Harland Bartholomew

1920–1956

Harland Bartholomew left an indelible legacy on the profession of planning, both at the University of Illinois and nationwide. The first full-time municipal planning employee in the United States, Bartholomew’s career began with ambitious plans for Newark and St. Louis. In 1918, Professor of Civic Design Charles Mulford Robinson [link to CMR page] died, prompting the College of Agriculture to reach out to Bartholomew in the hope that he might share his “real world” knowledge with students in the planning program. Although initially hesitant due to a lack of academic experience, he ultimately accepted, holding a non-resident post at the school until 1956.

As a professor at Illinois, Bartholomew filled a need for students in the nascent field of urban planning. The early graduates of the University of Illinois city planning program were joining the ranks of the first generation of professional planners, and applied teaching experience was thin on the ground. Additionally, the campus lies roughly equidistant from St. Louis, Chicago, and Indianapolis—three cities where professional planners were working in earnest—yet all three were too far away for an easy jaunt for students of the day. Bartholomew’s instruction at the University of Illinois gave these students a real feel for how their profession was developing out in the field. And it is not as if Bartholomew didn’t receive anything in return for his trouble—many Illinois graduates found themselves working for him at one of his firm’s many field offices.

Bartholomew also influenced his fellow faculty members at Illinois. Foremost among these was Karl Lohmann [link to KL page]. Lohmann, like most of his colleagues, was primarily an academic, though he engaged in some professional assignments in the surrounding region. Bartholomew was the perfect complement, a practitioner who spent a minority of his time in academia. Lohmann seized on the opportunity of working with an accomplished professional in developing his 1931 textbook Principles of City Planning. Where street design, housing, and zoning had their own sections in each of Bartholomew’s comprehensive plans, so too did these subjects receive individual attention in Lohmann’s book.

What was Bartholomew doing in the periods between his frequent trips to Champaign-Urbana? Quite a lot. His firm was quite accomplished, and a recounting of Bartholomew’s professional achievements could stand in as a summary of the major advances in the field in urban planning during the greater part of the 20th century.

One of the greatest contributions Bartholomew’s firm made to urban planning was the systemization of comprehensive planning. The firm of Harland Bartholomew & Associates produced nearly fifty comprehensive plans while its founding partner still worked there. Bartholomew ensured that each plan contained clearly stated goals, data and projections concerning present and future conditions, and implementation steps. He also emphasized the importance of a plan being truly comprehensive: plan accounted for all facets of the plannable urban environment, and they attempted to do so on a scale that considered the full metropolitan area (rather than halting all study at jurisdictional boundaries).

Not only was the firm directly involved in the birth of comprehensive planning, but it similarly engaged in the acceptance by local governments of planning as one of their primary responsibilities. In the early 20th century, most municipalities had a Public Works Department, but very few had any planning capacity. In the 1920s and 30s, state governments began to authorize certain cities to create planning commissions. These commissions (as well as the professional departments that followed them) were charged with adopted comprehensive plans to guide future municipal action. Bartholomew and his team of experts helped many American cities take their baby steps down this road. Often, the representative of Harland Bartholomew & Associates most central to a city’s comprehensive planning process stayed on as the director of the new planning department.

To say that Bartholomew’s contributions were visionary and influential is not to say that they produced uniformly positive outcomes. Indeed, many of the approaches pioneered by Bartholomew are now the targets of the newest generation of planners seeking to improve their communities. A civil engineer by training, Bartholomew could take a rather narrow approach to problem solving. For instance, rapid growth in automobile ownership rates and congestion signaled to Bartholomew not a need to structure cities in a manner that lessened the need for automobiles, but rather a need to expand street widths and networks to accommodate the growing trend. Today, principles of road diets, freeway teardowns, and smart growth suggest a very different approach towards mobility and accessibility.

Nevertheless, it is safe to say to Harland Bartholomew added a great deal of value to the whole of the planning profession. He systematized and legitimized it, bringing it within the purview of commonly accepted local government authority. His many articles and speeches disseminated planning ideas to his fellow practitioners, academics, policy makers, and the general public. He even (for all of his automobile planning) played a crucial role in the planning of the Washington DC Metro, widely hailed as one of the best rapid transit systems in the United States. After four decades at the University of Illinois and seven as a professional, Harland Bartholomew left a legacy that few in the planning profession can rival.

A book by Harland Bartholomew, (1917) Problems of St. Louis-City Planning Commission.