METHODS OF LAYING OUT CITIES
Charles W. Barnaby
Cassier's Magazine 38 (September 1910):400-407Little information about Barnaby has been found other than that he was a Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers with an office as Consulting Engineer at 32 E 23rd St. in New York City. Like other professionals of the time, Barnaby emphasized those aspects of city planning in which he and his colleagues could rightly claim special competence. One of his more arresting proposals was this: "Cities should be divided into sections not exceeding one mile square by parks and wide parkways; these will not only serve as fire barriers, but will add greatly to the health, comfort and happiness of the people and the beauty of the city." He advocated using the same approach to deal with expansion of towns and cities beyond their present boundaries: "Laws should be passed which will prevent any further growth of cities and villages without proper provisions for suitable parks and parkways. It should be provided that no village or city extending one mile or more in either direction should be further extended without being separated from such extension by means of a parkway of not less than 300 feet wide; also that they should not extend their boundary line up to that of an adjoining village or city without providing a parkway 300 feet or more in width along the dividing line between them." Barnaby directed many of his suggestions to specific improvements in New York City. He included a sketch map to illustrate his plan to create in Manhattan wide park strips utilizing the blocks between pairs of east-west streets and a similar treatment along a few of the north-south avenues.The enormous aggregation of masses of the people in great cities has made it necessary for the thoughtful engineer to consider the principles which should be observed, either in laying out the plan of a proposed city, or the correction of the defects of such cities as have become so crowded as to be in need of revision and partial reconstruction.
The principles involved in such a problem are necessarily influenced by local conditions, but there are certain features which may be examined as bearing upon certain places which have already become critically acute in their relations to the people who dwell within their limits.
In the first place, cities, instead of being built in continuous solid masses, should be divided into comparatively small sections by parks and parkways, especially for protection against disastrous conflagrations. Such an arrangement would also provide park and transportation facilities, and also furnish ducts for the entrance of fresh air to the interior parts of the city.
In the second place, in cities such as New York, in which there is a deficiency in avenues of travel in any given direction, some of these parkways should be utilized for subways, auto tracks, carriage drives, etc, without involving grade crossings for the transverse streets.
In New York, for example, there are practically no avenues of travel whatever suitable for automobiles in the lower, or business part of the city.
To carry out such plans in cities already built and crowded would involve enormous expenditure, but some such improvement is rapidly become an absolute necessity, and the expense required at the present time is but a fraction of that demanded in the course of a few years, while if the improvements are made judiciously while there is yet time there will be a handsome profit accruing to the citizen who is sufficiently farsighted to acquire the property abutting on the line of the obvious improvements.
Although the principles of what follows may be applied in general to nearly every large city, the author has taken New York as an example of what may be accomplished in the improvement and development of a great city.
As has been pointed out at various times, a grave mistake was made in laying out the plan of New York since the streets above Eighth street running lengthwise of the island of Manhattan, were placed too far apart.
This was doubtless due to the fact that the founders of the city assumed that the natural lines of longitudinal travel would be the two rivers on either side of the long and narrow island, and that it was most desirable that ample opportunity should be given to reach the water at any point. The closeness of the cross-streets running east and west, is ample demonstration of the fact that the rivers were considered as offering the best lines for travel, and if the avenues running north and south had been placed as close together as the cross streets there would have been about forty in number, instead of fifteen, as at present.
These are only single examples of the defects which would be avoided if complete cities could be carefully designed and built by engineers under rigid specifications. Under such circumstances city building would have long since been reduced to an artistic and utilitarian science, with its specialized city designing engineers and a full line of engineering literature relating to the subject. As it is now, what is said and written on the subject is frequently more the product of idle thought and conjecture than the result of scientific investigation and practical experience in the art.
The field of city design is too large for any one person to master in all of its details, and the office of the city designing engineer should include a corps of experts covering practically all of the various branches of art and engineering.
If a complete city ready for the occupancy of four or five million people and accompanying business interests could be thus designed and built under the supervision of such competent expert and corps of specialists, particularly if they could have some latitude in regard to the selection of a suitable site, the results in the way of health, comfort and convenience, as well as in artistic appearance of the product should be gratifying.
The ideal city should be laid out with carefully selected sites for public buildings, schools, colleges, churches, amusement halls, residential areas, business houses, factories, interborough transportation lines and passenger and freight terminals; also docks, bridges, ferries and tunnels, when water courses enter into the problem; and along with all the rest the matter of the distribution of parks and parkways requires judicious consideration. All of the above should be located in such relation to each other and the surroundings as to provide the people with the safest, most convenient, and most satisfying accommodations and, at the same time, present a highly pleasing and artistic appearance.
