Grosvenor Atterbury

Scribner's Magazine 52 (July 1912):20-35.

Atterbury (1869-1956) wrote this article based on his experience as the architect of Forest Hills Gardens, the planned neighborhood developed under the sponsorship of the Russell Sage Foundation and whose town planner was Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.  At Forest Hills Gardens Atterbury used precast concrete panels for the construction of a number of the houses, a system of building he had been working on since 1904. In addition to many private houses for wealthy clients, Atterbury designed the First Phipps Model Tenement in 1909, The Indian Hill Community at Worcester, Massachusetts in 1916, a community at Erwin, Tennessee, begun in 1921, and the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a project completed in 1936. .
At first glance it would appear that any article on model towns in America must closely resemble the renowned chapter on snakes in Iceland; for, with but one or two exceptions, there are none.

Loosely used, the words may be applied to a rapidly increasing number of more or less attractive and successful housing developments, largely of a commercial nature, that stand out in marked relief--conspicuous not so much from their intrinsic merit as by contrast--among the ordinary towns and suburbs of Topsy-like growth and hopeless aspect. But it is not of these that I have been asked to write; though there are many that in one phase or other are well worth study and comment.

And to the difficulty arising from the absence of examples is to be added the fact that while in a general way our conception of the subject may be based on the recent examples of model towns and garden cities in England and Germany, it must at best be largely tentative; for as a matter of fact we are engaged to-day in the first serious attempt in America to formulate the subject of city and town planning under our native conditions and to meet our own distinctive problems.

As in most subjects, the study of town planning and model towns begins and ends in a definition. At the beginning stands a theoretic statement, and at the end a visualized or concrete example that makes the original conception understandable. If in these few pages the writer can roughly bridge this gap he will have accomplished as much as he dare hope; for the subject is one of surprising scope and an importance as yet but little understood in this country, and this matter of definition correspondingly difficult. While I can give you at once a neat label with which to docket the package, it will tell you about as little of what is inside as the title of a patent medicine. If you really care to know what the label means we shall have to open the wrapper and roughly analyze its contents.

At the outset it will be well to eliminate some prevalent misconceptions, and state clearly certain things which a model town is not. Let us at once, for example, disentangle the "Model Town" from the "City Beautiful "--that fateful euphemism which, like Helen of Troy, has brought such tribulation upon those who would possess themselves of beauty without due process of law--who would deck out our modest villages in Paris finery and ruin their complexions with architectural cosmetics.

Evidently something must be said, moreover, to lay the ghosts of "Spotless Town" and "Pullman," not of course in answer to the facetious paragrapher who calls attention to the fact that a real model town must have shade on both sides of the street, and no telephone, gas, or electric companies; but rather to meet such honestly felt criticisms as point to inevitable failures, such as Brook Farm, Zion City, and Helicon Hall.

While any town, whatever its birth and family history, may aspire to set such a high standard of living that it may be called in a general sense "model," the word is now taking a new and special meaning, following the beginning of organized attempts to apply scientific, aesthetic, and economic principles and methods to the problem of housing civilized humanity.

Now, the conditions that have at last brought this about are largely economic. As in the case of the increase in the cost of living--or the high cost of high living, as it has been aptly put--the high cost of model housing is due not only to higher standards, but to the cumulative profits of production and distribution common to any retail business. The individual can escape the penalties of the situation only by going without or by combining for collective action, by means of which the profits of the speculator--the middleman in this instance--can be largely eliminated. Such combined action must be, I think, the most distinctive feature of a model town; and therefore its theoretic definition should be based on the essential element of collectivism. Practically stated, this means collective purchase, design, development, and control.

In a broad sense, as has been said, any town becomes model by raising its standard sufficiently high. But it is a wellnigh hopeless fight when the forces of shortsighted selfishness and inertia barricade themselves in a place whose physical growth has been utterly neglected from the start, or later deformed through our customary short-sighted planning--customary largely because the American habit of striking debit and credit balances for the month or year instead of the decade or generation (as is more often done in the older and in many ways wiser countries of Europe) is all against the kind of foresight which constitutes the first essential of good town and city planning. For--to return to our package--the main wrapper that metaphorically holds its various contents together is foresight. This is of course the vital essence that produces the concrete thing we call a plan. In the case of a building it is designed to determine a state of permanent and happy equilibrium between the force of gravity and that appalling collection of stone, brick, steel, wood, and plaster--not to mention the ubiquitous and irresponsible plumbing pipes--that go to make the simplest modern house. Once having coaxed, jammed, and twisted these obstreperous elements into a happy family group. they are presumed to stay put, and the architect and his plan are happily forgotten--or ought to be for their proper function is ended.

