From shopping malls in Illinois to high-rises in suburban Moscow, Cornell Professor Emeritus John W. Reps explored urban landscapes and developments worldwide.

His spirit of discovery and the breadth of his travels made him not only a pioneering scholar in American urban planning history, but also a quintessential urban explorer.

Through Cornell University Library’s collection of his personal images, we see Reps’ journeys through his own eyes.

The collection includes thousands of photographs taken and gathered by Reps used in over half a century of teaching and research at Cornell University.

The images span his travels to more than 15 countries and depict a wide range of topics and trends, including new town planning, housing, transportation, mixed use development, historic preservation and reconstruction, and downtown redevelopment. They also capture a variety of private and public planning responses to urban problems that both arose and intensified throughout the 20th century — a period that saw explosive urban population growth in countries all over the world.

The collection is unique for its geographic and topical breadth. Highlights include:

  • Iconic neighborhoods and shopping malls in the United States that reveal the development of a uniquely American suburban ethos;
  • “New Towns,” or planned communities and cities founded on novel visions for urban life and participation, such as Cumbernauld and Letchworth in the United Kingdom; Nowe Tychy in Poland; Velenje in Slovenia; Greenbelt, Maryland in the United States; Vallingby in Sweden; and Canberra Australian Capital Territory;
  • Glimpses of urban development and innovation behind invisible Cold War battle-lines in the cities of the Soviet Union, such as public parks and stately boulevards in Yerevan, Armenia and seemingly endless blocks of high-rise residential buildings in the suburbs of Moscow;
  • Planning attempts to rebuild, revitalize, or redevelop inner areas and downtowns of cities like Detroit and Stuttgart; and
  • The heroic mid-century efforts by the Dutch to engineer the landscape of their country.

The images reveal the sweeping scope of Reps’ career. Beginning in 1952, he taught at Cornell for 35 years and served as head of the City & Regional Planning program from 1951 to 1964. Reps has published extensively on American towns and cities and 19th-century printed views of American cities, and he has been named a “Planning Pioneer” and “the Father of Modern American Planning History” by the American Planning Association.

The Urban Explorer collection allows us to walk in his footsteps and experience his legacy firsthand.