The City Beautiful Movement

  • The Temporary City at Chicago’s World Colombian Exposition; 1893

The City Beautiful Movement Coral Gables is often referred to as “The City Beautiful.” In truth, the city is nothing short of beautiful. It’s winding boulevards, lush green treescapes, and uniform architectural styles have earned it the reputation of being a city wherein nothing is unlovely. George Merrick is largely credited with the creation of Coral Gables and, for the most part, rightfully so. He, along with his “Dream Team,” transformed what was an isolated wilderness situated at the tip of the Floridian peninsula into the international city it has become known as today. However, Coral Gables was not solely the product of a single man and his entourage of architects, specialist, and artists. It is, like many other great American cities, the product of larger social movements which were sweeping the nation at the time of it’s development. The particular ideology that guided these men was a movement known as “The City Beautiful Movement.”

The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning that flourished during the 1890’s and early 1900’s which championed beautification and monumental grandeur in cities as a means of promoting a harmonious social order across all the socio-economic classes. In many ways, the City Beautiful Movement was born in response to the rapidly deteriorating urban conditions which were fashioned by the Industrial Revolution. The industrialization period resulted in high birth rates, increased immigration, and internal migration of rural populations into cities. The exponential and unplanned growth of these American cities resulted in overcrowding, deteriorating living conditions, and scores unsightly tenement buildings erected with no consideration to organization, efficiency, ascetic, or beauty. Disease was rampant and life was bleak, not only for the poor, but also the rich. This was the climate to which City Beautiful Movement was born.\

The movement first gained traction in 1893 with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The fair’s temporary city, which was known as the “White City,” was constructed as a semi-utopia and consisted of lagoons, large green expanses, and grand boulevards. Architects and artists were so deeply impacted by this beautiful urban layout that they began take notice of the cluttered and chaotic nature of the cities they resided in. The movement had given birth to a generation of urban planners who understood it was to the benefit of public welfare to take into consideration the importance of the urban landscape.

Washington D.C., in 1902 became the first American city to carry out a City Beautiful design. This effort resulted in the first governmental plan in the United States to regulate aesthetic within the confines of an urban environment. Subsequently, other cities implemented the ideologies which drove the City Beautiful Movement, including Cleveland (1903), San Francisco (1905), and St. Paul, Minnesota (1906). These cities, along with Coral Gables a decade and a half later, utilized and appreciated the concept of a planned city, where nothing was built without consideration of the impact on the surrounding urban environment.

When George Merrick started developing Coral Gables in 1921, he was deeply influenced by the City Beautiful Movement and was aware of the importance that a planned urban design had to the community’s wellbeing. He read urban planning books and visited planned communities throughout the United States before starting work on Coral Gables. While George Merrick did not initially intend for Coral Gables to become a city, he adhered to the concepts which were laid out by the City Beautiful Movement, and, in 1925, when Coral Gables voted to become a city (against Merrick’s will) it was coined “The City Beautiful,” in reference to the movement which had swept the nation and took hold in the planning of a fledgling community which had been carved out of a rocky pineland in South Florida only four years prior.

By Malcolm Lauredo

Volume One; Number Three

October 2018