Frederic C. Howe Biographical note
Harper's Monthly Magazine 127 (July 1913):186-197
City planning is the art of building cities as men build homes, as engineers project railroad systems, as landscape artists lay out garden cities, as manufacturing corporations build factory towns like Gary, Indiana, or Pullman, Illinois. City planning treats the city as a unit, as an organic whole. It lays out the land on which a city is built as an individual plans a private estate. It locates public buildings so as to secure the highest architectural effects, and anticipates the future with the farsightedness of an army commander, so as to secure the orderly, harmonious, and symmetrical development of the community
City planning makes provision for people as well as for industry. It coordinates play with work, beauty with utility. It lays out parks, boulevards, and playgrounds, and links up water, rail, and street traffic so as to reduce the wastes of production to a minimum. Scientifically planned harbors and docks, equipped with devices for the easy handling of freight, are part of its programme as is the building of streets and highway so as to secure the maximum of beaus, efficiency, and use.
City planning protects the rights of property, but restrains its license. It protects a residence district from, irresponsible speculators, who frequently ruin a neighborhood by mean and narrow streets, by unsightly buildings, or by the erection of mills and factories where they manifestly do not belong. It promotes trade, commerce, and industry by opening up factory districts, by improvements in the means of transit by terminals, docks, and harbors, and the reduction of the costs of transportation to a minimum. Commercial town planning, has been one of the greatest aids to Germany's industrial development; in which country all science has co-operated to enable the Fatherland to command the markets of the world.
In a big way, city planning is the first conscious recognition of the unity of society. It involves a socializing of art and beauty and the control of the unrestrained license of the individual. It enlarges the power of the State to include the things men own as well as the men themselves, and widens the idea of sovereignty so as to protect the community from him who abuses the rights of property, as it now protects the community from him who abuses his personal freedom.
City planning involves a new vision of the city. It means a city built by experts, by experts in architecture, in landscape gardening, in engineering, and housing, by students of health, sanitation, transportation, water, gas, and electricity supply; by a new type of municipal officials who visualize the complex life of a million people as the builders of an earlier age visualized an individual home. It involves new terms, a wider outlook, and the co-ordination of urban life in all its relationships.
As an organized art, city planning is a new thing. It had its birth in the last generation, when mills, factories, and workshops threatened with extinction the life, health, and beauty of the towns. Like the city itself, it is a product of the industrial revolution. It is a byproduct of machine industry and steam transportation. Individual rulers planned capital cities in ancient Babylon, Greece, and Rome, as did the merchant princes of the medieval Italian and Hanseatic towns. Paris was planned in a commanding way by Louis XIV., who laid its present foundations. The first and third Napoleons projected great boulevards and avenues, beautified the banks of the Seine with embankments and bridges, erected monuments, arches, and open spaces, and made Paris the capital of the modern world. The kings of Bavaria and Saxony laid out Munich and Dresden in the same big-visioned way.
These cities were the individual creations of ambitious rulers, eager to give expression to their power. Modern city planning is a democratic movement, although it found its first organized expression in monarchical Germany, in which country, in a few years time, it has attained the rank of a profession. To-day there is scarcely a large town in Germany that is not being built according to an official plan, worked out by experts trained to the profession and often after competition. They plan the city from center to circumference, and for future generations rather than for to - day. A town - planning school has been opened in Berlin for the scientific promotion of the art; a periodical, Der Staedtebau, has been started, while during the year 1909 an Exposition was held in Berlin with over a thousand exhibits, which was visited by experts from all ever the world. France and England have caught the contagion of the movement. In the former country a compulsory town-planning act was passed by the French Parliament in 1909, which requires all urban areas of ten thousand population to prepare plans for city building, with by-laws controlling the style and width of streets, the amount of land that may be covered by buildings, the location of public structures, with provision for parks, playgrounds, and open spaces. To these plans the community and the individual must conform. When approved by the central authorities they become the plans of the city for the next thirty years.
In 1909 Great Britain passed a town-planning act that gives the local authorities and the central Local Government Board great powers over all city development. Under it the suburban growth of a city is under control. It adds a legal sanction to that which in America can only be done with the cooperation of the owner. All over Europe the municipal movement has been merged into town planning. The housing question has become part of it, as is recreation, transportation, municipal ownership, and engineering. They have become related parts of an organized whole.
