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St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square
St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Benjamin Franklin Parkway

How can urban planning communicate ideology?

Urban planning shares many elements in common with the traditional fine arts of painting and sculpture—it can play with light and texture, mold positive and negative space, and communicate with an audience in ways that are both visceral and intellectual. Of course, it is also quite different from those arts in terms of both scale and complexity. The shape, form, and aesthetic of the urban environment can, moreover, only be realized through the collaboration of multiple parties. Both St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia are examples of concerted, grand-scale efforts to shape the city landscape in meaningful ways.

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Questions to Consider

  • St. Peter’s in Rome leads out to a grand boulevard that cuts through Rome much like the Benjamin Franklin Parkway does in Philadelphia. What buildings mark the end points of the Philadelphia Parkway? Compare these to St. Peter’s. What can you infer about the values being conveyed through urban planning in each case?
  • Both of these urban projects were ideologically driven. Whose ideals were they expressing? Do you think the strategies employed would have been effective in bringing about the intended goal(s) of each project?
  • How would you explain the relationship between city planning projects such as these and what we think of as traditional visual arts such as painting, sculpture, and architecture? Do they serve similar functions? Where does artistry or aesthetics enter into each?

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