City Beautiful movement
1893 to 1930
Environmentalism is not an invention of the 21st century, but when it was first used it had a wider social context than it does today. Between 1893 and 1930, Europeans and North Americans agreed that the physical conditions of the places where people grew up and lived had a lot to do with how they behaved. Beautiful green places with lovely buildings were thought to breed refinement and good character. Ugly, dirty slums were thought to breed disease and promote violence and dishonesty.
Out of this grew the City Beautiful movement, much of it supported by horticultural societies that saw wide streets and boulevards, beautiful buildings and open, airy parks become a standard in city planning. In Canada the emphasis was on creating unified town planning and harmony of visual elements. You can still see some of that influence in Winnipeg today, especially in the neighbourhoods that came of age during that era.
After the Great Depression, the focus shifted and it shifted again after the Second World War. Suddenly it was all about the suburbs. In the sixties, city centres decayed, beautiful buildings fell into disrepair and were bulldozed. The commercialization of the seventies, eighties and nineties followed.
Now in a young new century, maybe it’s time to go back to our roots and start again. Perhaps Winnipeg could spark the City Beautiful movement one more time.