City planning in the United States has not yet become the comprehensive art it is in Germany. It does not visualize the city as a unit in all of its relations. We have not produced a profession or created an authoritative public opinion upon it. There are but few city-wide achievements or proposals, such as those of Greater Berlin, Munich, Düsseldorf, and Paris. The metropolitan plans of Chicago are, it is true, an exception, for that city has projected a planning programme which provides for many of the factors in the problem. But for the most part the achievements of the American city have been due to the activity of individuals, civic or commercial organizations, or to municipal authorities, making the most of very limited legal powers. Some of our greatest architects and landscape artists, among them the late Daniel H. Burnham of Chicago, and John M. Carrere, of New York, Arnold W. Brunner, of New York, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., of Brookline, Massachusetts, have given their best thought to the plans of Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore, Denver, Rochester, Albany, and a number of other cities. To these men, working in harmonious co-operation, like the architects of a world's fair, have been intrusted most of the big city projects for the grouping of public buildings, the designing of city centers, and the provision for the official and public life of a score of cities. A national c conference on city planning has been organized, which has held five annual sessions and awakened wide-spread interest in this subject. During the month of May, 1911, the first exposition on city planning was held in Philadelphia, with exhibits from nearly one hundred cities. During the past ten years probably a hundred cities have undertaken more or less comprehensive projects for the replanning of their centers or the laying out of their suburbs with proper provision for parks, open spaces, and building regulations. None of our cities have approached the subject as a city-wide programme, and none of them have the legal powers which German, French, and British cities have. For the most part the art has been confined to the grouping of public buildings, the creation of city centers, the laying out of new thoroughfares, or the projection of park and boulevard systems.
City planning, in a comprehensive sense, is only possible where the city has authority to control private property in the interest of the community. That our cities lack. They have no home rule, little control over land or buildings, and less over the problems of transit, docks, harbors, housing, and the like. They are generally helpless before the land-owner and the builder. They cannot control the allotment of new territory, the width and style of new streets, the uses to which territory may be put. They are limited in their borrowing powers and in the activities they may undertake. Every new power must be secured from a jealous state legislature, for the most part ignorant of city needs, and only too credulous of the suggestions of interested parties that the powers requested will be misused.
Interest in city planning in this country may be traced to the World's Fair in Chicago. This fugitive city of plaster and staff awakened the enthusiasm of architects and landscape artists, and suggested to thousands the idea of the city beautiful. It was a vision that did not fade; it was a permanent denial of the assumption that the city must of necessity be an uncontrolled behemoth of ugliness and disorder forever dedicated to mills, factories, and workshops. If millions could be spent on a play city and experts be employed to make it beautiful, why could not the same intelligence and harmony be adjusted to every-day use? This was the query which the World's Fair raised in thousands of minds.
In the recreation city at Chicago it was the ground-plans laid across an unbroken site by the landscape artist that made the Exposition what it was. The army of the artist and the architect would have availed but little had it not been for the orderly environment of land and water, with each building suited to its setting and its use. So city planning is primarily a land problem. It is predicated on the public control of the city's site and the intelligent arrangement of streets and open spaces. Without such control city planning is impossible. The appearance of the city, the circulation of traffic. the homes of the people, the sort of life they shall lead, all city life, in fact, depends on the preliminary work of the street-planner
Washington is one of the most beautiful cities of the world because its foundations were laid in advance of its building. It was not the work of a chance engineer, but of an expert, who first studied the cities of the Old World before laying out the capital of America. The same is true of Paris, of Berlin. of Munich, Vienna, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Geneva--the charm of a city depends on its street plans.
When the District of Columbia was chosen as the site of the nation's capital, President Washington sent for an old army friend, Peter Charles L'Enfant, a French engineer, and intrusted him with its planning. Both men had imaginations in advance of their age. They saw Washington as the capital of a great nation. They planned for a city of 800,000 people. They located the Capitol and the White House at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, with an unobstructed vista from one to the other. Radiating from Capitol Hill, and at an acute angle with Pennsylvania Avenue, a spacious mall was planned two thousand feet in width, about which the public buildings of the future were to be grouped. Here the Smithsonian Institute[sic], the National Museum, the Agriculture Building, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing were located. About the White House grounds the new State Department, Commerce and Labor, and municipal buildings are being grouped in harmony with one another and their surroundings. The Potomac River front has been reserved for public uses, and dedicated to parks, harbors, and open spaces. About the Washington Monument, and under plans recently approved by Congress, spacious playgrounds, parks, harbors, and bathing-pavilions are being planned.