But in town-planning the case is more difficult. General impressions to the contrary, a town is not a static proposition, but of the nature of a growing organism. Therefore its plan requires other qualities than foresight--above all, a certain flexibility of control.

And it must also be remembered that we are not certain as yet what is really wanted or what we can actually do.

Little wonder then that one definition for "Model Towns" suggested to the writer was "Failures. "

What, then, is the function of a model town? What, for example, does the Russell Sage Foundation hope to accomplish by its demonstration at Forest Hills Gardens? What is this new architectural species calling themselves city and town planners? Our good citizens have been harangued ad nauseam on the "city beautiful"--and too much of their good money already spent on monumental boulevards, public fountains, and impossible statues. Why, then, must we now suffer an invasion of "town-planners" preaching "garden cities" and "model towns"?

The answer, unfortunately, in the present state of the public knowledge of the subject involves an apparent digression from our subject. Whether it was six or ten thousand years ago that the first cave-dweller drove the workmen out of his unfinished house and took possession of the kitchen and sleeping-quarters is perhaps immaterial. But in either case the important fact is to be noted that until very recently through all the intervening centuries astonishingly little progress has been made in the business of housing the human species. As a science it has scarcely existed; and as an art has been confined almost entirely to the individual unit--the single dwelling-house. It is fair to say, of course, that the conditions which have created the housing problem in its present acute form are more or less modern. They are still in process of formation and growth--with the centralizing process which is making such startling and, from many points of view, regrettable progress.

The causes of this widespread movement from the farm to the city do not come under the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that our rapid urbanization is probably symptomatic of normal though extremely rapid growth. The upward progress of society has been contemporaneous with the increase of urban population. The concomitant evils of congestion are merely the national growing-pains which we, as a somewhat overgrown country, are feeling with particular acuteness. But the very pertinent fact remains, that according to the last census nearly forty per cent of our entire population is already concentrated in large towns or cities, as compared with three per cent at the close of the Civil War and that this urbanization is still rapidly increasing. It is extremely doubtful if it can be stopped, no matter how loudly we raise the cry of "back to the farm." It is certain that it has already created conditions and consequences that must be reckoned with.

Under the best of circumstances such rapid city growth would involve danger. Even where the city or town has been carefully and scientifically planned so as to provide for rapid increase, it is difficult to avoid unhealthy congestion, not to mention the economic waste of various kinds consequent upon improper distribution of a city's inhabitants with respect to their different activities. What is to be expected, then, where all the conflicting forces of vigorous growth are allowed to run riot? The marvel is that our towns are not even worse than they are. Of course, between villagehood and citydom one expects an awkward age. But that need by no means signify the chaotic disorder, the squalor, and pretentious show of our bombastic "Centres," "Junctions," and "Cities."

Now, I have not made myself clear if the reader thinks I am here lamenting the absence of kiosks, monuments, and triumphal arches. What we decry in the American town is the ugliness of discord, waste, and unhealthfulness. What we ask is only that which is suitable to its place and purpose. "The foundation of beauty, "says a gentleman named Philebus, "is a reasonable order addressed to the imagination through the senses," from which I gather that he must have given some thought to city planning and the subject of model towns. Even the country circus to-day has its itinerary and printed programme. But the proud city of New York scorns a city plan. While the poorest negro plants his kitchen garden with some semblance of order in the separation of his corn and cabbage, our great centres of population, for the most part, grow wild, one thing choking and starving out the other--the factory, the home, the office building, and tenement--in a jostling disorderly crowd, fighting for air and light.

