The final version of my article ‘Martin Wagner in America: planning and the political economy of capitalist urbanization’ has been published in Planning Perspectives (this alternative link provides temporary free access to the full paper). This is part of the research I did last year with Wagner’s personal archive at Harvard Frances Loeb Library, which was only partially known until now. For those who are not familiar with his career, Wagner coordinated Berlin’s planning office in the second half of the Weimar Republic, at a time when German municipalities and particularly the capital were creating a nascent form of social state which gave designers a new role in the imagination of urban order. During the 1920s more generally he developed an intense cooperation with trade unions, became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and shaped cooperatives and public interest building companies that remain some of the largest real estate operators in Germany today. So goes the myth—but there was a dark side to all this, which is easier to understand once Wagner leaves the country after Nazi takeover.
Research on Wagner’s activity in exile was fragmentary and focused mainly on his building prototypes, which were actually anecdotal in comparison to his work in the field of planning theory. As I mentioned in a previous post, what I found in Cambridge was not only shocking —painfully shocking, I should say— but also extremely illuminating on both the real nature of social policy in Weimar Berlin and postwar urban renewal and suburban sprawl in the US. I hope this article will contribute to a better appreciation of the shades and shadows of ‘progressive’ (Fordist, social democratic) urbanism and the marriage of avant-garde design and welfare policy.