Charles M. Robinson


Charles Mulford Robinson was appointed as Professor of Civic Design in 1913 on the initiative of Joseph Cullen Blair, Head of the Department of Horticulture. Robinson was a non-resident professor who, based on correspondence about his appointment, was expected to be on campus for six weeks per year in trips of two or three weeks. He was to be paid $1,200, which included his expenses.

The University of Illinois Register for 1913-1914 describes the curriculum for a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Gardening. The third year electives under the subhead Civic Design are Economics 2-Principles of Economics, Sociology 1-Principles of Sociology, Rhetoric 17-Advanced Composition, Sociology 7- The Rural Community. Fourth year required courses include Horticulture 37a-Civic Design and Horticulture 37b--Civic Design. Fourth year electives under Civic Design are Sociology 7- Population and Political Science 4- Municipal Government.

The course description for Horticulture 37a. Civic Design was listed as:  The problem of town remodeling; remedial problems in town planning. Lectures; field trips; reports. Professor Robinson, Assistant Professor Root. Horticulture 37b Civic Design was described as:  Principles of town extension; preventative and preservative aspects of town planning. Lectures; reference readings; and text book. Professor Robinson, Assistant Professor Root.  The listing of students in the project report (Notes for a Study in City Planning in Champagin-Urbana) implies that there were five students in 1913 and nine in 1914.

These required and elective courses were embedded in the landscape gardening curriculum that was otherwise similar to landscape architecture curricula today. The significance of the appointment of Robinson is evident in the electives: the social sciences, demography, and local government. The civic design curriculum was not just design writ large. Robinson had emerged as a planner via a liberal arts education and journalism, not professional training in one of the ancestor professions of planning. His book, The Improvement of Towns and Cities, published in 1901, was arguably the first attempt at a textbook on planning. Its latest edition was the textbook used in Hort 37b at the University of Illinois in 1913.

The complexity of Robinson’s extensive and important roles in developing early ideas and organizations of the planning profession are interpreted somewhat differently by Scott (1969), Peterson (2003), and Wilson (1989). Robinson’s evolution along with the profession and his teaching at the University of Illinois was cut short by the influenza epidemic in 1917.

Peterson, J. A. (2003). The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840-1917. Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Scott, M. (1969). American City Planning since 1890. Berkeley, University of California Press.
Wilson, W. H. (1989). The City Beautiful Movement. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.

An article by Charles Robinson highlighting the differences of planning at UIUC and other universities in 1916:
Robinson, Charles M. "Collegiate Instruction in City Planning." The City Plan. April 1916: pages 12-18.