Yet with proper provision and control the centralization of population has great advantages. As in the concentration of large industries with the accompanying aggregation of capital, it means the possibility of increased economy and efficiency in government. Especially is this true now that the scope of municipal rule is being so greatly extended. In the minds of many it has already ceased to denote merely a means of control. In numerous instances it has already advanced to the middle ground of protective functions-- attempting to guard against disease, vice, and destitution: while in certain others it is being made to assume the frankly paternalistic functions of prevention and provision as seen in the social if not socialistic conception of government to be found to-day in a number of German towns and cities. There you find the municipal government not only guaranteeing property rights, but attempting to protect the individual citizen against the land speculator and assuming to guarantee the poor man an economic opportunity; not only providing facilities for education and recreation and overseeing conditions of labor, but furnishing both amusement and employment; not only controlling the housing conditions of the masses, but providing municipal dwellings.

It would be strange indeed if here in America we did not hanker after some of these tempting and apparently most desirable things! It would not be characteristic of our national temperament to be satisfied until we had "gone the limit" and, having out-Heroded Herod, sat down to reckon up the cost. That the impulse of our people, when they have realized the possibilities of the situation, will be along this line I have no doubt. To prevent such misguided experiments by showing that the best and wisest of these results may be attained without paying the price of paternalism or socialism is, to my mind, one of the most important functions of the so-called model town and suburb. Instances of attempts to create model industrial settlements in this country can be cited as early as 1836; and the list of subsequent undertakings, though comparatively short, includes what might be termed approximations to each of the various distinct types under which present-day model towns and garden cities may be classified. By far the greater number of such undertakings in America have been "proprietary "--organized by industrial concerns primarily for the accommodation of their employees. Such, for example, are Pullman, Ill., Vandergrift, Pa., Gary, Ind., Ludlow, Mass., Corey, Ala., and Leclaire, near St. Louis; the last named though a village of only six hundred and fifty inhabitants, being in its economic and social aspects perhaps the most advanced and interesting of all. A certain number of essentially commercial developments, usually of high-grade property, as exemplified at Garden City, L. I., and Roland Park, in the suburbs of Baltimore, have been laid out and developed along aesthetic and social lines that justify their being called in a general sense "model." The governmental type, as might be expected, is only represented on a negligible scale. Co-operative and socialistic developments, though more numerous, have been of little greater significance. Hopedale, to be sure, apparently one of the best examples of the model town now existing in this country, was founded in 1841 as a co-operative community. But in the course of a dozen years it shed its socialistic garb and now, like its charming neighbor Whitinsville, is a thriving commercial town on a substantially proprietary basis. From among all these, however, as well as a score of other undertakings of a similar kind, the writer has been unable to select any one which answers completely to the definition of a model town as understood abroad to-day.

The failures, it must be confessed, have come nearer doing so than the successes. But, on the other hand, it is safe to say that the failures have been caused, not by the objects sought but by the mistakes in the means and methods employed for their attainment. In most cases the attempt has been to eliminate the evil byproducts of unrestrained competitive development by means of paternalism. And anything of that character, whether it be philanthropic or proprietary, people in this country resent and reject.

But this does not mean that they will not accept eagerly any betterment in living conditions which they can obtain on a fair commercial basis, through higher standards and more efficient handling of land development and distribution, the application of collective or co-operative principles, and the science and art of town planning and good housing.

And this, I take it, is what the model town of to-day must aim to make possible. Just how this is to be accomplished practically is manifestly a question to be answered only by actual demonstration. But it is safe to say that the problem is to be solved along three lines--the aesthetic, the social, and the economic--and that the practical meaning of our subject will be most readily defined and understood if it be viewed in turn from these three different points of view.

"De gustibus non est disputandum,'' and the writer has no intention of discussing fashions in taste or architectural style. But there are certain phenomena that, even considered from an aesthetic point of view, provoke no discussion--just as there are certain odors that are almost universally abhorrent to the civilized nostril. The strange thing about it is that while the public sense of smell is pretty generally protected against soap factories, tanneries, and a score of other malodorous affairs, rightly regarded as being unconstitutional hindrances to the pursuit of happiness, the sense of sight is not considered as yet except as an instrument for such practical purposes as the pursuit of the mighty dollar. So visual stenches are given the freedom of our cities.

