W. R. Davidge

The Surveyors' Institution Transactions 42 (1909-1910):31-63.

William Robert Davidge (1879-1961) presented this paper at a general meeting of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors on November 22, 1909. He was then a Fellow of the Institution. A year later this professional society recognized the paper's merit by awarding Davidge its gold medal. This long paper treats urban planning as if its major concerns were directed only to streets and parks. Perhaps the author felt that this approach would have greatest appeal to his fellow surveyors. However, Davidge also had architectural qualifications. In 1898 he became a probationer and in 1900 a student member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. During the period 1896 to 1900 he studied at University College and Kings College, and during all or part of this period he was articled to Marshall Hainsworth, Surveyor to the Teddington Urban District Council. Davidge became an Associate member of the R.I.B.A. in 1904, being supported by Sir Ashton Webb. He served as Associate Member of the theR.I.B.A. council from 1914 to 1920. In June 1912 he successfully applied to become a Fellow of the Institute.

From 1902 to 1907 he was an assistant to W.A. Riley in the architect's department of the London County Council. From 1907 through 1916 he was District Surveyor for Lewisham, Greenwich, and Woolich. In 1919 he became Housing Commissioner for the Southern Counties and later for the London area. Davidge was one of the early leaders of British town planning. In 1914 he visited New Zealand and Australia to lecture on town planning. From 1921 on he practiced as a consulting town planner and architect-surveyor. As of 1926 he was a member of the Council and Vice-President of the Town Planning Institute and later became its President. He also served as Chair of the Executive of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association. In his long career he prepared planning reports for places throughout Britain. These included recommendations for Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, West Kent, and the Belfast, Ireland region. His institutional affiliations also included an Associate membership of the Institution of Civil Engineering.

A Paper on such a subject cannot, from the nature of things, be in any sense an exhaustive one, and I will crave your indulgence this evening if I limit my remarks to typical examples and to towns which for the most part I have specially visited for the purpose.

Town planning, although so much in the air at present, is no new thing. It cannot claim to be an invention of the twentieth century, or to be a new and startling discovery of the present generation, nor is it even due to the abilities of our immediate forerunners. Town planning has been practised, whether under that name or not, for many centuries. Opportunities of constructing a complete town at once or from a fixed plan have, however, been comparatively few, and even those opportunities have not perhaps always been utilised to the fullest extent.

In the older cities of the world an occasional disastrous conflagration, or the destruction of a portion of the city at the hands of friends or foes, has sometimes prepared the way for a grand and general scheme of reconstruction, and many perhaps of the greatest and most famed of the cities of Europe owe their present magnificence in no small degree to the extent of their past calamities. London owes something to the Great Fire, and might have owed much more had the rebuilding been carried out in the way Wren and others would have had it. It is instructive even now to compare the schemes proposed by John Evelyn and Sir Christopher Wren for the rebuilding of London. Vienna, Paris and Berlin are all indebted to the sacrifices and often to the sufferings of the past, and it is possible that the development of these cities would not have been so complete or so satisfactory had they been constructed at their earliest inception on the lines of some general plan instead of by the troublous and slow development, piece by piece, they have been forced to flow.

Many of the newer cities in America and the Colonies, and also in some cases on the Continent of Europe as well as in the East and Far East, have been completely planned from their very commencement, and here one would think, with all conditions favourable, the nearest approach to perfection in town planning should be reached. In many cases indeed the result is the construction of a fine and spacious town, with abundant open spaces and streets of ample width. The very regularity of such a city may however become almost painful, with its monotonously straight and never-ending lines of buildings, with street after street all apparently the same and all apparently endless. The pedestrian in search of the other end of the street wearies from physical and mental fatigue, and still that painful unattainable end seems as far off as when he started.

