Karl Linn and the Foundations of Community Design: From Progressive Models to the War on Poverty

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Journal of Urban History

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This article focuses on landscape architect Karl Linn’s role in founding the Community Design movement. Acknowledged by his contemporaries as one of the first and most influential community designers, Linn used students to pilot techniques for hands-on, local, and empathetic engagement. Beginning in the early 1960s, the article follows Linn’s first experiment building neighborhood “Commons” in North Philadelphia. In Linn’s conception, Commons were parks and playgrounds that reused materials and incorporated volunteer labor. Initially, Linn felt that the Commons’ primary purpose was to produce positive self-identification within community members and design students. Encounters with Settlement Houses, black social workers, and volunteers challenged his original thinking. As a result, he shifted tactics to focus on work-training programs and the establishment of “process institutions.” Through War on Poverty legislation, workshops, and consultancies, Linn helped translate Progressive Era social work into a new model of advocacy and professional practice.


© The Author(s) 2019



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