Now, collective or co-operative planning and control can operate chiefly in two ways to better this curiously illogical situation. Negatively, on the principle of the smoke ordinance, it may preserve a reasonably harmless aesthetic atmosphere by putting some limit upon the architectural anarchy and lawless bad taste that runs riot in even the best governed of our cities to-day; while at the same time giving the most misguided architectural efforts a better chance to show such poor merit as they may possess.

To show a mob the effectiveness of discipline may seem dangerously like giving them arms. But the truth is that with any kind of control anarchy ceases. And so bad taste, however brutal it may be, at once becomes capable of better things if it be ordered. The leavening element of design and purpose appears. The noise becomes music, however crude.

With the elimination of lawless eccentricity and disregard of architectural decency the good elements in the situation begin to count. However bad individually, a series of houses that exhibit some mutual acknowledgment of each other's right of existence has at once some aesthetic value. That such primitive good manners must be the result to-day of rigid restrictions instead of instinct is not surprising when one realizes that the majority of people in this country have never--architecturally speaking--moved in polite society, or even realized that there is such a thing.

To demonstrate the advantage to the individual of a reasonable self-restraint in the subordination of his own architectural impulses to a general aesthetic scheme is one of the functions of the model development. Its successful accomplishment will depend, I feel sure, solely on the education of the sense of beauty, already nascent in this country. For the correctness of the principle and the value of the actual results of its application in collective planning is without question. Yet I am inclined to think that its public recognition will be largely brought about indirectly through the appeal to our keen commercial sense, which I believe good town-planning is sure to make.

To explain the various ways in which the actual economy and commercial value of good taste and design may be taught would lead to a much too technical discussion. Suffice it to say that the list includes the demonstration of the value of ornamental construction instead of constructive ornament, of the intelligent use of common inexpensive materials whose decorative value, because of their roughness, their very cheapness of previous association, ordinarily goes unrecognized, and of the surprising effectiveness of simple, honest, and straightforward structures when designed and placed with regard to general harmony of color and mass. And with these must inevitably come a crusade against the wasteful shams which, like the signs on our streets and road-sides, we have come to tolerate from force of habit--the tin cornice that rears its imitation stone surface a story-height above the tinder-box frame beneath, and the pretentious fronts and sordid rears between which even our better educated citizens are content to live.

But all this teaching, it may be said, necessarily involves expert services and expense. The admixture of a dollar's worth of brains to every dollar's worth of cheap material must come pretty near spoiling the demonstration from an economic point of view. But co-operative design and development make possible the employment of experts in all departments by distributing the greater part of the first cost of their services over a large area of development. Such services, moreover, if really efficient, will actually result in ultimate, if not immediate, savings. It is precisely because of the poor man's inability to avail himself as an individual of wise technical advice that his home is so often a far more expensive investment, comparatively speaking, than the rich man's. Insurance against wasteful bad taste and poor construction is even more of a luxury than that against fire loss, from which the poor man is ordinarily the heaviest sufferer.

On the other hand, collective planning and control should produce conditions under which good aesthetic results may be secured far more easily and inexpensively, whether the designing be individual or collective. Bad as is the taste displayed in the average small-lot suburban development, it is fair to say that there is no problem in architectural design more difficult than that presented by the small and cheap dwelling. The irreducible minimum of size and cost demands the maximum of skill and study if it is to be made to succeed from an architectural standpoint. Careful consideration of the problem of the individual house for the skilled laborer, mechanic, and clerk leads to the conclusion that even with the most expert designing the best that can be attained architecturally under the system of detached dwellings on narrow lots is but a negative result--the elimination of the gratuitously bad and the mitigation of what is necessarily so.

For the trouble really lies in the fundamentally bad requisites as to their proportions, mass, and relative position, made necessary by the current system of lot sizes and their individual development. The difference between the conditions confronting the architect where each little house, being placed independently, must present, by reason of the shape of the lot, its narrow side to the street, as indicated in Diagram No. 1, and the situation resulting from the application of group planning to the same sized units on identical land areas shown on Diagram No. 2 is a sufficient illustration of what I mean in thus speaking of the aesthetic advantages of collective design.

