City Planning Director

City Planning Director

Robert Mitchell hired Bacon to the staff of the Planning Commission while he was working on the exhibition. After its close Bacon stayed on staff as a Planner III, working on physical design projects. Mitchell left the Commission in 1948 to teach at Columbia University. Raymond Leonard became director briefly before dying of Leukemia. Bacon was next in line, and though at first hesitant, he eventually agreed to become Executive Director.

Bacon assumed his new position in 1949, and moved his family into the city to the home where he lived the rest of his life on the 2100 block of Locust Street. By this point the family included five children (their sixth and final child would come ten years later). The family also retained their home in Chester County, where on the weekends they had a wonderful private relationship with two other families -- the Stonorovs and the Crowells. Oskar Stonorov became one of the major voices in the field of architecture and urbanism, and his home became a center of art and design, with regular guests like Bacon, Louis Kahn, and Le Corbusier.

At the Planning Commission, Bacon began developing and promoting a number of major plans for the city. He was much more than an administrator; with the assistance of a talented staff of architects and planners, Bacon conceived design concepts, and worked to communicate them to the public. His forceful personality, emphasis on vision, and the energy he brought to the staff, led political and business leaders as well as the general public to support new plans for important sections of Philadelphia. Bacon’s major contribution was not necessarily the creation of individual plans, rather his ability to synthesize these ideas and inspire people with this vision.

Bacon’s work was advanced by the election of Joseph S. Clark, Jr. in 1951, as Philadelphia’s first Democratic mayor in over half a century. Clark spearheaded the drafting and adoption of the City’s Home Rule Charter, creating requirements for civil service, restructuring the government, and creating tools for greater transparency and accountability. Clark was succeeded as mayor by Richardson Dilworth who gave even greater priority to the importance of planning.

Bacon served under four mayors -- Samuel, Clark, Dilworth and James H.J. Tate. He also served under four Commission Chairmen: Hopkinson, real-estate mogul Albert M. Greenfield, G. Holmes Perkins (Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Fine Arts), and William B. Walker.

In 1964, Bacon was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and that issue called Bacon’s work, “the most thoughtfully planned, thoroughly rounded, skillfully coordinated of all the big-city programs in the U.S.” In 1965, Life magazine devoted a major section of its issue on urban America to Bacon’s work. During this period, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission was considered one of the finest in the nation, attracting the best and the brightest in the field.

In 1965 Bacon was appointed by President Johnson to serve as a member of the White House Conference on Natural Beauty, where he was one of four panelists who reported directly to the President. In 1967, Bacon wrote Design of Cities, still considered an important urban design text.