundreds of “communities within communities,” and to give them new transportational, recreational, and other living conveniences and opportunities.


“Go west, young man”

But New York City’s planning is being challenged both in scope and originality by other cities of various sizes. Kansas City, for example, located in the midst of America’s vast “bread basket,” has had a huge wartime expansion in manufacturing such items as airplanes, ordnance equipment, and hundreds of small but vital “gadgets” of war. This wartime experience has strengthened Kansas City’s economic under-pinning. As a result, the city’s postwarplanning is aimed to hold onto this new diversified industry. Kansas City’s leaders are seeking to raise a half million dollar fund to keep post-war development going at an intensive rate, not just for a yearor two after victory, but for 10 years.

Specialists in engineering, modern design, merchandising, and other business techniques have been brought to Kansas City for a series of “business clinics.” At these meetings, K.C.’s businessmen have had their eyes and imaginations opened to the possibilities of giving their community a well-balanced vital economy. They look forward to a day when K.C. will not only absorb and process agricultural products from the vast surrounding fields, but also build tools and conveniences for the people who work in those fields.

And still farther west

The Pacific Coast’s big cities are also planning. San Diego, for example, found itself with a wartime influx of 200,000 people—41 percent more than it had in 1940. When the city began to question itself and its populace about the future, it made the surprising discovery that 75 percent of the new citizens like San Diego so much that they intend to stay after the war.

Planning research showed that while there would be 129,000 jobs, at least 30,000 more would be needed. It looked like a big planning job and one to be tackled in a big way-calling for examination of local raw materials, power, markets, housing, construction, water supply, sanitation, and all that goes with a virtual doubling of community life. Not wanting to end up with a community that “just grew,” San Diego’s planners sketched out a program costing $240,000, raised the money, and set to work. Within a year and a half, they held 85 consecutive weekly meetings, each one lasting at least 2 hours or more. Out of them have come so many concrete postwar plans, both by individual employers and by community groups, that San Diego is now only 5,000 jobs short of its postwar goal of 159,000.

Back across the country

Memphis, Tennessee, got so excited about its future that the local planning group wrote a play. It was so amusing and stimulating that it was later made into a film called Target for Peace. This film has been put on in thousands of other towns and cities to show what happens when a community takes a long look at some of the things that can be done to better its future life.

Memphis planners have been highly successful in applying their own postwar gospel locally. One Memphis businessman had a post`var plan that called for a 50 percent reduction from the heights of his wartime business. Now he has a “Postwar Plan Number Two” which calls for a 200 percent increase over his wartime record.. His new plans include: what he will make, where he will sell it, and many new people he will need to help him do it.

Grand Rapids, one of the oldest cities in Michigan, has enjoyed a reputation for building fine furniture. But for more than a decade before the war, Grand Rapids had been losing headway. While Grand Rapids rested on its laurels, com-petition from other cities, particularly in the South, was steadily chipping away parts of its reputation and its customer lists. But with the advent of war, Grand Rapids’ skilled cabinetmakers turned to the making of gliders and many other war items of wood and metal. There was a resurgence of initiative and imagination. And then Grand Rapids got exposed to the same postwar planning gospel that had invaded San Diego, Memphis, and others of her sister cities.

As a result, her businessmen now have concrete plans that have been checked and rechecked by experts from the University of Michigan. They show that 18 months after the end of the war Grand Rapids will have 9,000 more jobs in industry alone than she had in 1940-an increase of 51 percent.

As a result of the confidence inspired by this outlook, the community itself is planning new ways of rebuilding, its reputation as the furniture capital of the United States. This same confidence is inspiring the residents of Grand Rapids to make plans for better postwar homes filled with furniture of their own making.

So what?

There is often an air of incurable optimism about community planning. But even chamber-of-commerce plans don’t always work out the way their makers hope. Optimism is necessary, of course; if no one felt that better things were in reach, no- progress would be made. Skepticism has its place too. It helps to cushion the shock of disappointment in the event that plans go awry. The man who keeps his balance between unbridled optimism and unrelieved skepticism won’t go far wrong in judging his stake in community planning.

War has started a lot of thinking and planning about what American towns ought to be like after the war. The planning, of course, has had to be done by men at home and on the spot. These fellows have constantly done their think-ins and planning in human terms-in terms of jobs for all the people who are likely to need them. The plans described in this pamphlet radiate a feeling of optimism that is re-freshing in these days when so many of us are wondering what life in postwar United States will be like. There will be plenty of problems, but men now serving in the armed forces will be better prepared to pull their weight when they get home if they:

  1. Study some of the plans now being made, by leading citizens at home,
  2. Understand the spirit behind these plans and the goals they have set,
  3. Discuss the major questions suggested in this pamphlet.

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