Since the early 19th century, American city planning and architectural design has sought to reconcile the city with the countryside. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, city planning focussed on bringing elements of the country to the urban landscape, while for much of the 20th century architectural designs sought to make the city more accessible to suburbanites. Both approaches to urban planning were based on architectural modernism, which led to city development plans that reflected developers' subjective value laden biases about urban life. The result was significant urban decay as zoning regulations and utilitarian city planning resulted in widespread spacial segregation. In the latter decades of the 20th century, architectural post-modernism, which sought to recover the historic aestheticism of the urban landscape, began a gentrification process that has done much to alter the nature of city living. The government's role in guiding urban development has unfortunately been ambiguous and indeterminate. At many points in the saga of 20th century urban development, government regulation stood in the way of social reform. Even when government and reformers have reached a rough consensus on the need for urban planning reform, laws implementing these reforms have been ineffective and underenforced. The modern Dickensian contradiction of the American city must be addressed, but it cannot be effectively grappled with without reformulating a vigorous public conception of urban development that transcends private interests focussed on urban utility and post modern architecture.

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