In an 1851 article about the proliferation of railroads that could travel an astounding 30 mph, the Cincinnati Daily Gazette crystallized the rationale for suburbanization.

"A citizen in the most moderate circumstances may hope to have his country cottage and 5 or 10 acres of ground "” breathe fresh air, and yet transact his daily business."

Most suburban development over the last 170 years has been random, characterized by the haphazard construction of homes, one subdivision at a time. The lonely street in a cornfield was observable in Madisonville in the 1890s, in Fairfield in the 1950s and in Liberty Township today. But an alternative exists, and from the beginning Cincinnati has been a national leader in the development of planned suburban communities.

In 1851, a year before the development of the more famous Llewellyn Park in New Jersey, a group of investors organized to develop the Village of Glendale along the CH&D (Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton) Railway tracks. The founders of this railroad suburb appreciated "the desirableness of building themselves country homes that should be easy to access, and at the same time, sufficiently removed from the city to be safe from the encroachments of manufacturers and commerce."

Glendale was the antithesis of downtown Cincinnati, which is laid out on a grid to maximize the exploitation of property, excluded open space, and obliterate all references to the natural features of the landscape. Glendale, on the other hand, was designed with curving streets that "meander through the quiet grounds." These curvilinear streets framed lozenge-shaped parks that created picturesque vistas of trees, shrubs and flowers. The town center clustered around the railroad station was a small square of shops.

No other local suburban developers followed Glendale's ambitious example until Mary Emery, the widow of real estate developer Thomas Emery, envisioned Mariemont in the early 1920s. Emery was not only reacting to the rigidity of downtown, but also the "veritable hodgepodge of industry, commerce and home life, utterly devoid of harmony, beauty or collective intelligence" that had spread out from the center in suburban developments since1880. She promised to eliminate "ugliness and stupidity." Put simply, Emery promised that there would be "no slums in Mariemont. No crowding. No dark rooms."

Mary Emery hired renowned planner John Nolen to create the master plan for her 420-acre site. For Emery and Nolen, Mariemont was not an experiment or a "toy town." It was a "practical real estate development" on the general plan of the English Garden cities like Letchworth and Port Sunlight that could be "duplicated wherever initiative, capital and social planning of new towns and suburbs" existed. Mariemont was intended to serve as a "National Exemplar" for suburban town planning.

A decade later, the need to create jobs during the Great Depression drew the federal government into planning and building three suburban "greenbelt" towns "”Greenbelt, Md., near Washington, D.C.,; Greendale, Wis., outside Milwaukee; and Greenhills, in suburban Cincinnati.

Justin Hartzog, the chief planner for Greenhills, incorporated curvilinear streets that followed the natural landscape, separated residential, commercial and transportation functions into distinct zones, and provided ample green space for recreation. He added a spacious village green and the area's first modern shopping center.

Reflecting Depression limitations, the housing is a mix of duplexes, row houses, and multi-family apartments. Although the first buildings were brick Colonial Revival row houses with copper gutters and downspouts, most buildings were constructed out of asbestos shingles and reflect the simple, clean lines of early 20th century "international design."

Planning Pays Off

Less than 1 percent of all American suburban communities have been comprehensively planned like Glendale, Mariemont or Greenhills. But even in places that grew up randomly, resulting in "no there, there," it is possible to take corrective action.

The best example in our region is the City of Fairfield in Butler County. A maddeningly disjointed collection of subdivisions that lacked any common center, in the late 1990s business, citizen and government leaders collaborated to develop the Village Green. Planners drew on design principles 160 years in the making that demonstrate good planning increases livability and as well as a sense of community and identity.