But in addition to certain economies in construction cost and the far greater architectural effectiveness obtained by thus erecting small dwellings in groups, this example at once illustrates another and more obvious kind of saving, and at the same time serves to throw some light on the economic aspect of our subject.

For, besides demonstrating the fallacy of certain conventional ideas as to general layout, proper street widths, and the size and distribution of free spaces for public use, and many other matters which we may not here stop to consider, town-planning makes possible certain specific economies in the use of the building lots themselves. And these economies result in a distinct gain rather than a sacrifice in living conditions, as compared with even the best results obtainable under individual treatment.

To illustrate, let us consider the results of individual and collective planning as applied to an entire block. The preceding diagram (No. 1) shows the conventional arrangement of small houses such as is pretty sure to result from the development of a street by a series of owners under the customary restrictions imposed on almost all suburban building properties. The restrictions on each lot are of course alike, and it is not unjust to American buyers of small lots to assume that each lot will be used to the limit of its restrictions. The first purchaser to build places his house as near the street as the restrictions permit, for fear his neighbors may cut off some of the asphalt view from his parlor windows. Being the first in the field-- a literal simile often enough--and deciding to put his kitchen on the north side and as near to his neighbor's lot line as possible, every succeeding builder must follow suit. The result--a familiar sight in countless miles of our suburban streets--is what is indicated by the diagram--a rather neat example of "liberty, equality, and fraternity" as "she" is practiced--an arrangement assuring an absolutely equal and neighborly sharing of all the disadvantages of individual planning, whereby each owner is secure against any suspicion that his neighbor has gotten the best of him, for the simple reason that they have all made equally poor use of their lots. It represents pure democracy in town-planning.

On the other hand, in the diagram (No. 2) is shown what may happen where a beneficent monarchy, working under identical conditions, has foreordained an arrangement in which each building is located with some consideration for its neighbor. It assumes, of course, a certain individuality in taste--that not every owner wishes to live on the sidewalk, that some would like a garden space at the front and some at the side, that most people would enjoy looking past instead of into their neighbor's walls and windows, and that many would be glad to live in a street where even though the individual houses must all be reduced to the lowest possible terms of comfort and decency, their homely monotony is, at least, relieved by a certain amount of variety in their arrangement.

But quite apart from all such advantages, and leaving out of consideration the aesthetic aspects of the matter, both of architecture and landscape design, let us see what practical economies lie in this latter arrangement. In the first place it must be explained that in determining restrictions on real estate of this type, now recognized as essential for commercial if for no other reasons, it is in the very nature of the case necessary to assume the worst conditions that can be brought about under them. Otherwise they do not protect, and to protect is of course the function of restrictions. But like any other mandatory and inflexible rule which must apply equally to all men and conditions it is very costly in an economic sense. An obvious and pertinent example is the city building law. In order to protect the general public against the dishonest owner and builder, rules are required that penalize the honest man and result in the waste of millions of dollars annually. Could we assume in every case absolute integrity of workmanship and material, the cost of many items of construction could be surprisingly reduced. Though by no means so obvious, the case is similar in the matter of property restrictions; and the extent of the wastage involved in the ordinary individualistic development is the measure of the economy secured by good collective planning. This may be seen by a comparison of the two diagrams, No. 3 and No. 4. The former shows the minimum width of lot which experience has shown may be sold with a proper regard for the protection of individual purchasers and the successful development of a certain type of property as a whole. The sale of any narrower lot will under ordinary individualistic planning and development result in detriment to the value of the lots in question, as well as to the neighboring property. But as will be seen from Diagram No. 4 if instead of having to insure against the worst possible use of the property by individual owners it were possible to assume that the buildings would all be intelligently planned as one group, the average width of the lot might be reduced twenty per cent and the conditions be really better for each individual house.

In other words, collective planning by means of mutual adjustment in each specific case does away with the costly blanket restrictions, which cause in real estate development of this type a very considerable waste in the use of land--the counterpart of that material which is required in building construction to insure against imperfect work and which is technically called the "factor of safety." In both cases this is a heavy tax on the owner or tenant of the property. While it is clearly recognized by all experts in construction, I doubt if it has ever been recognized as such--in this country at least-- in the case of real-estate development. And here again is a specific instance where the demonstration of this fact in a model town may have a great educational value.