Partial town planning, such as that involved in the planning of suburbs and the general lines on which the development and extension of an already existing town shall proceed, is of more modern growth, and it is to this modern tendency that our attention is most naturally directed. Garden suburbs and model villages have been introduced in many localities, but so far the initiative in this direction has been left almost entirely to private enterprise. In very few cases has provision been made for anything like a complete or satisfactory scheme of transition from the bustling activities of the central portions of a city, through the districts devoted to trade and residences, out to the fresh beauty of the country beyond.

Town planning, as we know it, is but a development of the best points in existing systems and their adoption to a greater or less extent to the special requirements of the particular community. [italicized passage underlined in original.] With the exception perhaps of the newer parts of Edinburgh, Eastbourne, Bath, and one or two smaller towns, very little definite planning has been carried out in Great Britain. The subject however is at last a living one in this country, and it behooves us to profit to the utmost of our powers by the experience of Continental and other nations who have adopted previous systems of town planning.

In Prussia and other parts of Germany, the municipal authorities have for many years been possessed of special powers to enable them to regulate the growth and extension of the towns under their control, and since the passing of the Prussian Street Lines and Building Lines Act, 1875, and even before that date, it has been customary for the town councils to prepare a building plan for the gradual extension of the town and the laying out of the principal new streets within a reasonable radius of the already built up area. With a view to securing healthy conditions, towns are frequently divided into zones or districts, special restrictions as to height and area of buildings being applicable to each zone.

Technical writers in Germany have also turned their attention to the compilation of many excellent works dealing in detail with the preparation of town plans and the study of the examples of the past. Among these may be mentioned the names of Stübben, Baumeister, and Sitte, the latter of whom has made a close study of a very large number of medieval and other towns whose charm is undeniable, and in particular of the architectural affect produced by judicious planning and grouping of buildings. We all know the delightful fascination of those old world cities, such as Nuremburg and Rothenburg, whose main charm lies perhaps not so much in their scientific planning as in the apparent haphazard grouping of the buildings around some quaint old market place or minster. Even in England our cathedral cities and many of our country villages stand out as possessing in some say a character of their own, often enhanced by some local association of special object of interest, such as a market cross or a village fountain. There is room, much room, in our modern work-a-day world for many such towns and villages, for anything which will give us inspiration and raise our thoughts out of the deadly monotony of the evergrowing and overgrowing suburbs of our modern towns.

One of the causes which has enabled many German towns to develop on a definite plan has been the existence from the earliest times of a large number of reigning princes and grand dukes, who have generally been in close personal touch with their cities and towns, and have thus been in a position continually to plan and improve the principal towns without opposition, the rivalry between neighboring principalities also being frequently effective in securing magnificent improvements.

Town plans, whether complete or only partially so, will generally resolve themselves into one or other of the following:- -

1. Rectangular)

2. Triangular )- Constituting the Formal Systems;

3. Radiating )

4. Irregular or Picturesque School; with variations made up from the use of several or all of these systems.


One of the earliest attempts at town planning on a considerable scale was that adopted in connection with the town of Mannheim, founded by the Elector Palatine in the seventeenth century. It will be seen from the plan accompanying this Paper that the general laying out was originally rectangular, the outer streets, farthest from the ducal castle, being united at a later date by a semi-circular road or boulevard (ring strasse). No names were given to the streets, the numbering of the blocks being sufficient for their identification, blocks running one way being known as A, B, C, D, &c., and the other way as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, &c. This system is still retained in Mannheim. The address of any particular house being, say: Mannheim 45 H7. This principle, however, has not been extended to the newer portions of the town since erected.

Rectangular plans have been adopted, either wholly or partially, in many of the world's principal cities. The plans of Melbourne and Ballarat will serve to illustrate the way in which the principle has been adopted in Australia. It will be noted in these plans that radiating or diagonal streets have also been constructed to meet traffic requirements. The general laying out of the suburbs is, however, on rectangular lines.

In America a somewhat similar method of laying out has been adopted for Washington, the capital city of the United States, diagonal avenues in this case also being arranged to converge on the principal national buildings.