The beauty of Washington is not traceable to its natural advantages but to its intelligent ground-plan. Its street system is the best formal street plan in the world. L'Enfant studied the street arrangement of the cities of Europe, and then, taking the rectangular system of Philadelphia, he added broad, radial avenues, which cut across the checkerboard system at acute angles, and open into squares, circles, and star-pointed places adorned with statuary and fountains. In consequence of this distribution of centers of activity, the street system, and the numerous open spaces, there is the most perfect circulation and no possible congestion of traffic.
The plan of L'Enfant remained the official plan of the city for nearly a hundred years. New streets have for the most part followed the original plan. The speculator has not been permitted to destroy the symmetry of the whole with mean streets, with cheap paving, and inadequate sewers. In so far as the foundations and street arrangement are concerned, the interests of the community have remained paramount.
Washington is one of the most completely planned cities of the world. It is treated as a whole. The new Union Station has been located so as to open into a spacious plaza, with an unobstructed approach to the Capitol with its group of buildings. It is the city's portal, like the gateway of the walled medieval town. The suburbs are being laid off in a scale in keeping with the original plan, while Congressional approval of the report of a special commission composed of Daniel H. Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Charles F. McKim, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to the plans for the future, insures that the capital city will continue to develop in substantial harmony with the farsighted dreams of Washington, Jefferson, and L'Enfant.
Next to Washington, the city of Boston has done more than any other city in America in detached planning. There has been no attempt to plan the city as a whole, but from time to time special commissions have been created to carry through some isolated undertaking on a big scale. The Metropolitan Park system of ten thousand acres, which runs into the very heart of the city and connects the many cities which comprise greater Boston, is recognized as probably the finest park system in the world. The water-supply of Boston and surrounding towns was planned in the same big-fashioned way by a metropolitan commission, as was the sewer system of the district.
Plans are under way for the commercial development of the metropolitan harbor and for additional connecting avenues and boulevards to link up metropolitan Boston with the surrounding territory. The Charles River basin is almost the only example America offers of inner water-front conservation, fairly comparable in its possibilities to the celebrated Alster Basin which is the pride of Hamburg, The Charles River, which separates Boston from Cambridge and was subject to the flows of the tide, was an unsightly, unsanitary stream. The completion of the metropolitan intercepting sewer system stopped its pollution from this source, but still left it of little value for commercial or recreative purposes. A special commission, acting under authority from the state, was created, which constructed a dam and a ship lock across the mouth of the river, which keeps out the salt water and maintains the fresh water at a nearly constant level, about two feet below the mean high water of the sea. Much of the riparian land on both sides of the basin was acquired by the cities of Boston and Cambridge, and has been developed into broad esplanades and parkways; and the river itself has been converted into an interior waterway suitable for the trifling amount of commercial navigation to be provided for, and which offers extraordinary opportunity for pleasure craft and bathing in the summer, and for skating and ice-yachting in the winter. A plan has been proposed for an artificial island in connection with one of the existing bridges which span the basin, which could be used as the site for public buildings and playgrounds.
Two score other cities have projected ambitious plans for city centers and the grouping of public buildings. They include Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee, New Haven, Hartford, Denver, St. Louis, Springfield (Massachusetts), Buffalo, Rochester, Seattle, Chattanooga, and a large number of smaller towns. These cities have employed experts. and given them supervision over the undertakings. Cleveland, Ohio, a city of half a million people and essentially. democratic in its instincts, has undertaken to group a half-dozen public buildings about a splendid mall in the heart of the business section. Land has been acquired for two thousand feet along the lake front and extending back for an equal depth into the heart of the city. Out in the lake an artificial park of fifty-five acres is being made by dumping the city's refuse. A similar artificially made outer-lake parkway has been also planned. A monumental Union Station is to be erected at one end of the mall, a fitting portal to the city. Upon the bluffs overlooking the lake, and on one flank of the proposed Union Station, a county courthouse, of classic design, has been constructed at a cost of three and a half million dollars, while at the other wing of the station a city hall is being built in harmony with the county building. At the other end of the mall, opposite the site of the Union Station, a new federal building has been constructed which is to be balanced by a public library of the same style of classic architecture. A mall six hundred feet in width, flanked on either side by public and semi-public structures, creates a court of honor of the city. A sunken garden has been designed for the center, adorned on either side by formal trees and statuary. The total undertaking involves an expenditure of from twenty to twenty-five million dollars. The city has responded with enthusiasm to this great enterprise, almost the first of its kind planned in this country.
The city of Seattle, Washington, has projected a city-wide plan to meet the needs of the city's growth. A planning commission was created in 1910 which, working in harmony with a group of citizens, submitted a comprehensive plan in the fall of 1911, which provided for the harbor and water-front development in their bearing on the harbor, a civic center, park improvements, and arterial highways. It was found that the lines of the arterial streets came to a focus near the natural center of the city, which was selected as the site for the civic center, a site, too, upon a slight eminence with considerable scenic advantages. The plan proposed is elliptical in shape, penetrated by broad avenues, converging on a central point, to be marked by a shaft or monument. In the arcs between these converging avenues public buildings will be located. From it a broad parkway will lead to the Union Station at one end of the ellipse, while another will be a broad mall leading to the sea. The plan is of such ample proportions that it provides for the accommodation of pageants, parades, and the reception of visitors to the city.
The city of Denver has completed plans for a civic center about the Capitol and land has been acquired for the purpose. Plans have just been presented to the city of Rochester which include the construction of a municipal building at one end of a city plaza surmounted by a beautiful Campanile tower. The old canal-bed is to be converted into a boulevard, while the Seneca River, which runs through the city, is to be parked and adorned with beautiful bridges. Buffalo is planning a terminal railway station facing on a plaza and opening out onto Lake Erie. It is to be surrounded by public and semi-public buildings.
City planning in America has made tremendous advances along architectural lines, and cities have responded generously to the idea of the city beautiful in so far as city centers, the grouping of public buildings, and the opening up of parks is concerned. Unfortunately the movement has not responded to the necessity of planning for housing, for the laying out of suburbs, the control of transportation, or the building of docks, harbors, and waterways. Our business men have not awakened to the great gain in industrial efficiency from the co-ordination of transportation agencies, or the opening up of factory sites with easy access to transit, cheap power, and healthy living conditions. We have not yet developed commercial city planning, and have not widened the movement to include the distribution of population out into the open countryside.
Within the past year, however, there has come a partial realization of these necessities. The cities of Newark and Jersey City have predicated their plans having in view an intensive city and suburban survey. Street and transportation conditions have been studied, as has the need for housing, for markets, for parks and playgrounds. The commissions appointed have felt that a knowledge of these matters was necessary to enable them to proceed with wisdom on any planning projects that might be proposed. A commission has been appointed by the city of New York to devise plans for the regulation of the height of buildings, which opens up the problems of zoning and distribution of industry and population. A county-wide planning project was provided by legislation for the territory outside of Philadelphia at the last session of the legislature, while the City Club of Chicago has recently held a competitive contest for plans for the most serviceable use of a quarter section of land in the outskirts of the city. The projected charter of the city of Cleveland contains provision for a city-plan commission, while legislation has been enacted or has been introduced in a dozen states for the creation of local or state-wide planning bodies with power to control the physical development of the city. There is every reason to believe that the movement will widen into the same comprehensiveness that it enjoys in Germany, France, and England within the next few years.
One of the most comprehensive reports on planning for a city of moderate size is that submitted by Mr. John Nolan; of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the city of Madison and the State Legislature of Wisconsin. This is a programme for a model city, a lesser interior capital. It is a vision of a city like Munich, Dresden, or Düsseldorf, a city in which the state shall co-operate with the municipality to develop a center of the life of the commonwealth; a center to which the Middle West will come for education, music, and art, a city in which the university will be a democratic adjunct to the state, offering not only the conventional advantages of a capital city, but opportunities for residence, for study, for the fullest possible life. It is proposed that the State university shall acquire hundreds of acres of land for experimental purposes, for arboretums, for institutions of art, drama, and culture; that the city or the state should acquire the shore lands surrounding the lakes upon which Madison is located, and that these be developed into a system of communicating parkways. A broad approach to the new State Capitol is proposed, opening into a formal water- front, while a central avenue is designed to connect the university and state buildings, much as has been done in the cities of Europe.
Probably the most complete, certainly the most courageous, plans of city rebuilding yet undertaken by any city are those prepared for the city of Chicago by Daniel H. Burnham under the inspiration of the Commercial Club. The plans involve an estimated expenditure of $250,000,000 their preparation alone cost $75,000, which was contributed by persons interested in the project. The plans cover a radius of sixty miles, and include the rebuilding of the center of the city, the opening up of new radial avenues to relieve the traffic, the co-ordination of transportation and industry, and almost every phase of city life. The completed report illustrated by Jules Guérin, is printed in a large octavo volume, and forms one of the most comprehensive studies of city-replanning which has yet appeared in any country.
The report is a recognition of the fact that Chicago is destined to be a great metropolis, how great nobody can safely conjecture; it recognizes that the city, as it now exists, is but an industrial accident, designed like any other town, and wholly unprepared for the communal obligations which its behemoth proportions impose upon it. The plan proposes to throw the mistakes of the past on the scrap-heap, and rebuild the business center of the city so as to conform with the city's present and future needs. Provision is made for razing a portion of the business district and converting it into a plaza surrounded by monumental structures and surmounted by a colossal municipal building, whose dome rises high above all else. Out from this city center radial avenues, like the spokes of a wheel, are to extend to the outskirts of the city. Opening into this plaza from the lake is a harbor basin, while the banks of the river are to be beautified with embankments like those of the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, or the Elbe in Dresden.
Out in the harbor, and extending the entire length of the city, artificial parkways are designed, to be built at comparatively little cost by depositing the city's refuse within artificial bulkheads. The parkways are to be separated from the shore line by lagoons, for pleasure-craft and recreation. Two sets of circular boulevards, like those of Paris or Brussels, are to traverse the city, opening at intervals into small parks, playgrounds, and gardens. Dotted about the more congested sections are play-centers, with city club-houses, equipped with gymnasiums, swimming- pools, recreation-rooms, libraries, and restaurants. These are the people's parks, oases in the midst of the tenements and the slums. Farsighted provision is made for industry by the location of factory sites in close connection with water and rail transportation, while surface and subway traffic is studied in its relation to the distribution of population.
Borrowing from the German cities, which have inherited or acquired great forests surrounding the cities, Chicago plans to secure thousands of acres of forest parks far out in the country, as well as to plan the suburban development, so that the errors of the past will not be repeated in the future.
The Chicago plan may fairly be compared with the ambitious work projected by Napoleon III. under the direction of Baron Haussmann, or the projects approved by the French Parliament in 1909 for the expenditure of $180,000,000 for the still further beautification and development of the French capital. The undertaking seems a colossal one, but the experience of Paris and the German cities, that have carried through extensive planning schemes, proves that the return in mere money terms quickly repays the outlay.
Both Philadelphia and Baltimore are opening up commanding arteries to the heart of the business district for the relief of traffic and the beautification of the city. Philadelphia has acquired property, for nearly a mile in length, from the City Hall to Fairmount Park, which is being cleared of buildings, and is to be developed into a parkway, like the Champs Élysées in Paris or the Ringstrasse in Vienna. It will be faced with public and semi-public buildings, with hotels, theaters, restaurants, and other structures, whose character will be controlled through the ownership of the land by the city. At the entrance of Fairmount Park a monumental museum is to be erected on the site of an abandoned reservoir, while at the other end a vista will be secured of the City Hall.
Baltimore has had plans prepared for utilizing the bed of an unsightly stream, Jones Falls, that cuts through the city. The plan contemplates the acquisition of land on both sides of the stream, which is to be covered over and the bed of the creek used as a storm-water sewer, while the surface is to be boulevarded as the main artery of the city out into the suburbs. Both Philadelphia and Baltimore have been permitted by the state to take more land than is needed for the immediate improvement, the excess to be resold after the work is completed on terms that will partly or wholly pay for the entire undertaking. Kansas City, limited by law in its borrowing capacity, adopted a similar method of acquiring a park system, one of the finest in the West. The entire cost of the system was assessed against the property in the neighborhood, which was thereby greatly enhanced in value.
Many of the most costly projects of European cities have been made to pay their way by this procedure. The famous Ringstrasse in Vienna, probably the most beautiful street in the world, was planned on the site of old fortifications, which nearly encircled the city. The land was laid out in a parkway, portions were reserved for public structures, and the balance was sold for business purposes. Out of the fund realized from the increased land values the city paid a large part of the cost of the parkway as well as for the public structures. London razed one of the worst sections of the old city and opened up the Kingsway to connect the Strand with High Holborn. More land was taken from the owners than was needed for the highway. The undertaking cost $60,000,000, but will be ultimately paid for by the sale and lease of the adjoining land at the greatly increased values which the improvement created. Germany has adopted this method of financing new industrial areas and the building of docks and harbors.
Town planning has developed so rapidly in Germany because her cities are able to control the property within their limits. Owners must conform to municipal ordinances which regulate the way property may be used. These ordinances are not arbitrary. Rather they are designed to protect the community from the irresponsible individual who has no other interest than immediate gain. The land-speculator is not permitted to plat his property for building purposes. That is done by experts employed by the city. It is looked upon as a necessary municipal function. To these plans the owner must conform. Street plans are usually prepared far in advance of the city's needs. They insure orderly, harmonious growth and protect the community from a repetition of the mistakes of the past. Owners have an appeal to the courts if they feel themselves injured, but experience has demonstrated that property is enhanced in value by the generous provision for streets and open spaces and the control exercised over the uses of land.
German cities are divided into building zones or districts, in which the character and sty]e of building are prescribed by ordinance. This gives permanency to a district and some assurance to purchasers. The amount of land that may be covered by structures is limited. In the business sections it may be seventy-five per cent, and in the residence sections as low as thirty-five per cent. In some sections houses must be detached, in other sections tenements and apartment-houses may be built. The maximum height of buildings is limited, generally to the width of the street. This insures a uniform skyline, precludes the appearance of the tenement and the slum, and fixes the character and use of a district.
German cities also designate industrial sections where factories may be built. They are usually selected away from the prevailing winds so as to reduce the smoke nuisance to a minimum, and are adjacent to the railways and water transportation. Territory near the factory sites is dedicated to workingmen's homes, which are not infrequently built by the city or by co-operative societies. In connection with the industrial areas are docks and harbors with the most improved hydraulic and electric devices for the handling and transhipment of freight, with sidings to facilitate water and rail shipment, all under municipal or state ownership. Much of Germany's industrial efficiency is due to her water and rail transportation, to the perfection of which the best scientific thought of that country has been given.
City planning-differs from other municipal movements which have preceded it in being physical, mechanical, material It is a recognition of the fact that the city is here to stay, that it is a permanent thing, that in some form or other it will always be the center of civilization. If permitted to grow in its own way without official oversight or control, it will be an unending source of discomfort and expense to the community. Suburbs can be projected so as to provide streets of proper width, style, and beauty. The tenement can be prohibited by limitations on the height of buildings and the area to be covered by structures. Provision can be made for playgrounds and parks, for the location of schools and municipal structures about a common center; for the segregation of the mill and the factory outside of the residential area, as well as for adequate and proper housing accommodations built according to approved plans. In all of these things the rights of the future should be considered. The community has a right to be protected from such burdens as have been imposed on New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago by street plans carelessly adopted generations ago whose correction now involves tens of millions, possibly hundreds of millions, in expense. Posterity, too, has a right to receive its water-fronts unencumbered by warehouses; it has a right to parks and play-spaces, a right to sunlight and air. And these primary necessities of urban life can only be insured by foresight; can only be provided by intelligent planning. Only when we realize that the city is a physical and material entity as well as a political agency of the state will we really build cities like those that have been built in Germany; like those that are now being planned in France and England; like those that have remained historic centers of civilization from earlier times.