Taubman College Professor Robert Fishman discusses national planning for the future in new PBS documentary

University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning Professor Robert Fishman is featured in the PBS documentary and online series Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City, which highlights his paper entitled “1808—1908—2008: National Planning for America.”

The PBS documentary, directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Aaron Woolf (King Corn), explores how new thinking about transportation can potentially “rebuild Detroit and America.”

Detroit is identified in the documentary as the “crucible in which the nation’s ability to move toward a modern 21st century transportation infrastructure is put to the test.” The documentary shows how the auto industry, which created the transportation system that is now fraught with so many problems, is also the industry that puts Detroit in “perhaps the best position to transform itself for the transportation of the future.”

In his paper, Fishman’s argument for the idea of American national planning is stressed. He writes, “National planning in this country is widely believed to be an un-American activity…[yet] I would argue that no other nation has been so profoundly planned as the United States.”

Fishman’s research highlights the “two great ‘campaigns’ of national planning” that, according to Fishman, have drastically revolutionized America: “the 1808 ‘Gallatin Plan’ of roads and canals whose themes guided long-term federal policy through the 19th century” as well as “Theodore Roosevelt’s 1908 set of conservation and transportation initiatives that guided the 20th century.”

Raising questions of the value and power in our tradition of national planning and what we can do to shape the future with our achievements of the past—particularly of 1808 and 1908—Fishman identifies important issues on the subject of revitalization, including our nation’s past “inevitable constraints” with planning, and how despite these difficulties, the United States succeeded in crafting “national plans whose visions have had the galvanizing power to coordinate action over the long term.”

Fishman has authored several influential books on the history of cities and urbanism including Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia and Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. His most recent work is on exurbs.

The 90-minute documentary, Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City, will air on Feb. 8 at 10:00 p.m. on PBS in Michigan. Here is more information on the Blueprint America initiative and other local listings.

Blueprint America, created and produced by WNET.ORG and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Surdna Foundation, is a national multi-platform initiative examining the state of America’s infrastructure.

Read Professor Fishman’s paper, “1808—1908—2008: National Planning for America,” on PBS’s Blueprint America site.