Winner of a 1957 P/A award, Victor Gruen’s plan for downtown Fort Worth, Texas, heavily influenced development in that city and many others—for better and worse. It called for a highway ring around the downtown (as opposed to through it, as was proposed by state highway engineers), with pedestrian-only streets, below-grade service roads, and second-level skyways connecting buildings, all surrounded by parking garages at the downtown’s edge. The ring of highways got built, as did a couple of skyways and some pedestrian streets and parking garages. But other cities, from Minneapolis to Fresno, Calif., embraced Gruen’s vision to a greater degree.
The results have been mixed. Pedestrian-only streets often seemed empty of life, so many cities have reintroduced cars to them. Likewise, rings of highways and garages around downtowns have tended to isolate business districts and accelerate the decay of adjoining neighborhoods. And the extensive skyway systems deployed in some cities have had negative effects on street life.
Still, the impact of Gruen’s plan remains undeniable and some of his ideas are worth revisiting. Fort Worth is currently planning Sundance Square, which will involve closing part of Main Street to cars and creating a downtown pedestrian plaza, as Gruen proposed. And as significant residential communities have grown in many downtowns, cities have begun to re-examine the need for more open space and pedestrian-only areas to accommodate greater population densities, as Gruen predicted. Gruen called his plan “A Greater Fort Worth Tomorrow”—it’s just taken a while for tomorrow to come.
1957 P/A Awards Jury