I am indebted to Mr. Melvin C. Hazen, Surveyor of the District of Columbia, for the plan of Washington, and the surrounding district exhibited on the wall. The dotted lines represent proposed streets which were prepared under a Highway Commission appointed by the President of the United States. All sub- divisions now made are on the lines of these proposed streets, and no sub-division is approved by the Commissioners that does not conform to this plan.

The broad diagonal avenues are named after the States and Territories of the United States.

Streets running north and south are numbered consecutively each way from the meridian of the Capitol. If the streets are not direct continuations of city streets, their names correspond with the names of city streets most nearly due north and south in the line of their continuation.

Streets running east and west are named from the letters of the alphabet until these letters are exhausted, and beyond this in accordance with a plan approved by the Commissioners.

Small streets not forming an essential part of the rectangular system of streets are designated "places."

In October, 1906, a system of numbering blocks was adopted under authority of Congress, thus preventing a duplication of squares in any part of the district, and also simplifying the system of land registration. The proposed streets have been marked on the ground by monuments at prominent points, thus facilitating surveys and the setting out of building plots.

The survey and registration certificates attached will also be of interest.

The rigidly rectangular plan possesses the advantage of being simple and easily understood, as well as of facilitating setting out and economical building. Direct transit from point to point is, however, from the nature of things impracticable in the majority of cases, though by the aid of a good system of tramways or public vehicles, this defect can be greatly minimised. It may be taken almost as a definite rule, however, that there are in every town or centre, whether new or old, certain well-defined, though possibly irregular lines of route or main roads leading from the outskirts into the central portions of the city, and the rectangular alignment of the streets thus frequently resolves itself into a series of separate districts sometimes aligned at varying angles.


The disadvantages to which a strictly rectangular system is subject, if there are no diagonal or other streets in an oblique direction, are plainly apparent, and to remedy this what may be termed the "triangular" system has occasionally been introduced. The object in such cases is usually to provide the shortest possible route between any two points, or in other words to facilitate "short cuts" for traffic; the incidental effects achieved should also be to open out architectural vistas in numerous directions, culminating in many instances in public monuments or monumental buildings. It must

not be overlooked, however, that any triangular system of this nature inevitably produces irregular building plots, and also has the effect of concentrating traffic at the principal circuses or squares formed by the intersection of the rectangular or diagonal streets. Anyone remembering for a moment the effect of concentrating five or six streets at the corner of the Mansion House and the Bank of England will appreciate the necessity for ample space to be provided at such intersection if the traffic is not to be hindered unduly. It should be noted, too, that in that distance the principal lines of traffic are really only in two or at most three directions.

The Southern Quarter at Antwerp may be taken as a typical example of a modern city extension on what may be called triangular lines. In this plan the main avenue is tree lined and of considerable width, the diagonal and other streets being arranged to meet at squares specially laid out for this purpose.

The radiating system is perhaps the ideal one, if the "hub" is of sufficient attraction or importance to the community. This system is well illustrated by the laying out of the town of Carlsruhe about 1715--another example of the power of ducal government.

The general plan in this case is fan-shaped, the ducal residence being at the centre and the various streets radiating in all directions from the circular enclosure surrounding the residence; cross streets being constructed approximately at right angles to the radial streets. In addition one or two main intersecting streets have also been constructed. This plan has the advantage of giving ready access to or from the ducal residence, but it is somewhat disconcerting for a stranger to see the same tower down every street he passes, particularly if he is not possessed of a well-developed "bump" of locality. Fortunately, perhaps, Carlsruhe is not a large

town, one half of the circle is reserved for a public park and gardens. The ducal palace is the centre to which every thoroughfare leads and to which all other buildings--all other interests--are subjected. It is to be feared that the object of the grand duke in adopting this plan was not entirely disinterested, but the plan might with advantage be partially adopted in other instances where the central attraction is of sufficient importance to demand prominence.