There is, moreover, another development of this group-planning principle which, although as yet experimental, may lead to a practical solution of one of the greatest difficulties in any attempt to secure a decent suburban development which shall at the same time meet the necessities of the "small buyers"--who constitute perhaps the largest, and in some respects the most desirable, class among the seekers for small suburban homes. A certain number of these are able to buy, on easy terms, a lot with a house already built upon it, and can therefore be accommodated by the erection and sale of groups such as already illustrated. But a far greater number, and those in fact to whom economy is most necessary, cannot afford to undertake the building of a house until three or four years after the purchase of their lots, even assuming the easiest terms which are possible on any commercial basis.

On the other hand, to sell such small units as this class can afford to buy--lots of twelve or fifteen feet in width, for example subject to independent development by such individual owners, however careful the restrictions, is certain to give results detrimental to the value of the property as a whole, quite aside from any aesthetic considerations or that of the additional expense involved in the separate erection of such small individual houses. Unless some means be found, therefore, by which these difficulties can be met, the home-seekers of this class must be relegated to such undesirable property as may have already lost caste by reason of similar disorderly growth, or may be for some other reason so undesirable as to make its proper development of no import.

It is necessary again to cite Forest Hills Gardens for an example of any practical attempt to solve this problem. Under the "Sage Group-building Plan" portions of the property are set apart for division into groups of lots of a width of thirteen feet each and upward, and for each group of lots a group of buildings is designed. Briefly stated, the plan provides for the purchase of individual plots forming parts of such a group upon terms of payment similar to those for ordinary vacant lots, and such modifications as are approved by the company will be made in the plans of individual houses of the group to suit the ideas of purchasers. As soon as acceptable applications have been received for all the plots in a given group, formal contracts will be entered into between the company and the various purchasers, making the plan operative as to that group. The company will agree to build the whole group as soon as payments amounting to approximately ten per cent of the combined price of house and plot, together with interest, taxes, and assessments, shall have been made on every plot in the group, provided all the terms of the contracts have been observed. Under the ordinary system of payments this amount will have been paid in about four years; but if at any time before that period each of the purchasers in the group shall have paid the required ten per cent, and, under certain conditions, even though all the members of the entire group have not qualified, the company agrees to build the group forthwith

While preserving the forty- or fifty-foot plot, and its regular restrictions in all cases where lots are sold under ordinary conditions, the company hopes by this group-building plan to meet the need of those who want smaller plots for future building in a manner that secures the advantage of large combined operations, both as to design and construction, without requiring as large a cash payment as is necessary to purchase a house in a group already built and without too great sacrifice of individual preference as to house plans.

By collective planning and control it thus hopes to save for the small purchaser the twenty per cent which, as we have seen, under the guise of its general restrictions, constitutes the "factor of safety" necessary for the general protection of its purchasers.

But this is illustrative of only one type of burden which our "model town," like a willing pack-animal, is expected to carry. Along with the more or less handily tied-up economic and aesthetic problems, like the foregoing, are a lot of loosely bound and awkwardly shaped sociological and social experiments which must sooner or later be added to the pack; the art of the business lying in so packing them that those proving too awkward for even a model pack-horse to carry can be slipped off before the animal goes down with the entire load on its back. While the field of co-operative possibilities in this connection is too large to permit in this article anything more than the most superficial glance, we may consider one example illustrating at once both the type of problem and the kind of precaution against failure which ought to be taken in all such demonstrations.

In certain of the blocks at Forest Hills Gardens, provision has been made for small private parks in the interior of the blocks. But such parks, if increased in size beyond the very limited extent by which the depth of the abutting lots can be shortened, must correspondingly increase the normal price of the surrounding lots. Such additional cost, moreover, representing land permanently unavailable for anything but park purposes, would be a questionable investment for the small purchaser. To meet this difficulty, one section of property at Forest Hills Gardens has been especially subdivided as shown in the diagram (No. 5) so as to make it possible for the company to lease this interior property at a rental based on the wholesale price of the land to the abutting owners for co-operative development and control with the right of purchase. Under this plan an exceptionally large area is here reserved in the middle of the block with the expectation that it will be used in part as a private park for all the people in the block, with tennis-courts and such other provisions for recreation as they may decide to have, and in part for private allotment gardens attached to those houses on the surrounding lots whose owners desire to lease additional garden space at a fair rental.

There are many people who want to experiment with a garden--more of a garden than is possible on the ordinary house plot--but who either are unable to buy the necessary area or feel too uncertain of their gardening success to risk the additional investment. To such as these the plan in contemplation offers the opportunity of hiring garden space outside their lots and of increasing or decreasing this space, or finally giving it up, just as their experience may dictate, instead of being definitely committed to what they might unwisely choose at the start. If as large a piece of land as that here reserved could never be used in other ways, in case the demand for garden space grew slack and the people in the block no longer cared to keep up a private park. the company would have to make itself safe against such a contingency by charging an extra price for the lots which carried with them the privileges of the reserved space. But the area enclosed in this case is designed so as to permit its conversion into a cross street flanked by building lots of marketable size, as is shown by the diagram (No. 6), which makes it commercially possible for the company

to lease this area to the surrounding lot owners to acquire its use from the company at a rental unusually small, because based on the wholesale price of this land. They may thus decide for themselves at the end of every year whether the park and gardens have shown themselves to be worth their keep or whether on the whole they do not pay. If the owners of a majority of the lots in the block as now laid out should vote to give up the lease of the interior land, but only in such case, the company would resume its occupation thereof, construct a street through it. and sell the remaining land in lots. It would, however, first give the opportunity to each of the surrounding lot owners to purchase the piece in the rear of his own lot before selling it to an outsider; and at any time during the continuance of the lease the surrounding lot owners would have the option of buying the interior land as a whole on joint account. Thus it is happily arranged so that neither purchaser nor company can lose much of anything--a plan which combines the "golden rule" and the principle of "heads I win and tails you lose, "with what, it is hoped will prove beneficent results.


And this characteristic is a very important one; for it means that, if successful, others may safely try similar schemes without financial risk. Obviously, no experiment or demonstration should be made in a "model town" such that could only be duplicated with the aid of philanthropy, charity, or paternalism, or in which the collective action might not be equally possible and safe, whether the capital and direction be supplied by one proprietor, a great number of individuals in co-operation, or, as is the case in the demonstration by the Russell Sage Foundation at Forest Hills, a kind of educational oligarchy whose control will gradually give place to a lot owner's democracy.

If for no other reason, therefore, the model town must be considered, organized and developed on a business basis; and the value of the experience acquired or any success achieved will depend first and last on obtaining results in the face of conditions no more favorable than ordinarily met with in other land developments, and by the use of means ordinarily available in other instances. In fact the future of town-planning in America depends on whether it can be shown to pay. The so-called model town must succeed on a commercial basis. It must even do better in this respect than the ordinary commercial or speculative development. Its educational, architectural, and sociological possibilities, therefore, in the last analysis depend on its economic success. The equation is fundamentally an economic one, however aesthetically it may be put upon the slate, and its solution must be found in terms of dollars and cents.

Thus, in spite of being called "garden cities," the real genesis and the most important function of the European "model town"--usually developed on some kind of co-operative basis--has been an economic one, practically a matter of self-defence. Whereas the medieval walled town was a refuge for marauding barons, the co-operative town of to-day is primarily a means of protection against our modern land speculators. And the value of the model town in this respect should be even greater here in America, where one of the fundamental difficulties in the solution of the housing problem lies in the uncertain and rapid changes in land prices and usage, and the speculative exploitation of an increment very much "unearned" by those who ordinarily profit most by it.

While stimulated by a number of causes, these conditions are made possible largely by reason of the lack of town-planning--that collective design and control of which we have been speaking. Nor is it by any means confined to large cities and their suburbs. Economically the problem exists long before the town grows to be a city. The trouble becomes tangible with the building of the first multiple dwellings and tenement houses. There is no more dangerous fallacy than the comfortable belief that sinister living conditions exist only in large cities.

