Planning the Home Front: How the Lessons of World War II Apply to Today

October 22, 2013

The American mobilization for World War II is famed for its industrial production; less well known is that it was also one of the greatest urban planning challenges that the United States has ever faced. Although Americans tend to think of World War II as a time of national unity, mobilization had a fractious side. Interest groups competed for federal attention, frequent — sometimes violent — protests interrupted mobilization plans, and seemingly local urban planning controversies could blow up into investigations by the U.S. Senate.

Drawing on her recently released book, Planning the Home Front: Building Bombers and Communities at Willow Run, Sarah Jo Peterson showed how the federal government used a participatory planning approach to mobilize the home front. For the massive Willow Run Bomber Plant, built in a rural area 25 miles west of Detroit, bringing the plant to success required dealing with housing, transportation, and communities for its tens of thousands of workers. It involved Americans from all walks of life: federal officials, industrialists, labor leaders, social activists, small business owners, civic leaders, and — just as significantly — the industrial workers and their families.

The presentation closed by engaging the audience in a discussion about what the lessons of urban planning for World War II mean for today.

PowerPoint presentation (ppt)

PDF of PowerPoint presentation (pdf)

Sarah Jo Peterson

Sarah Jo Peterson

Planning the Home Front, published by the University of Chicago Press, is a work of independent scholarship. Sarah Jo Peterson has spent over 20 years in urban planning, with experience in government, academia, and the non-profit sector. She received a M.S. in urban and regional planning from the University of Wisconsin — Madison and a Ph.D. in American history from Yale University. She currently resides in Maryland.