Other examples of this principle are afforded by the streets radiating from the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, and to a lesser extent from St. George's Circus, London.

In Mr. Ebenezer Howard's first proposal for the building of an ideal city on the lines of the now well-known "Garden City," the central core of the whole was to be formed by an extensive and beautiful public park, and such an ideal as this--a perpetual inspiration to the inhabitants and a permanent and health-giving memorial to the wisdom and foresight of its founders--is one that is well worthy of consideration.

Such conditions for the establishment of a complete city are perhaps rarely found, but opportunities may occur in the future, as they have in the past, of carrying out such an idea, at least in part. It must, however, be in such a way as will not oppress the beholder with a sense of monotony or wearisome repetition of precisely the same vista, however beautiful.

More modern examples of town planning than that of Carlsruhe afforded by the cities of Cologne and Frankfort-on-Main. Both these towns have been fortunate in preserving the space formerly occupied by the encircling walls and fortifications as a ring of public gardens or parks around the inner city, thus obtaining a broad boulevard or ring strasse, something like that which has helped to make Vienna so famous. The development of the outer suburbs also is proceeding on a definite plan in both Cologne and Frankfort.

The town plans in these cases have been prepared with a view to the probable requirements of the city for many years to come, and as will be seen from the official plan of Frankfort it will probably be many years before the full advantage of the scheme is obtained; in the meanwhile, however, many thousands of dwellers in the vicinity of the broad boulevards and tree-planted streets are receiving the advantages that come from abundance of open space and fresh air in pleasant surroundings.

But it must not be overlooked that these wide streets are very costly as regards both the land which they occupy and the actual cost of construction. In the majority of cases the whole cost falls upon the owners, and the natural consequence is that in order to recoup this outlay the rents are forced up and as many people as possible crowded into the high tenements or dwellings which are so often a feature of the German towns. Thus, although to outward appearance a fine city may be secured, it does not by any means follow that overcrowding and its attendant evils are removed. The population in the leading German towns varies from about 30 to 50 persons for each house, that of Berlin reaching 52.6 persons per house.

The main features of the proposed development at Frankfort are an outer ring of boulevards or "Allees," from which the subsidiary streets branch off in apparently haphazard directions. The majority of these lesser streets have a definite trend or direction towards the main highways leading towards the centre of the town, which are well supplied with tramways. The streets where straight, have as a general rule some object to which they lead, or some vista which they aid in preserving.

So far we have dealt mainly with straight lines and with regular systems, but probably the cities which really most charm us and which live in our memories long years after we have visited them, are the quaint old-world places, with their irregular streets, their quiet dreamy squares or their bustling market places, withal overshadowed by some grey old minster or some monument of the past; or perhaps our thoughts stray to some quaint cluster of houses nestling round its village green. Wherein lies their undeniable charm? To what extent, and within what limits can their quaintness, their subtle attractions, their very irregularities be imitated at the present day, or rather--is it still possible to catch a little of the spirit--a little of that innate love of the beautiful which seems to have been part of the lives of those old craftsmen who have gone before us? Much of the charm of these cities is undoubtedly due to their associations and to the atmosphere of antiquity which surrounds them, but beyond all these there are many things which may well be studied with advantage by the most up-to-date of town planners. Sitte's book, already alluded to, deals with this aspect of town planning in a most fascinating manner, and shows how town after town of medieval times owes its picturesqueness, its quaintness and often much of its artistic charm to the skilful grouping of the buildings, and perhaps above all to the intuitive sense of proportion in the--to us--haphazard dimensions and arrangements of the public "places," and to the irregular outlines of the street frontages.

Modern requirements demand that the streets shall be of ample width, and there can be no two opinions that the tree-planted street with its welcome shade and refreshing greenness is to be preferred to the narrow street of the older type or to the barren and scorching wilderness of dust or paving which is unfortunately so often typical of the modern city. There does not, however, appear to be any reason why we should not adopt at any rate a few of the principles which seem to have guided our forefathers to such successful results. It sounds almost sacrilege to say it, but it is just possible that our building acts and bye-laws may be in some way a mistake, that our rigid enforcement of building lines and regulations apparently aiming at establishing a perfectly straight unbroken expanse of blank wall--miles of it-- without a projection of any sort if it can be avoided, may be misguided.

In laying out a new town or portion of a town the necessities of the future will naturally have precedence over all other considerations, and due regard must be given to:--

1. The lines and widths of main routes and directions of principal subsidiary streets, having regard to prevailing winds, traffic requirements, preservation of views, &c.

2. Public buildings to be provided, churches, schools, public halls, theatres, baths, libraries, post offices, municipal buildings, and such like--their number and probable size.

3. Open spaces to be provided for

(a) Playgrounds, parks, and recreation grounds.

(b) Public squares, having regard to probable extent and grouping of public buildings, monuments, &c.

4. Districts to be reserved for factories and dwellings, and zones for limits of heights of buildings (if any).

The above considerations and any others dictated by special local circumstances should naturally be taken into account in any plan for town extension, but it should here be noted that the results achieved will probably be very different in towns of differing characteristics, and still more so in countries whose whole ideals and aspirations as to home life are so different as those of England and Germany.

In our country the Englishman's house is, at any rate in theory, still his castle, and the ambition of the thoughtful artisan or other worker--and a laudable ambition it is, too--is to occupy a cottage pleasantly situated in the country or in the outskirts of the town in which his work lies. The high value of land has, in many instances it is true, dictated the erection of block dwellings, but the British working man as a rule does not take kindly to these, unless his necessities oblige him to live in close contact with his work.

In Germany it is the rule rather than the exception for the artizans' dwellings to be of the tenement type, and it will be seen from the figures already given as to the average population per house in several of the leading German industrial centres that, despite other improvements, overcrowding in that sense is much more rife even than in England. It follows from this fact that the population is much less closely housed in this country, that our English cities, and particularly their suburban districts, occupy a much greater area than a similar population would require in Germany. The problem of development is thus if anything a more complex one, and any schemes for town planning should provide for future development in a much more expansive way than is necessary with our neighbors.

The throwing down of the town walls and fortifications within comparatively recent times in many continental cities has given an opportunity for a belt of public grounds or broad tree-planted boulevards within comparatively easy reach of the centre. The ducal or autocratic control so common in many of the German cities has also to a large extent enabled the problems of town development to be undertaken on comprehensive lines and on broad principles.

We in England have no town walls to demolish and we are not, fortunately or unfortunately, under such autocratic sway. The great ground landlords of many of our large town could nevertheless do much for the public good in this direction if they would but unite forces with the representative local authorities of their districts. We have nevertheless other compensating advantages for the purposes of town planning in the larger area and more convenient proportions of our enclosures, and as a rule in the fewer numbers of owners with whom negotiations must be opened. The cottage dwellings and other two- storey buildings so usual in this country also render unnecessary in the majority of cases any special legislation or regulation, so common in Germany, for limiting the height. Fresh air and prevailing winds alike find easy access to dwellings under such conditions if sufficient open space is provided around the buildings.

But the density of population allowed or rather encouraged by our present model by-laws may be anything up to 300 or more per acre for even our ordinary two-storey cottages, and it would certainly seem advisable that some improvement in the amount of the private open spaces to be provided, as well as those of a more public character, should go hand in hand with any scheme worthy of the name of town planning.

Modern traffic requirements demand that all parts of a city shall be accessible to rapidly moving vehicles and, particularly since the advent of the motor, the idea seems to be general that these streets shall be as straight as a dart.