The large parks should be in the outskirts and should be left in as natural a state as practicable with their native forest trees. Such paths and lanes as are required, with their bridges, resting nooks, etc., should be judiciously treated to conform, as far as possible, with the natural surroundings. The parks throughout the body of the city, instead of being large and few in number, should be of medium size, plentiful, well distributed and connected, together with numerous parkways of liberal width. This arrangement would give all parts of the city convenient access to the park spaces, which, being thus arranged in a continuous system, could, when once entered, be traversed throughout without leaving it, if desired.
It is an unfortunate fact, however, that cities, as a rule, are not built to order, but, like Topsy, just "grow'd" without any consideration, or conception, even of the possible or probable future requirements. As a result, most of the cities depart widely from the ideal; the narrow and poorly arranged streets, scarcity of parks and parkways and restricted transportation possibilities all have their detrimental effect, while such things as barriers against destructive conflagrations are conspicuously absent. both to sight and mind.
The destruction of life and property by great fires has been something appalling, and yet, immediately after a city has been visited by such a calamity, it is rebuilt in the same compact mass in utter disregard of the forcible demonstration it has just given of the need of some preventative measure against a recurrence of the disaster.
Under certain possible conditions, the whole of Manhattan Island might be burned over from the Battery to 155th street, with a possibility of also laying bare sections of the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Among the fires entailing a loss of $10,000,000 and upward, in less than two and one-half centuries past may be mentioned London, 1666, $33,650,000; Smyrna, Turkey, 1772, $20,000,000; Constantinople and suburbs, from 1729 to 1870, a dozen fires ranging from $10,000,000 to$25,000,000 each; New York, 1835, $17,500,000; Hamburg, 1842, $35,000,000; Charleston S. C., 1861, $10,000,000; Portland Me. 1866, $10,000,000; Chicago 1871, $165,000,000; London, 1874, $70,000,000; St. Hyacienthe, Que, 1876, $15,000,000; St. John, N. B., 1877, $15,000,000; Kingston Jamaica, 1882, $10,000,000; St. John's, N. F., 1892, $25,000,000; Guayaquil, Ecuador, 1896, $22,000, 000; Ottawa, Ont., 1900,$10,000,000; Baltimore, 1904 $50,000,000; Toronto, 1904 $12,000,000; and last, but by no means least, San Francisco, 1906 $350,000,000, or more, and yet it has been rebuilt in the same old way. There have been many other fires of less extent than the above, but which have been, nevertheless, of serious proportions.
Is it not time to give this matter of conflagrations serious attention and to take some measures to cope with this terrible menace to our lives and property? Terrible as the past record has been, the conflagrations of the past are insignificant as compared with what may, within the range of possibilities, occur under present conditions in some of our largest cities.
It is a sin bordering on a crime to continue to construct cities extending over miles of territory in dense formation, without incorporating effective means for cutting off the course of a conflagration after it has escaped ordinary bounds and restraint.
Cities should be divided into sections not exceeding one mile square by parks and wide parkways; these will not only serve as fire barriers, but will add greatly to the health, comfort and happiness of the people and the beauty of the city. This system provides a break in the continuity of the building mass, thus making it practically impossible for a conflagration to spread over miles of territory before checked. It would be much easier to stop a fire at the parks and parkways than in a solid mass of buildings. The cutting down of trees and shrubbery would be much easier, safer and more effective than the destroying of a line of buildings, and the loss of a mile or two of the parkway's adornment would be a trifling matter in comparison with the loss which would be caused by the destruction of an equal area of buildings.
Another important office of the proposed park and parkway system suggested for New York would be to protect the great bridges. The space under, and for some 200 feet each side of the bridge approaches should be included in the park space and should be free of buildings. A comparatively small conflagration along that part of the East River containing the approaches of the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges might destroy all three of these bridges. In such a case the loss to the people in business time and situation would probably be greatly in excess of the actual money value of the destroyed bridges. The large public buildings should be protected in the same way, and all future schools, etc., should be located along the line of the park system.
Although cities cannot be built to order to definite ideals, much can be done to improve those that have been handed down to us. Opportunities should be watched for to correct faults already incorporated in their make-up, and plans formulated and suitable regulations adopted to improve them along proper lines.
Laws should be passed which will prevent any further growth of cities and villages without proper provisions for suitable parks and parkways. It should be provided that no village or city extending one mile or more in either direction should be further extended without being separated from such extension by means of a parkway of not less than 300 feet wide; also that they should not extend their boundary line up to that of an adjoining village or city without providing a parkway 300 feet or more in width along the dividing line between them.
The various conditions and surroundings of different cities call for different treatment in each case, Manhattan, for instance, being long and quite narrow, does not have the same necessity for diagonal streets that a city would that extended unbroken in all directions. While a few diagonal streets leading from important gates of entrance and from important centers could undoubtedly be placed to advantage in a newly designed New York, it is a question whether the advantage would be sufficient to justify incurring the expense that would now be involved on account of having to destroy much valuable property to accomplish the purpose. As for the gates of entrance, it is a question whether it would not be more practicable and satisfactory to distribute the throngs outside the confines of Manhattan by providing the diagonal thoroughfares on the other side of the rivers, where there is more room and property is less expensive. Those coming to or leaving the city could then pass through the gate nearest to their point of destination or location in Manhattan and would have no necessity to make a diagonal cut across the city.
An important feature of the generous application of the parkways scheme is that in addition to the value for recreation and protection against conflagrations, the parkways form much needed ducts for the ingress of fresh air currents into the body of the city, thus adding greatly to its health and comfort.
The need of more north and south avenues of travel on Manhattan is real and pressing and is becoming more urgent every day, particularly since the advent of the automobile. Automobiles have come to stay. They have come fast, and they will continue to come even faster and must be provided for accordingly- There is to-day absolutely no suitable avenue of travel for these vehicles in lower New York, and the uptown avenues fall far short of the requirements in this respect. It should be so that owners of automobiles in uptown and outlying districts could get to and from their places of business in lower Manhattan with comfort and dispatch. If such proper facilities for automobiles were available many would avail themselves of that course of travel, which would help greatly to relieve the congestion on public transportation systems.
Aside from the demands of the automobile, there are the rapidly increasing demands of these public transportation systems, which it is going to be difficult to meet with the restricted northward avenues.
Transportation and other problems related to "The City Beautiful" are receiving more attention of late than formerly. Considerable practical work has already been done or is under way, various schemes have been proposed, and some have been approved for future application, but any plan which fails to recognize and provide for this growing need for additional avenues of travel in a north and south direction will fall woefully short of meeting the necessities of the case.
It is rather late in the day to consider a radical remodeling of New York, but there is a great deal that must be done and much more that might be done to greatly improve the city in the way of utility, health and beauty. The accompanying map is presented as one suggestion for an improved New York. While the changes indicated would be too great to be carried to completion at any early day if some such scheme could be decided upon, all future improvements could be made with that end in view; and, with possible occasional donations and bequests from persons interested in the plan, and the assistance and in the way of the proposed parks and parkways, the ideal might in time be closely approximated.
Tremendous as the expense would be, it is a matter for serious consideration as to whether it is not becoming an absolute necessity. If so, the sooner that fact is recognized and the plans formulated, the less the expense will be, as at present the greater part of the proposed route is now occupied by old, comparatively small buildings, which will soon be replaced in a large part by expensive modern buildings.
It will be noticed on the map of New York that two north and south parkways are provided for, both leading from Battery Park to the upper part of the city, one on the east and one on the west sides. These parkways being cut through the blocks between present avenues, except in places through the lower part of the city, add greatly to the facilities for travel in their direction.
The cross-section view of these north and south parkways gives a good idea of their value for facilitating travel and for recreation, fire protection, etc. The subway system in the center consists of the usual two express and two local tracks, with the addition of two extra outside of these for light freight, baggage, packages and mail transportation. Such a subway goods transportation system would greatly facilitate business and relieve the congestion of the regular street traffic by doing away with many of the delivery, express, baggage and mail wagons. Outside of the subways are pipe and electric tunnels, and over the whole are the automobile tracks. Outside of these are the carriage driveway, bridle path and foot paths, all of which are bridged over at the cross streets, so that grade crossings are avoided, and reasonably fast speed can be made by the autos, carriages and horsemen without danger. Along each side are the park spaces and ordinary roadways and building frontage.
The cross street bridges might first be placed at every third or fourth street, and the intervening bridges added later as traffic demanded.
This full width scheme could probably not be carried farther down town than to Houston or Franklin street.
