THE ART OF LAYING OUT CITES
Cassier's Magazine: An Engineering Monthly 38 (October 1910):483-489.No biographical information has been found about the author of this review of the international city planning exhibit at Berlin in 1910. Perhaps he was German. Certainly he demonstrated considerable familiarity with German planning. One paragraph summarizes the differences between German and American approaches to streets planning. He noted that most European streets "are curved and rather narrow. It is true that this form offers an attractive sight.... On the other hand, they are a drawback to a good transit system and to modern sanitation, and a movement is now noticeable to make the thoroughfares straight. No sensible person would of course. adopt the plan of some American cities, where the plan looks like a monotonous chessboard, extremely ugly, built by speculators and not by artists. The German plan is to combine the good elements of both systems, making the streets straight and broad; but, in order to meet æsthetic requirements, to interrupt the rows of average houses by some monumental building or small park, square, statue or arch; also by varying the street crossings, making some closer and some wider apart. Consequently we obtain an effective perspective in looking along even such a perfectly straight road." He illustrated his article with several photographs showing various parts of the Berlin exhibit, illustrations that are not reproduced here.In nearly every cultured country a movement has been noticeable for about a decade in favour of a somewhat radical transformation of our cities, in accordance with new and up-to- date principles. It is indeed a great problem, for city building does not mean the mere erection of houses or paving of streets; it comprises the laying out of an entire city after a careful plan, taking into account the technical, artistic, social, economical and sanitary elements. Germany has for-some years taken a most active part in this movement, although quite remarkable achievements are also reported from other countries. It was in Germany that, for the first time, a public exhibition of city building in its various forms was held, in Dresden, 1903. This summer it was followed by another and larger international exposition, the Statebau Ausstellung zu Berlin, 1910. This latter exhibition has attracted great interest and visitors have flocked to it from all parts of the empire, as well as from Great Britain, France, the United States and Japan. In many cases they came as deputations sent by some authority or government. In addition numerous requests have been made to transfer the Berlin exhibition to other cities, but this, for various reasons, had to be refused, except in the cases of Dusseldorf, Antwerp and London.
The problem of municipal design is especially difficult with large cities. It was the magistrate of the German capital who organized a competition, with valuable prizes, for plans for remodeling and future rebuilding of Berlin. After many of the best architects, artists and municipal experts had worked for more than a year, and their efforts had been examined carefully by the foremost authorities in their respective lines, it was decided to give the public an insight into the important and difficult problem of city construction by placing the best plans and prize-winning designs on exhibition. This unique contest of a remodeled Berlin has been the center of attraction, and its inspection was the more useful as the projects shown can be in a greater or lesser degree applied to other communities as well as in Germany. Such an exposition also shows what has been achieved in various countries in the numerous departments of city building, and also what remains still to be done. The public will thus not only become interested, but if capable, may assist the experts and authorities in their efforts. Indeed the general interest in this important problem Is already noticeable in periodical literature, and there are municipal magazines in every cultured country; while in both Great Britain and the United States papers are published dealing exclusively with the laying out of cities, two such papers being published in Germany. It should always be remembered that the Viennese architect, Camillo Sitte, published in 1889 the first large book upon city construction, having made extensive studies in various districts of Continental Europe. Although he made a very convincing appeal, the public and even the city authorities were so indifferent to his ideas that no practical result of his efforts followed. The untiring and unselfish work of a dozen expert writers was needed to break down the wall of ancient and obsolete ideas. Within about a decade the movement has taken foothold and a flood of pamphlets, brochures, magazine articles and books have appeared in nearly all countries. To these must be added the various competitions, of which the above mentioned is the greatest. In short the laying out of cities is being conceived in a growing measure as a scientific problem.
The meaning of such competitions is profound. We obtain thus a large amount of material for the preparation of a town for the coming centuries, including a good transit system, the developing of its architectural appearance, improving the conditions for building, its elements, and making it healthful and generally more suitable for living in.
Every large city is surrounded by numerous suburbs, and these are mostly selfish enough to strive for their own extension, against the interests of neighbouring communities and of the main city. The result of such proceedings, of which I could give numerous examples, is an unpleasing picture of a huge area of built-up blocks without any fixed plan. We all should try to break up this mistaken idea, and in the Berlin exhibition the various communities adjoining the capital are taught a lesson and given excellent plans, showing how to build up their vacant land to meet the various modern requirements. All such smaller communities should bear in mind that their future is secured only if they no longer go their own ways, but unite themselves with the projects of the large city adjoining them. Then only it is possible to produce a pleasing picture of the whole combination and to provide a good transportation between the suburbs themselves and the central city.
As regards streets, we observe that most of them in Europe are curved and rather narrow. It is true that this form offers an attractive sight, and the thousands of foreigners passing through old German towns are delighted about the picturesque character of them. On the other hand, they are a drawback to a good transit system and to modern sanitation, and a movement is now noticeable to make the thoroughfares straight. No sensible person would of course. adopt the plan of some American cities, where the plan looks like a monotonous chessboard, extremely ugly, built by speculators and not by artists. The German plan is to combine the good elements of both systems, making the streets straight and broad; but, in order to meet æsthetic requirements, to interrupt the rows of average houses by some monumental building or small park, square, statue or arch; also by varying the street crossings, making some closer and some wider apart. Consequently we obtain an effective perspective in looking along even such a perfectly straight road. This arrangement opposes no difficulty for sewer construction or any kind of transportation.
Another lesson can be taken from German methods as regards width of streets. In the inner sections of towns, some of which are many centuries old, one naturally finds many narrow streets. but whenever a new street is laid out, ground of sufficient width is purchased by the community as will suffice for the next 100 years, taking into account increase of traffic. This seems for the first years like an extravagance to purchase more property than is immediately needed, but in practice this is not true, for the street is laid out with a width at first required, as well as the sidewalks, while the remaining ground is rented to the houseowners to be utilised for front gardens. This method is required by law, otherwise they, the owners, could not obtain the license for building, and by this method the city administration receives a considerable sum for this apparently waste space. The roads thus look pretty, and the ground is available at any time whenever increase of traffic requires widening of streets. In England and other conservative countries the property is bought of a width sufficient for present needs, and when, several years later, the thoroughfare has to be widened, additional space must be purchased at an excessive cost, as in the meantime the value of property has greatly increased. Many improvements can be made by making a new street in a densely built-up quarter, but this should not be done after the example of the newer Paris boulevards ploughing through the city; they should be adapted to the architectural situations and provide effective perspectives and good outlines. Of course the cutting through of new streets costs enormous sums, but it will always repay, and in this respect American communities have done good work in recent years, spending many millions in this direction. For civic improvements New York has expended $85,000,000 and Chicago, for its beautiful park system alone, $20,000,000. Much can be done in beautifying the banks of a river, when it passes through a town, by providing driveways such as the Thames embankment in London, instead of placing dirty factories along the banks. There should be a strict separation between the business houses, the industrial and residential districts, the former being in the inner city. All these should be surrounded by a green belt of grass and trees, as is in the Austrian capital. However, it is not recommended to make these green areas like a closed geometrical ring, since this would make an extension of the built-up portions difficult and be a hindrance to transportation but they should surround the town in irregular groups, intersecting the solid district in a pleasant way and allowing extension and transportation.
The green spots within the city itself are also important; they are the lungs of the community. Probably the best improvements have in recent years been made by American towns, plans of which occupied a whole room in the Berlin exposition. There were fine plans, sketches and photographs of Chicago, New York, Boston and Washington; showing parks with their swimming and rowing ponds, libraries, drilling halls, playing fields and wading pools for little children, which latter have so much pleased the Berlin magistrate that similar ones will now be built in that city. We were pleased to see the beautiful surroundings in which American colleges are often located; this cannot be effected for those in Europe as the latter are far older and space is much more scarce than in the new world. To the department of the sanitary side of city planning belongs a movement which was originated in Great Britain and is still there best developed--the garden city. These occupied a whole room in the Berlin show; pretty pictures and plans of Letchworth, Port Sunlight and others being on view. But Germany can also boast of having some very up-to-date garden cities, the oldest ones being the workmen colonies of the famous Krupp Works at Essen. That firm owns nearly the whole town, employing tens of thousands of workmen and officials, for whom not only residences are provided, but also shops, stores, libraries, hotels, restaurants, churches and the like. Some of these colonies are modeled after the English cottage system, some in the form of two-story flats. Everywhere in Germany we observe the intention to dispense with narrow courts and airshafts, of which the worst in any city are in the tenement quarters of New York. In the Berlin exhibition were shown fine examples of large garden courts, obtained by putting the many smaller ones together, these, of course, being intended for more than one building. By this method the unpleasant rear houses and side wings can also be avoided, and it is possible by these large courts, and by introducing private passages, to have every house facing a thoroughfare. Thus light and air finds ready access to the residences as well as to industrial localities, and as most of these open spaces are cultivated, there is brought some bit of nature into the stone desert of a town.
Much attention is now paid in progressive countries to transportation since we have at last learned to see its importance. In the Berlin exposition several rooms were devoted to this department, and many systems were represented; among others the Metropolitan in Paris, the various underground lines of London and the numerous surface and elevated railways of the large American cities, of which an immense model showing the wonderful subway system of New York, should be mentioned. Diagrams show that ring-railways seldom yield a good profit, but radial lines reaching out to the business centers were preferable; and furthermore that underground lines are permissible only within a city proper, as the immense cost of construction would render them unprofitable beyond the city borders where traffic is smaller.