Website Celebrates the Travels of an Urban Explorer

Photo from John Reps's travel collection.
Reps's photograph of a pedestrian shopping street in Hötorget, Stockholm, Sweden. photo / John Reps
Photo from John Reps's travel collection.
Cul-de-sac in Greendale, Wisconsin, in 1969. photo / John Reps
Reps's photograph of a pedestrian shopping street in Hötorget, Stockholm, Sweden. photo / John Reps Cul-de-sac in Greendale, Wisconsin, in 1969. photo / John Reps
February 12, 2014

Professor Emeritus John W. Reps '47 walked shopping malls in Illinois, surveyed blocks of Cold War-era high-rises in suburban Moscow, trekked through crumbling downtown Detroit, and toured planned communities in Poland and Sweden — and he photographed it all.

For more than half a century, Reps traveled the world, exploring urban landscapes and development.

He was one of the first graduates of Cornell's City and Regional Planning (CRP) program, and he served as head of that program from 1951 to 1964. Beginning in 1952, he taught at the university for 35 years. Reps published extensively on American towns and cities, and he has been named a "Planning Pioneer" and the "Father of Modern American Planning History" by the American Planning Association.

When he retired in 1987, he donated 30,000 of his slides to the Knight Visual Resources Facility (KVRF). AAP dubbed the collection "John Reps's Greatest Hits."

About half of the greatest hits featured places he'd seen on his travels to more than 15 countries, especially cities. When the KVRF closed in 2009, the library and AAP identified the collection as one that needed to be kept, preserved, and made available to researchers.

AAP's Office of the Dean funded the project, and Marsha Taichman, visual resources and public services librarian in the Fine Arts Library, set out to digitize some of the collection. With input from Reps himself and the library's digitization experts and archivists, she and CRP grad student Daniel Dillon Clausner (M.R.P. '13) identified about 1,000 prime slides. They worked with the library's Digital Scholarship and Production Services staff to digitize the images and create a website to showcase them.

"We chose images that captured the sense of the era, especially related to new towns and shifts in urban landscapes," Taichman said. "It was a challenge to choose about 1,000 slides to be scanned because they are all fascinating and each tells a story."

Urban Explorer: The John Reps Travel Photographs is now online, with images available via the Shared Shelf Commons.

The travel slides are preserved and archived in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC). The other slides, which mainly feature teaching and documentation materials, remain in the Fine Arts Library and will eventually be transferred to RMC.

"Reps's photos of the 'brave new world' of urban and suburban living in the 1960s reminds us of the hopes and aspirations many people had for the future," said Michael Tomlan, CRP professor and director of the Historic Preservation Planning program. "Having this resource available will no doubt be appreciated by researchers, students, and anyone interested in 20th-century urban history."

By Gwen Glazer

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