The proposed west side subway goes only as far uptown as Forty-second street, where it connects with the present Broadway subway system and eventually becomes the southward extension of that system. The west side parkway, however, extends farther uptown, terminating at Fifty-ninth street. North of this point street traffic is reasonably well taken care of already, and can easily be supplemented by constructing straight driveways through the west side of Central Park and extending Riverside Park and Drive down to Fifty-ninth street, as indicated on the plan.
The east side parkway extends from the Battery to the Harlem River and its subway system extends from the bridge connecting subway at the Queensboro Bridge to the Harlem River.
By extending the downtown end of the present subway from Forty-second street up Madison avenue to 110th street, and there connecting it with the Lenox avenue line, the Broadway line already having been carried south from Times Square, we now have the Lenox avenue line and the Broadway line extending in entirely separate systems all the way from the Battery to their northernmost terminals, but connected at the Battery, Forty-second street and Ninety-sixth to 110th street by shuttle railways.
These two systems supplemented by the one along the proposed east side parkway as described above, make three separate subway systems to northward extremity of Manhattan or beyond, and these may, when necessary, be farther supplemented by utilizing more of the wide parkway space for the purpose, and still farther by placing another system of subways beneath the first, thus double-decking the entire system, if necessary. Under such conditions it is not probable that the demands will ever exceed the possibility for extension provided by the proposed plan.
The material excavated for the subways could, as far as available, be used to fill in the parkway to give a good general slope from the central part outward, to fill in the approaches to the cross street bridges, and to give the park space a more or less irregular contour to avoid monotony of appearance.
There are also indicated on the map numerous crosstown parkways, also parkways connecting together Morningside, St. Nicholas and other parks in the upper part of Manhattan, and extensions to the Riverside Park system. Three additional parks of considerable size are indicated just below Forty-first, Twenty-first and Rivington streets, respectively, to supply the need of that part of the city which is now deficient in park accommodations. A good-sized park is also indicated at the Harlem north of Central Park.
At each crosstown parkway (every mile) there should be turnouts connecting the north and south auto tracks with the crosstown tracks, and also with the regular streets. The auto tracks would, therefore, only be used for through travel of one mile or more, and would be left at the crosstown parkway nearest to the auto's destination and the ordinary streets followed for the balance of the distance.
The three proposed new parks in the lower part of the city would probably only be possible of consideration in connection with the abandonment of a large part of Central Park. If there are no legal bars against this being done, what sufficient reasons, outside of purely sentimental ones, are there for not cutting Central Park into good sized sections and distributing them about the city in places where they will be of the greatest benefit to the most people? A park one-fourth to one-third the size of Central Park is larger than the average citizen would care to stroll over, and with the driveways and auto tracks provided by the universal park and parkway system, those who frequent the park on wheels would seem to have no good reason to complain, and good driving would be within convenient reach of all parts of the city.
If parts of Central Park were to be abandoned, it would be best done by maintaining the present outer lines by retaining a strip along each side and each end some 500 feet in width for parkways (this would protect the interests of owners of property now fronting on the park) and retaining the middle portion of the park, where the reservoirs are situated, intact, disposing of large rectangular sections of the park at each end. If the reservoirs are to remain the area taken up by them should be reclaimed for park purposes by covering them completely by means of a system of concrete arches. This reclaimed area would be available for tennis courts and playgrounds, leaving the area now used for those purposes free for other use. The value of ground in the Central Park section is sufficient to warrant reclaiming the reservoir area.
If the abandonment of the reservoirs is contemplated, it would be preferable to divert the central part of the park to public building or residence use and retain a large section at each end for permanent park purposes rather than to follow the plan described in the preceding paragraph.
While it may possibly be too late to carry out the herein proposed scheme in full in Manhattan, the same is not the case with respect to Staten Island, parts of Long Island and parts of the Bronx. The building areas on Staten Island are so small that they would offer but little obstruction to the course of parkways and suitable parks. The Bronx is already fairly well provided with parks and parkways, and the requisite additions could easily be made.
Appalling as the expense of the proposed parks and parkways may appear on first thought, a little consideration reveals the fact that the increase in the value of property along the parkways would be immense, and if the city could condemn a strip of ground extending some 100 feet wide on each side of each parkway, these strips could be disposed of at such an advance that the expense of the parkways would be more than paid. The result would be a much more healthy, beautiful and efficient city at a financial profit.
The scheme is one which might well attract the attention of one or more multi-millionaires who are looking for an opportunity to leave a suitable monument, or who desire to invest wealth for the benefit of present and future generations. The benefits to humanity might be expected to exceed anything likely to result from any of the proposed "Foundations," both in extent and duration.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org To Top of Page To Homepage