The effect of bad housing on the poorer classes, and indirectly on the public in general, is now being constantly demonstrated; so that it is unnecessary further to emphasize it here. But it is doubtful if even the intelligent and interested portion of the public realizes that many of the worst housing conditions are directly due to bad city planning--improper street layout and lot units--and that unhygienic dwellings are oftentimes but symptomatic of unhealthy economic conditions. That what appears a problem in house and tenement design is at bottom really a question of street plan, lotting, restrictions, and city ordinances--in other words, town-planning.

To distinguish between the results of greed and neglect on the part of the builder and landlord, and the evils that are due to general causes for which they are in nowise responsible systems of land distribution, sale, tenure, and taxation--is a most difficult task. But it is the first step toward any permanent solution of the hydra-headed questions generally spoken of as the "housing problem." And to any one who has first-hand knowledge of the living conditions under which the country breeds a great part of its workers and citizens, this "housing problem" must appear no inconsiderable factor in what is commonly spoken of as the "social unrest" throughout the country.

But whether or not it be a directly contributing cause of strikes and other labor disturbances, this question of proper homes for laboring men should be recognized as one of those grave problems that are coming to the surface in all parts of the United States as the flood of our surplus material wealth recedes; and which, like rocks in a harbor, are really most dangerous when still concealed, just before the ebbing tide bares them to plain view.

To claim that garden suburbs and model towns will cure all such ills would be carrying our simile of the patent-medicine label a little too far. There is some danger that the power for good manifestly inherent in this world-wide awakening to the social meaning and importance of living conditions may be seriously hampered by a too thoughtless acceptance of its first manifestations in the shape of so-called "model" towns and demonstrations of various kinds--proprietary, governmental, co-operative, or socialistic--as a cure-all for the body politic.

Very evidently the success of all such experiments presupposes a supply of more or less ideal citizens, which is likely enough to prove difficult to obtain. Yet it is more than probable that this is due to the fact that while we have been building model stock and poultry farms for a decade or two in which to breed blooded cows and prize hens, we are only now beginning the attempt to provide similarly well for the breeding of "blooded" citizens. Naturally no town can long remain "model" without "model" inhabitants. It will surely not rise above the level of its citizenship. That basic principle of hydraulics is an apt enough simile. But it is equally evident that water will not rise even to its own level unless the walls of the containing vessel are carried up to that height. So in spite of the fact that garden cities and suburbs must earn their living in just the same work-a-day fashion as the people who live in them, one should not forget that the town, even though it must be so essentially` practical, may very properly stand for ideals higher than those of its inhabitants; for it is nothing more or less than a department of that most powerful of all educational institutions, "the school of environment."

It is safe to say that to the majority of the readers of this magazine closely packed Manhattan represents a magnetic pole of social attraction--or distraction--of professional or business opportunity, toward which the needle of their compass is more or less strongly drawn--a place of monumental hotels and private palaces, great enterprises, splendid amusements. The suburb, on the other hand, stands for the enforced economy of young married life-- the martyrdom of commutation--largely "for the sake of the children." But to the masses that congest our tenements, streets, and subways, the city can rarely appear in such a light; far oftener a labyrinth of brick, stone, and steel--a place of uncertain work and little pay, of struggle for life, or even for existence--while the suburbs and smaller towns, if they but know it, may well be a haven of refuge. For it has been truly said that the one vital point in which the suburb differs from the city slums is in its possession of happiness. How far the dweller in the model town or suburb partakes of this priceless possession must largely depend upon himself; but the study of such problems, both here and abroad, leads, I think, to the conviction that for the great masses their opportunity lies that way.

And it is from this point of view that the study of suburban development in all its phrases--as factory centre, model town, or garden city, commercial, philanthropic, educational--makes its strongest appeal. It has to do with the greatest conservation problem of to-day--that of our race --and one that has been neglected with a recklessness that can only be described as American.

So the model town, whether it serves to retard still further centralization in vast cities or to draw some portion of city dwellers back into purer environment, as have the garden suburbs of London, has for its supreme function the making of healthier, happier, and better citizens.

As for its practical definition, if the reader has not--by reason of this catalogue of virtues--already written it down a "municipal prig," let him conceive it a place whose citizens are models of happiness. Or let him define it, as Maeterlinck might, "A model town is a collection of homes where bluebirds dwell."

    Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: