Horace Bushnell

Work and Play; Or Literary Varieties (New York: Charles Scribner, 1864):308-336.

This essay comes from a volume that included several other works by the same author. A note accompanying it states that Bushnell prepared this for an address before "the Public Improvement Society of Hartford, but for reasons of health" it was "postponed and not delivered." The exact date of composition is thus uncertain. More than a hundred and thirty years after its publication it still speaks to us with a voice of authority and common sense. One can only imagine how fresh and original Bushnell's ideas must have seemed to his contemporaries. Among the most remarkable features of this essay is Bushnell's recommendation that the time had come for a new group of specialists "specially prepared by studies that belong to the special subject matter" that would be known as the "city-planning profession." From reading only this essay one might reasonably conclude that Bushnell was a person directly involved in municipal affairs. Although obviously concerned with the secular world, he was instead a Congregational minister and theologian and a prolific author of works on religion.

Horace Bushnell (1802-1876) came to his calling from a Connecticut farm upbringing, followed by studies at and graduation from Yale in the class of 1827. After teaching school for a short time and a ten-month position on the editorial staff of the New York Journal of Commerce, Bushnell returned to Yale to begin legal studies. Although he passed his examinations and was preparing for admission to the bar, he decided instead to enter the Yale Divinity School. In 1833 he was ordained as minister of the North church in Hartford, Connecticut.

Ill-health led to a year in Europe in 1845, but after resuming his life in Hartford he produced books in 1847, 1849, and 1851. Bothered once again by bad health, Bushnell made an extended visit to California in 1856. There he declined the presidency of the new college at Berkeley that was to become the University of California, just as in 1840 he decided not to accept an invitation to become president of Middlebury College. After his return to Hartford he continued to write, resigning his pastorate in 1861. Book after book came from his pen, and at his death in 1876 another was under way. Just two days before he died, he learned that the City Council of Hartford had named the grounds in which the Connecticut Capitol stands Bushnell Park.

One person to experience Bushnell's influence was Frederick Law Olmsted, and in turn Bushnell's ideas on city planning may have been influenced by Olmsted. The essay reprinted here appeared in print less than a decade after Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won the competition for the design of Central Park. It also predated Olmsted's statements on city planning that went beyond discussions of the importance of parks in the modern city. Thus it seems safe to conclude that some of Olmsted's later and mature comments about planning and urban design may have come from reading Bushnell's essay and--quite likely--talking about this subject with his friend. That this was then regarded as a suitable matter for public discussion is somewhat surprising given the essay's date, but Bushnell's opening sentence seems to suggest that the Hartford Improvement Society had approached him with a request for his ideas on the subject.

The topic assigned me, this evening, is the Planning of Cities. You will understand, of course, that I am not required, in the handling of my topic, to make out the plan of any particular city, or to model a general plan for all cities. There is no absolute plan for cities, and no city can be well planned, as the duplicate of another. Moreover, it is seldom that any, except some paper city of speculation, is planned wholly beforehand. A very few have been, but, commonly, beginnings are made first, which grow into some more definite and more extended plan afterwards. And yet the beginnings made and the growths or extensions that come after, would commonly be very different, if only there could be on hand a little better culture, in regard to the ideas and principles involved in the best and most tasteful arrangement of cities.

And here, exactly, is the object of our present inquiry; it is to set on, or promote, this kind of culture--to unfold the regulative ideas of the subject, to contribute suggestions; state the ends and objects to be sought, sharpen the attention of criticism, and bring out, as far as possible, the laws of construction by which the completest and most attractive city may be built. And the importance of a well-formed power of criticism, in this field, is much greater than many will, at once, perceive.

Thus if some of you should ask what considerable interest you can have, as citizens of an old established city or town, in such a subject as this, I answer that it is a matter of some consequence, or ought to be, that you should have impressions not absurd of your own city itself--its defects, advantages, and capabilities--for if it should happen that you live your time out here, complaining all your life-long of the best points in it, deploring to your last day the impossibility of removing just the things which are its finest merits; working, it may be, in the city council, to roll up bills of expense for alterations that were really better not to be made; and finally dying a little before your time, because the city plan will not square itself to your false notions of taste and order; it would seem that a more cultivated taste and a juster view of the subject and the laws by which it is governed were, at least, desirable. I will further add that exactly what I speak of here is a matter of common occurrence, and I could name at least a dozen points in the arrangement of our city, about which serious regret is even commonly expressed, which are yet, in reality, among the best points in it.

Furthermore, the impressions you make of yourselves, by the crudity, or sound maturity of your judgments in this particular matter, would seem to have a considerable degree of consequence. Thus, if you were called, some time, to show the city to a stranger of distinction, in a ride about its localities, and he should find you pleased most often with what is a most certain deformity, and most ready to deplore what a little more culture would as certainly help you to approve, it will not be enough that you are unconscious of the rather weak and ludicrous figure you make. It may be that you do not know it, when he pities your crudity, or smiles at your expense; still it is none the less true that he would think of you with more respect, if he could respect your opinions.

Some of you too will be traveling in foreign cities, and all of you in other cities of your own country, and it will be much to you that you carry with you tastes and ideals of art, so far matured as to enable you to enjoy what is really picturesque, or finely conceived; or, if you must reject any thing as absurd, will allow you to do it with a rational confidence in your judgments.

Besides, how many of you, after all, according to the common lot of Americans, will yet be sometime concerned in the shaping, extending, or founding of new cities. The very slender qualifications too that, for want of better and more competent, have heretofore been called to preside over this most critical work, in the newer portions of our country, and the thousand miserable abortions generated in consequence, to be the perpetual grief and torment of posterity. make it even a kind of public duty for every American to put himself in training, in at least some partial degree, by a meditation of the points to be gained and the laws to be observed in the skillful and wise planting of such new foundations. We admit the importance of a good plan for houses, and even fences and barns; for schools, and churches, and fortifications, and constitutions; and also that all such plans require much thought and personal culture; but cities are the most incorrigible in their faults, as they are most immovable in their location and most nearly everlasting in their continuance, of all human creations, and therefore require to be never thrown upon a hap-hazard beginning, never to be extemporized in a crude, wild way, but always to be shaped by the wisest consideration rather, and the wisest understanding both of possibilities and principles. The importance, in fact, of this kind of culture will never be underrated, by one who has taken the very sad lesson of a journey among our new cities of the west; where possibilities neglected, and principles defied, are so often put in eternal and eternally mortifying evidence, by the awkward, misbegotten, contrivances that have taken hold of the fee simple of nature, and become the torment of its beauty for all coming time. Further I think we need not go, to find the immense practical significance of the subject I am now called to discuss.

Before we undertake the more specific matters included in the combinations of cities, I think it will help us greatly, to raise a previous question, viz., what are the requisites of a good city plan? for the points we may bring up, in a canvassing of this question, will go far, it may be, to determine other questions of a less general nature, which, without some considerations previously brought into view, it would even be difficult to settle at all. I answer then the question proposed, what are the requisites of a good city plan, by saying--

1. That it must make a city and not something else. This may seem, at first view, to be a mere truism, not having any very important significance; but you will find, as you set your mind upon it more carefully, that it signifies much. The radical idea of a city appears in the old proverb--"God made the country and man made the town." A city then is man's world, a little world of life that he has built for himself; and accordingly it is to be perfected principally as a thing within itself Thus, for example, it is no great point that it should be located so as to be a conspicuous object from a distance, no great point that it should have a commanding outlook over the open country. If there should happen to be some prominent cliff or acropolis which appears distinctly out at sea, or commands a fine view of the adjacent country, it is well--much better than it is in a cemetery or city of the dead; for there the fine outlook, or distant prospect, is even a fault to be complained of; and when a granite tower is built to repair the imagined want of a prospect, as in one of our most noted cemeteries, what is it but a wretched offense to genuine sentiment, and a vulgarity that should even be the subject of public mortification? In a city of the living, the conditions of boundary and self-limitation are less stringent. Where there is a point of conspicuity it may be taken, or taken advantage of; but if it should appear that the city was originally set upon the rounded summit of a hill for the mere sake of conspicuity, that simple fact would forever destroy the sense of a city character. It is a matter of far greater consequence that the parts of a city should look into one another, as when they look across a valley, than that they should have distant prospects looking away from one another into the country. There wants to be something in a city that produces a sense of its being a world in itself, and this is part of the charm felt in the old walled cities of Europe. There is a sense in such cases of being gathered into city life, or a life in man's world, that associates the feeling of art and community, and is therefore only agreeable.

You may test this matter by supposing a city built on a vast plain, having the streets so laid that you may look straight through, in every direction, into the country and the green fields. We have only to conceive such an arrangement, to convince ourselves, at once, of the painful vacuity and the insupportable weariness it will inflict. There is no reactive object for the eye, no sense of limit or boundary, no gathering into city life. The rows of houses and streets are like the rows of corn in an unfenced field on the prairies, and are scarcely more effective in the sense they beget of a man-world state.

On the same general principle, that a city is to be a city, and not a something to look from, or look at, the study should be, in locating a public building, or any public ornament, such as a statue, or an obelisk, that it is to be so placed as will show it best within; that is, to the greatest number of eyes and from the greatest number of avenues or streets. If a lighthouse is to be built, it must doubtless be set to look out upon the sea; if a monument, a pillar, a commemoration tower, let it stand a mark for all eyes, if possible, within the city lines. The city, in short, will be most perfectly planned, other things being equal, when it makes a world for itself and reveals its ornaments most effectually to itself. Like the inside of a house, it is to be planned for inside show, completeness and beauty. It may also be given as a requisite--

2. Of a good city plan, that it shall always unite, if possible, something historical. There needs, in order to the most pleasing and picturesque effect, to be an impression produced of growth, or extension. There should be an old-looking part, and a new-looking; an irregular, perhaps, and a regular. As a house will be most pleasing when it looks as if it grew up with the family, by successive enlargements and room by room, as other rooms were wanted, not when it appears to have been, at the first, a complete and forever inextensible formality--a pagoda, an octagon, or a Greek temple, waiting for any body, or every body, or nobody, and the same to all--so a city will be most pleasing when the history is told by the plan. If such a city for example as Philadelphia were to be extended by additional squares, till it was as large as Babylon; there would be no history in it. New York, on the other hand, shows, in the contrast of old and irregular parts with the new, some traces of having had a history. The small city of New Haven too reveals a token of history which is really the very best point of the plan, though deplored, I have no doubt, every day of the year, by the majority of the citizens, as a defect that can never be repaired- -I speak of the fact that all the outer portion of the city, which is much the larger portion, is seen to have virtually planned itself At the original planting, there were laid out a few blocks, or squares, composing what is now the core of the town, and was considered, at the time, to be the whole town of the future. Into this core of square-work came the public roads, each in its own natural line of direction, meeting it sometimes at the sides, oftener at the angles; and then, afterwards, the city spread itself out upon these roads, divergently related to each other; and so it resulted that no single street goes out of the city in a line parallel to the block-work lines of the center; secondly, that no one standing in the streets of the blockwork center can look completely through into the open country; and thirdly, that a story is written in the very lines of the streets, which saves the town from the eternal monotony of its levels, and of its otherwise regular form. In the same manner, the boulevards of Paris are history, representing, for all future time, to the eye, the spaces covered by the ancient walls and fortifications, now cleared away, and recalling the day when Paris was only a small fortified town. Frankfort on the Maine is an illustration still more to the purpose. It stands on a river, occupying a plain surface, much like Philadelphia. In the nucleus or core, is the ancient town, the part that used to be contained within the walls. There, as the plan was to get as many people as possible into as little circuit as possible, in order to make the defense more easy, the structures are crowded, rear upon rear, and the blocks are cut up in all manner of zigzag lines, wherever a building can find room, and the streets themselves are often contracted so that a man may touch both sides with his hands. No space of open ground is any where left, save in what is called the market-place--a paved acre, so to speak, where the vegetables and meats might be offered for the provisioning of the fortress otherwise called the city. But the day of gunpowder, cannon-balls and bombs arrives, and, behold, the walls are worthless! Accordingly a new modern figure begins in the clearing away of the walls, much as in New Haven only for a different reason. The wall and fortification circle becomes a public garden, threaded by mazy walks among shades and flowers; and then, outside of this, round the whole circuit, there spreads a new modern city, with broad, straight avenues and ample house- lots, fronted with trees, in the manner of a new American city. And so the modern Frankfort is old Frankfort converted into history. The people walk about in a history. It stands before their eyes, it touches their feet, they do their business, locate their houses, take their title-deeds and feel the winds themselves in the lines of old historic record.

As then a city ought, if possible, to be in some way historic, it should not be planned in any such absolute, complete form, that the future lines will be determined by those laid down. If the people of New Haven had passed an order that all the roads coming into the town should coincide in direction with the streets in it, they would have very nearly ruined their present city, which is, on the whole, one of the best planned cities in the country. Something must be left to the liberty of the future, to produce that air of growth and historic life which is necessary to a really fine city. It is not enough that there should be something informal, or irregular in the plan; that will not produce the historic air we speak of, when it still appears to be an irregularity originally planned. No city is less historic in its air than the city of Washington, because it is so manifestly set down at the first to be just what it is. In this point of view it is the worst planned city in the world; for, if it were to exist a thousand years, it would still wear the look of study and never the look of growth. If it were a simple block- work or chessboard plan, it might possibly be a more natural extension of some plan originally small, but the studied, foredoomed, regular, irregularity of Washington, never can appear to be any thing but an artificial and formal appointment, with which history and growth have had as little to do, as with a diagram of Euclid. Hence, notwithstanding some good points in the plan, there must be an eternal dryness and constraint in it. No plan can be agreeable that excludes the sense of history, or wins the fact of antiquity, without any such tokens of the times and changes gone by, as may notch the stages of progress and make the antiquity visible.

3. A city must be so arranged, if it can be, as to answer the conditions of health. No city over which the pale angels of sickness are always hovering becomes ornamental or attractive. Heavy bills of mortality keep down the tonic energy of art. Not even the best commercial advantages brace the feeling up to improvement. Thrift itself takes on a scarcely thrifty look, because the men most forward in it are always finding how to withdraw and get a chance to live. Even the stone of architecture looks weak in its lines, and statuary droops in expression, where a funeral miasma loads the atmosphere. The mere repute of unhealthiness is a heavy bar of disadvantage, as regards any kind of progress and culture.

And yet a city must sometimes be located where the natural conditions are less favorable to health than would be desirable, because the trade, which is to be its life, can not be accommodated with a better site. There was probably no better choice for New Orleans than the choice that was made. If there was no other river mouth, or harbor, at the south end of Lake Michigan, Chicago was obliged to settle into the vast mud plain it occupies, just above the surface of the water, and contrive to get the necessary drainage for a great city in what manner it best could. Still a great deal can be done for the healthiness of almost any location, if only the city plan is rightly adjusted and the true sanitary conditions are duly attended to afterwards.

Thus it is one of the first and most important matters in adjusting the plan of a city, to prepare a sufficient drainage or sewerage. And if the ground is too low, or too flat, to allow a sufficient drainage by gravity, the plan must be arranged so as to favor an artificial and forced drainage, discharging at a point under water, and remote from the shore. More commonly there will be a sufficient natural drainage, if only it is taken due advantage of in the grade and location of streets. There will be some low ground, or natural depression of surface, such that if some avenue is laid along the depression, conforming, in a degree, to its sinuosities, there will be no difficulty in carrying off, by a main sewer under it, all that is brought down by a multitude of side sewers into the main which nature has provided for. Whereas, if everything is sacrificed to regularity of lines and gradings, and the low grounds are filled up to even the grade across them, there will be, as there ought to be, no drainage left. Too great attention can not be given in the adjustment of a city plan to the easy and natural drainage of the parts.

It is also a great question, as respects the health of a city, in what direction, or according to what points of the compass, the streets are to be laid. To most persons it will appear to be a kind of law, that the city shall stand square with the cardinal points of the compass--compass north and south, east and west. And where this law appears to have not been regarded, how many will deplore so great an oversight, and even have it as the standing regret of their criticism. Whereas, in the true economy of health and comfort, no single house. or city, should ever stand thus, squared by the four cardinal points, if it can be avoided. On the contrary, it should have its lines of frontage northeast and southwest, northwest and southeast, where such a disposition can be made without injury in some other respect; that so the sun may strike every side of exposure every day in the year, to dry it when wet by storms, to keep off the mold and moss that are likely to collect on it, and remove the dank sepulchral smell that so often makes the tenements of cities both uncomfortable and poisonous to health.

Regard should also be had in the laying of streets to their ventilation; that is, to the courses of the winds in the warmer and less healthy seasons of the year. Thus, in our particular climate, the coolest breeze of the summer and the softest of the winter is the sea-breeze, which comes directly from the south. The wind therefore requires exactly the same quartering of the streets that is required by the sun; for, in streets that run directly east and west, at right-angles to the course of the wind, the tenements will scarcely feel it on their south side, because the tenements opposite will keep it off, and will much less feel it on their north side, because they keep it off themselves. Meantime, on the streets that run directly north and south in the line of the wind itself, it will only brush the surfaces on either side, and will

scarcely press into the windows at all. Whereas, if the streets were laid diagonally in relation to the breeze, that is, in our particular case, northeast and southwest, and southeast and northwest, the current would press into all the streets and into and through all the houses open to its passage, making eddies and whirls at every crossing, and fanning, as it were, by its breath, the whole city. In a different case, where the prevailing breeze of summer requires the streets to quarter in one line of diagonal, and the sun in another, the conflict can be settled only by compromise, or by sacrificing one advantage to the other.

4. It is another requisite in the planning of a city that it be so arranged as to serve the purposes of convenience. Rectangular blocks and structures have so great an advantage in this respect, that squares and parallelograms must and will predominate in all well planned cities. In this rectangular form architects and builders are best accommodated. The rectangular plan also furnishes most easily, and is well nigh indispensable to an elegant and attractive interior. The shops of trade require the same. Conceding then so much, in regard to the better convenience of the rectangular form, it becomes a problem, requiring only to be the more carefully studied, how, or by what means, it may be so far modified as to save it from the insufferable tameness and stupidity of a mere gingham city, of the Babylonian, or Philadelphian type.

Not seldom will convenience itself require a deviation, as where there is some curvilinear sweep of low ground along which a principal avenue will most naturally trace itself, covering some principal sewer of drainage. Sometimes there will be a steep- faced bluff, round the foot of which a quay, or general landing- place for merchandise may sweep, conforming to its lines. Sometimes there will be round-sided hills in the background, rising, it may be, into rocky summits; such as would command a fine outlook over the city and harbor, if only the ascent could be made easy for the accommodation of residences. To lay a covering of squares, on the faces of such bluffs and rounded hills, would even be absurd; for the ascent of their heights can be made only by straight lines that are very oblique and cut each other diamond-wise, or by a spiralling in curve lines that cut each other in acute angles. By the neglecting of this very obvious expedient, the noble background of the fine city of San Francisco is sacrificed and forever lost. Lying in a capacious bowl or concave between the hills and the bay, the city is laid off, as it should be, in parallelograms, with only here and there a deviation from uniformity, and, as everything passing on the concave length of every street is visible of course in every part of it, there is a wonderful vivacity in the circulations. But as soon as the rectangular form, pushing up the steep hill-sides, reaches a point where the ascent for carriages is no longer possible, the whole space above, which ought to have been covered with residences of the highest character, loses value and is occupied only by cheap tenements, such as mules and footmen, climbing up as they best can are able to furnish with supplies. So far the rectangular plan is the enemy of all convenience. Nay it is even the final destruction of the finest possibilities of beauty. Had the engineers of San Francisco, when reaching a certain point, deflected their straight lines, running them into spirals that cut each other obliquely, the plan which now runs out, in the background, into a weak and crazy-looking conspicuity, would have crowned itself in a summit of ornament ascended by easy drives, and looking down from its terraces on all the activity of a populous and beautiful city.

By the law of convenience the width also of the streets will, in general, be most properly determined. Primarily cities are for use--only for show and beauty afterword--when we consider the matter of use, it is obvious enough that streets may be too narrow and also too wide for the convenience of use. A very narrow street strangles the free circulation of business, a very wide one never can be made to have the air of business. In a very large city there ought to be a few great arteries of motion where it may flow unobstructed from one side to the other; like the great central street of Antioch, for example, which was four miles long and some two hundred feet broad, flanked, on either side, by a lofty colonnade or arch work of stone, which covered the promenade walks from one end to the other. But the ordinary streets of cities are more agreeable when they are from fifty to eighty feet wide. Neither is it a point to be greatly insisted on, that there shall be a large and spacious rear provided for in the center of a block or square; for it spreads the business and the population over too large a surface, introducing magnificent distances where you want the sense of density and a crowding, rapid, all to-do activity--which is one of the principal attractions of a city. Besides, when the population or the business begins to press for room in any quarter, it is sure to burst into the vacant centers and rear grounds, erecting there store-houses, stables, manufactories, and producing, at last, a more crowded state in the rear than if no such centers had been reserved; with the disadvantage that they are crowded often with unsightly and filthy nuisances, in place of the clean, close, rear that would have been secured by a less roomy plan at the first.

Thus far we have been occupied mainly with the requisites of a fine city; considering what conditions it should answer, and what in idea, it is or ought to be. In this inquiry we have touched incidentally a good many points and settled in advance many important questions. The next thing in order is the question of location, or site.

This however is a question that is very often determined beforehand, and that not seldom by what appears to be only an accident--a tent that was pitched by a spring, a landing made for the night upon the shore of some river or bay. A little hamlet is thus begun which insists on the right of growth, and when the thought of being sometime a city takes it, puts forth it. self in the adjustment of an embryo plan. In ancient times, cities were located for mere safety, or ease of defense, and not for any particular purpose of convenience or beauty. Some precipitous cliff of rock was taken, some peninsular bluff in the bend of a river, some island in some lake or bay. The sides most exposed, or perhaps all the sides, were defended by a wall and then the problem was to crowd as many houses and people as possible, into a space as contracted as possible, that there might be many defenders and but a small extent of wall to defend. The result was rather a citadel than a city. The people went into it as into their den, to be kept in close quarters, and settle the balance between dying under the hand of enemies outside and by pestilential infections inside, as they best could. Thus we have Jerusalem, Tyre, Venice, Mantua, Berne, Geneva, Paris, Edinburgh, and a very considerable part of the ancient cities--they were located as for defense and grew into cities afterward.

In modern times and especially in our own new country, it is a remarkable distinction that we have it given us so often to locate a city; and not only this, but that we are allowed to consult, first of all, the conveniences of use and ornament. The summit of rock, the fastness or natural fortification which can not be scaled, or mined, has no longer any thing to commend it-- gunpowder has made its defenses worthless--and there is nothing left us but to spread our cities out where we want them to be, and the freedom of trade requires them to be.

And yet it is remarkable that, having all this liberty, we so often locate our cities in a manner that sacrifices even the convenience of business and the comfort of life. California, for example, has founded three important cities or marts of trade which, considering their newness, are well built and have a generally fine appearance--San Francisco, Sacramento, and Marysville. The two last are even set below high water mark! when, at the distance of scarcely more than a mile, they could both have secured a fine ample high ground never invaded by water, and equally convenient for the purposes of trade--one of them as much more convenient as a perpetual access by steam navigation is better than a mile of transportation by land for the whole dry season of the year! The first, San Francisco, is bound to be a successful and really grand city, but, with all its fine natural advantages, it unites a remarkable combination of disadvantages that might all have been avoided by choosing another site. Occupying now the north end of a narrow, jagged, dike of mountains forty miles long, between the bay and the sea, the chance of a railroad connection inland is cut off as completely as if it were forty miles at sea, save in one particular direction. Meantime there is no place anywhere for the excavation of a dock, which the high tides of that coast render necessary for the convenience of trade, as truly as the tides of Liverpool and London--all the more necessary that the sands drifted up the western slopes, in the trade-wind season, from the sea-beach two miles back of the city, are continually spilling down into it, and finding their way thus into the wharfages to shallow the water and compel new extensions to serve the uses of shipping. The defenses of the harbor-gate are easy, and yet no defenses can ever make the city secure, for the reason that an enemy has only to make his landing on the beach, two miles back of the town, and take it by an assault in the rear. It can even be bombarded from the open sea. Now, incredible as it may seem, for a stranger will hardly believe it, there was, just over the bay, and a few miles to the north, at a little hamlet called San Pablo, a grand natural city plat about five miles square, graded handsomely down to the bay, supplied on its upper edge with the very best water breaking out of a gorge in the hills, having a straight path out to sea for ships, among islands of rock easily defended, and a fair open sweep for railroad connections, north, east, and south, with gradings half prepared already, and, behind a rocky summit on its mid-front, a natural dock ground two miles long, partly covered by the tides even now, and open to the deep water at both ends--in short, there was never in the world such a site for a magnificent commercial city. But alas! the site is fixed elsewhere, by the mere chance landing of adventure, and a change is forever impossible! What an illustration of the immense, or even literally unspeakable importance of the results that are sometimes pending on the right location of a city!

Let me not be understood as deprecating, in this matter of location, a just, or even supreme reference to considerations of business. This, to the modern city, is what the stomach is to the body; for as the body can grow, or build its fair proportions and lay on its colors, unless the rather unpoetical matter of digestion is accommodated, so no city can live and become great, which is not grown or populated by the uses of business. The melancholy fact is that cities are so often located in a manner of accident as little opportune to the uses of business, as to the higher purposes of comfort, health, and ornament. Commonly they ask to be located at the foot of some valley, or at the conjunction of several valleys where roads will naturally center, and where rivers unite with one another, or with lakes or the sea, just because the natural confluences of business are there. And if the location is bad in many other respects, we have no reason to complain that trade drives the stake of location, saying "Here."

Accepting the decree, nothing is left us afterward, but to make the place all which it can be made, by a wise and well considered city plan. And how shall we proceed in framing it? Obviously enough we can not so much as draw one line of it theoretically beforehand. The most we can do is to raise suggestions, and bring out elementary principles, leaving them to find such applications as they may, when the ground is fixed, and the real problem for that ground arrives.

And here what I have already advanced, in showing the requisites of a fine city, will go far in determining the outlines of the plan to be made. Other suggestions of a more specific nature can also be made and, beyond that, everything must be left to the particular conditions of the particular ease in hand.

The first thing commonly is to consider the business frontages of the river, lake, or bay, and accept their lines as the fixed determinations of nature, requiring everything else in the plan to have some proper reference to them.

In the next place, it should be considered along what low grounds or depressions of surface the railroads will ask to come in; for the railroads always seek the lines of depression. Here too they can be more easily bridged, so as to offer no obstruction to the circulations of the streets. Along these low grounds too, on one or possibly on both sides of the railroads, there will commonly be laid, in lines partly conforming to them, great avenues of travel coming in from the country, under which also the principal sewers of drainage will find their place.

Next, if a little way back of the frontages of business, there are bluffs or precipitous slopes, the inquiry will be by what lines, spiral or oblique, they may best be ascended. So also if there are bluffs or hills at the back of the site to be occupied.

Accepting, thus far, the lines of nature, which will commonly be curvilinear, and will make irregular angles with each other, the skeleton of the plan that is to be, is made out, and the filling up only remains. And this will be done to a considerable degree, at least, by a rectangular block-work, adjusted by some principal straight line, or lines, running up and along the natural summits, or ridges between the low grounds and their avenues. These principal, straight line streets, having position of dignity, will be the Broadways of the plan. They will be flanked, on either side, of course, by parallels, and intersected by streets at right-angles, running down to the low grounds. But if the ground of the central street, or Broadway, is high enough to give a considerable slope to the intersecting streets, they should never cross over, but should meet, on one side, the centers of blocks on the other; because the eye, looking up, will only look out into the open sky, if they cross over, and see nothing beside; whereas, if it could meet some grand architectural frontage, looking down--some church, or college, or court-house, or bank, or exchange, or hotel--the aspect of elegance and beauty would be maintained, in a degree that is always imposing. Indeed, it may be laid down as a rule, that no straight street should ever cross over the back of a summit, or considerable convexity, and should never fail to cross over a valley, or depression; for, when it crosses a convexity, the eye will only look through into vacancy, and when it crosses a hollow surface, everything moving in it, from one end to the other, will be visible at a glance, and a scene of perpetual, ever shifting, vivacity will be maintained.

Besides, it is a great point in the planning of a city, to get as many good frontages for architecture as possible; so that, moving through it in every direction, the eye will be always meeting, in square front if possible, some grandly imposing or beautiful object. A city like Philadelphia has no frontages, and, if it were made up of palaces, the eye would only look by them, never at them, and they would make but a feeble, side-glance impression. On the other hand, a city planned like Edinburgh in the new part, or in the happy combination of the old and the new, would so display its frontages, at every turn, as to make everything fine even doubly impressive.

Thus far we are able to say, with great positiveness, what should or should not be done. But there is a large field left, where the conditions must be variable, and where only a large, well trained discretion can sufficiently direct.

It may be that the site to be occupied has no middle ground of elevation, but lies in a bowl of depression, surrounded by a rim of overhanging summits. In that very fortunate case, everything must be so ordered as to take the best advantage of the ground. The center now will be the chief point of show or impression; for everything looks into it, and all the motion of the central crossings will be visible from the surrounding slopes, or summits. If the streets do not radiate from this center, or from some open ground reserved for the more imposing structures of the city, they should have their crossings arranged so as to show all the motion going on, and to make the frontages of architecture conspicuous. And then the summits, visible from the center on every side, should be kept for the occupancy of great institutions not wanted in the city itself--colleges, armories, hospitals, asylums, and the like, arranged to overlook and crown the amphitheater below. Sometimes the ground of a city site will be so far broken by projecting hill-sides, that the streets, which are generally straight and cross at right-angles, will be most naturally deflected, or turned off into new lines; or they will require to be curved about the faces, here and there, of projecting promontories. In such cases there should never be any attempt to force a line against nature; for a curvilinear street is always agreeable and graceful where there is a natural reason for it, which the eye will at once distinguish. On a dead plane there can be no such reason, and a crooked street is never to be planned, because it will never be agreeable--the plan must be conformed to geometric lines; but, among hills and moving round their faces, nothing in fact is harder and more repulsive than dashes of deep excavation to cut a line straight through. The same law holds in respect to gradings, when the line of grade is cut by defiles to be crossed. No uniform grade should be forced in such cases by cutting and filling, but the surrender to nature should be gracefully made, by only so far tempering the inequalities, as to produce a moderately waving surface. The rule to be followed in all such cases, whether of deflection, or of unequal grade, is to make the lines flow gracefully into each other by curves, and never allow the change to be notified by knee-joint angles. All angles greater than about forty-five degrees, whether in grade or direction, have a mean look, and the wider the angle, the meaner the look; as if they were the notching of a surveyor's stations the work of a surveyor and not of an artist. In grades their vulgarity is even quite intolerable.

The beauty of a city depends, to a considerable degree, on the right arrangement and due multiplication of vacant spaces. Thus, where straight line streets meet those which are in curves, an irregular and small opening may be left with advantage, to be occupied by a watering-place, a fountain, or a statue. If there be some point from which many streets open by radiant lines, a fine effect will be secured, by drawing there an eclipse, or circle, or irregular figure of open ground that will cut off the otherwise sharp ending blocks, and making room, at the center, for some column, or monumental tower, or equestrian statue, that will meet the eye looking in from every direction down the radiating streets. If there be some very large section of the city which is covered by rectangular block-work, the monotony should be relieved by here and there a vacant block, kept open for some kind of ornamental use. Or, since nothing placed in the center of such a block will be visible from the streets coming in, four blocks may be truncated at their corners, to make a vacant space or opening, at the center of which any imposing ornament will meet the eye from every point, however distant in the streets which make their angle of crossing at the center thus occupied. These vacant spaces, duly and rightly managed, will not only be so many breathing places, but will-add immensely to the variety, vivacity, and impressive elegance of the city.

The providing and right location of a sufficient park, or parks, is a matter of still greater consequence. For an overgrown city, like London, two or three are not many. A small city will require but one. This one too should be neither too large, nor too small, but should correspond with the wants and proper expenditures of the population. And as it can not be known, at the founding of a city, how large it is going to be, it would be well if a considerable section of ground were held in reserve, for a time, to be sold off finally, in part, if it shall appear that all of it will not be wanted. It should be as nearly central as it can without crowding into the spheres of business. The form or figure will be most pleasing if it is irregular, bounded partly by curve lines, partly by straight. It should never be hung like a saddle over the back of a hill. A mostly convex surface, where every part is hidden, by the convex lines, from the sight of every other, can never be interesting. A level, or plane, is better, but even that should be avoided if possible. The life and vivacity of the park will be graduated by the general show it makes of the multitudes walking, driving, or at play upon it, and of the multiplied colors they group in the picture. And, in order to this, the lines of the surface should be mostly concave lines, or convex only at fit intervals to give it variety. A scoop of ground, with a high rim of elevation on one or more sides, will be most advantageous and capable of the best effects. If, beside, there is a stream running through it, or pitching into it at some one of the angles, if it includes here and there a cliff of rock, if it faces mainly the south and not the north, and provides a good building ground on every side so as to allow all round a solid frontage of architecture, broken by no interval of swamp, or impassable jutting of rock, nature will have done what she could to make it perfect, and the city plan will have also done what it could in selecting and providing the ground--art must do the rest.

It would be a matter of no small interest now to go over the plan of our own city, showing, in the light of the general principles here advanced, how many excellences it has that are continually regretted as irreparable defects, and how many supposed excellences that are really deformities. But this you will easily do for yourselves and therefore I desist.

Two things let me suggest in closing. First, the very great instruction regarding this subject that would be derived from a study of the best planned cities of the world, such as Edinburgh, Paris, Naples, and especially the ancient city of Antioch, which appears to me to have been as nearly perfect in the plan as any city ever can be. If Philadelphia could be a study, it might not be amiss to include also that--until, at least, the use of it longer as an American model is corrected.

I will also suggest, secondly, that, considering the immense importance of a right location, and a right planning for cities, no step should ever be taken by the parties concerned, without employing some person, who is qualified by a special culture, to assist and direct. Our engineers are trained for a very different kind of service, and are partly disqualified for this, by the habit of a study more strictly linear, more rigidly scientific, and less artistic. The qualifications of surveyors are commonly more meagre still--many of them could not even draw a spiral, if it was wanted, and would for that reason if no other, march a line straight up a hill, even if it were impracticable. There is even wanted, in this field, a new profession specially prepared by studies that belong to the special subject matter. If a city, as a mere property concern, is to involve amounts of capital greater than a dozen, or even a hundred railroads, why, as a mere question of interest, should it be left to the misbegotten planning of some operator totally disqualified? Besides, if a railroad is badly located, the track can be altered, but here a mistake begun is forever irreparable. Most human errors are amended by repentance, but here there is no amendment--an advantage lost can never be recovered, an error begun can never be repaired. Nothing is more to be regretted, in this view, than that our American nation, having a new world to make, and a clean map on which to place it, should be sacrificing our advantage so cheaply, in the extempore planning of our towns and cities. The peoples of the old world have their cities built for times gone by, when railroads and gunpowder were unknown. We can have cities for the new age that has come, adapted to its better conditions of use and ornament. So great an advantage ought not to be thrown away. We want therefore a city-planning profession, as truly as an architectural, house-planning profession. Every new village, town, city, ought to be contrived as a work of art, and prepared for the new age of ornament to come. 

    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: