Throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, citizens of the United States maintained a bias against big cities. Most lived on farms and in small towns and believed cities to be centers of corruption, crime, poverty, and moral degradation. Their distrust was caused, in part, by a national ideology that proclaimed farming the greatest occupation and rural living superior to urban living. This attitude prevailed even as the number of urban dwellers increased and cities became an essential feature of the national landscape. Gradually, economic reality overcame ideology. Thousands abandoned the precarious life on the farm for more secure and better paying jobs in the city. But when these people migrated from the countryside, they carried their fears and suspicious with them. These new urbanities, already convinced that cities were overwhelmed with great problems, eagerly embraced the progressive reforms that promised to bring order out of the chaos of the city.
One of many reforms came in the area of public utilities. Water and sewerage systems were usually operated by municipal governments, but the gas and electric networks were privately owned. Reformers feared that the privately owned utility companies would charge exorbitant rates for these essential services and deliver them only to people who could afford them. Some city and state governments responded by regulating the utility companies, but a number of cities began to supply these services themselves. Proponents of these reforms argued that public ownership and regulation would insure widespread access to these utilities and guarantee a fair price.
While some reforms focused on government and public behavior, others looked at the cities as a whole. Civic leaders, convinced that physical environment influenced human behavior, argued that cities should develop master plans to guide their future growth and development. City planning was nothing new, but the rapid industrialization and urban growth of the late nineteenth century took place without any consideration for order. Urban renewal in the twentieth century followed several courses. Some cities introduced plans to completely rebuild the city core. Most other cities contented themselves with zoning plans for regulating future growth. Certain parts of town were restricted to residential use, while others were set aside for industrial or commercial development.