The widths to be provided for the various classes of streets are of the utmost importance, and the possible direction of future lines of route should as far as possible be anticipated. The lesser subsidiary streets will naturally be planned in each case with due regard to the contour of the ground, direction of prevailing winds, access to railway stations and other points, and last but not least the question will have to be considered whether a straight or curved street is to be adopted. The cost, of making up streets, macadamised or paved the full width, is considerable, and it would in many cases by cheaper and more effective to make up only the width necessary for the actual traffic, leaving grass margins at each side. The approximate widths of various important streets are given below:--

London--Kingsway and Aldwych )
Blackfriars Bridge ) 100
Victoria Embankment--near Westminster Bridge 130
Whitehall--widest portion 120 to 145
Holborn Viaduct and Northumberland Avenue 90
Regent Street Quadrant 85
Piccadilly 75
Queen Victoria Street 70
Oxford Street-- near Oxford Music Hall )
near North Audley Street) 58 to 88
Cheapside and Fleet Street 48 to 60
Edinburgh--Princes Street 100
Paris--Champs Elysées 230
Avenue de l'Opera 98
Washington--Main Avenues 120 to 160
Vienna--Ring Strasse 186 to 200
Berlin--Under den Linden 190
Frankfurt--Ordinary tree-planted roads 65 to 78
Wider promenades 115

Broad straight thoroughfares are naturally best adapted for monumental avenues leading directly to some national or civic building of sufficient importance, and possibly it might also be added for main through roads conducting one to important towns. It is at least questionable, however, whether long straight streets do not lose much of their effect if constructed in too great profusion, and without any special objective. Such an avenue should have some special raison d'etre to justify its existence, and it should terminate in something more inspiring than a dust destructor or a house of refreshment.

The typical irregularity of the streets of nearly all old cities is attributable to their gradual historical development, and their sometimes astonishing twists and turns may generally be ascribed to practical causes, such as the presence of an ancient way or watercourse. But it must be borne in mind that the irregularities of a plan which look so strange on paper are not necessarily disagreeable in actual execution, but often give an added interest or more picturesque effect to the street. Regularity of plan is by no means essential; St. Paul's Cathedral is on an entirely different axis to the line of Ludgate Hill, but the effect is certainly not diminished by this apparent accident of position.

With streets as well as with squares it is frequently desirable to "frame" or limit the view, and this is more generally achieved by forming a break or curve in the line of sight, the junction of Regent Street with Portland Place will serve to exemplify this, and the construction of quadrants and curved façades is another expression of this general feeling. With a strongly marked curve (such as the quadrant in Regent Street) there may possibly be a tendency to irritation if the length is unnecessarily prolonged, but with a slightly curving frontage there is ample opportunity for a continually varying horizon, for a moving picture of continual charm. This is particularly the case where numerous objects or buildings of interest exist on the same line of route. The curved frontage of Fleet Street as one goes westwards with first the tower of St. Dunstan's Church, then the Law Courts, and the Strand churches beyond, will occur to everyone, and the noble sweep of the Thames Embankment undoubtedly owes most of its effect to the graceful curve which shows off its buildings to such splendid advantage. Imagine the difference if the river were confined between rigid walls of straight lines.

For a tree-planted street, a slightly curved line not too regular in form gives perhaps the most pleasing effect, and for suburban streets in particular this method of planning with its continual green vistas of trees is worthy of the utmost encouragement. The most successful of the garden suburbs have in many cases been designed on such lines--a maximum of garden, a minimum of suburb. Even in this case, however, the curved streets should not be overdone. Nothing is more bewildering to a stranger than to find himself in a labyrinth of streets curving in every direction except that in which he wishes to go.

In a town street a curved or irregular line of frontage may be made to provide just the spaces for cabstands, sandbins, public ambulances, telephones, fire escapes, fire calls, and the other conveniences which are so essential to the comfort of life in a modern city. In a less crowded street the continual change of view, due to the irregular frontage, helps to break the thoroughfare up into short sections; the foot traveller feels conscious as he passes landmark after landmark on his way that he is indeed making good progress, and presses forward with encouragement, very different to the unfailing weariness produced by a mile of straight road both on mind and body.

In modern towns irregularities of planning have not perhaps always been a success, their artificial character is too apparent, and in many cases the irregularities are simply cut- away plots of triangular shape produced in connection with street "improvements," or perhaps due to the parallel shape of plots forcing the houses into "echelon" formation. The crooked street of our forefathers is perhaps too crooked for modern ideas, but it should at any rate be possible for us to grasp some of the principles which consciously or unconsciously must have guided the men of the past. With the advance of sanitation, and the increase of traffic, we demand wider streets and more breathing space, but let us not aim at showing our superior wisdom simply by the extent to which we have developed the art of drawing straight lines.

Straight streets are undoubtedly necessary for many purposes, if wisely used they give an air of stateliness and a sense of fitness and monumental grandeur, but the so often reiterated use of the rectangular or draught board pattern of street planning, without consideration to the shape or contour of the ground or to any other local circumstance, cannot but be regretted.

The width and general direction of the streets having been decided upon, there will necessarily be many important centres or points of crossing at which the traffic will be much heavier than in other parts of the town. At these points the difficulties of dealing with the traffic will naturally be increased, and it may perhaps be of service briefly to scrutinise a few of the methods that have been adopted to minimise the inconvenience and danger of thus concentrating the traffic.

The rounding off of all corners produces naturally the familiar form of circus, of which so many examples are to be found in London.

The introduction of a few more converging streets produces the rond point, so characteristic of the stereotyped form of town plan.

A more ancient method of dealing with the difficulty is by the construction of a small open square or market place, thus dispersing the traffic over a wider area.

If the levels admit, one thoroughfare may sometimes cross the other by means of a bridge, as in the case of Holborn and Farringdon Street, or in the manner suggested by Mr. Paul Waterhouse to the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1906, in connection with the proposals of the London Traffic Commission. Sir John Wolfe Barry, too, some time ago suggested a bridge over the Strand at Wellington Street. Such methods, however, by reason of the difference of levels and cost involved can only be for exceptional cases in which the traffic is sufficiently heavy to justify the outlay.

In this connection it may be interesting to note the suggestions recently made in a Report upon the street traffic of Paris. The suggestion is not so much a constructive one as for the regulation of existing traffic, and to enable two or more streams of traffic to cross at any angle without confusion. It is suggested that at important street junctions circuses should be formed with a central island of some size, the traffic being made to circulate solely to the left, or in one direction only. Some such system of traffic regulation is at any rate worthy of a trial, and with the assistance of the London policeman should not be difficult to carry out.

The diagram below shews how this principle might be adopted at such a point as Ludgate Circus.

It will be noted that the central island must be of sufficient size to ensure a general circular motion to the traffic, and the triangular refuges must also be arranged to assist this. The main drawback appears to be that the traffic proceeding from one road to another immediately on the right would have to make almost a complete circuit of the space. The system seems simple provided the vehicles are in single file, but complications might arise with two or three lines of traffic in each direction. It might be advisable, also in cases of any heavy traffic to provide subways or other facilities for foot passengers. The French proposal suggests that the central space might be entirely open at a level of about 10 feet below the street, short subways being constructed from this to staircases at the various street corners.

Many town councils both in England and on the Continent have been far sighted enough to purchase comparatively cheap land on the outskirts of their town for the purposes of public parks, and in many continental cities this system of land purchase by the local authorities has been utilised to secure for the community itself the profit from the continual expansion and consequent rise in land values. A system of municipal land speculation of this kind has many advantages for the community, but it is naturally open to considerable opposition from private landowners.

However this may be, parks must always be provided for the public, and these should be in as easy communication as possible with the most congested portions of the town. The presence of a park in itself tends to improve the whole of the surrounding property, and naturally the better class of houses will be found in close proximity to such breathing spaces.

It is not too much to say that public gardens or tree-planted spaces are a vital necessity for the health and well-being of the community, and there can be no question that the beauty of a town is greatly enhanced by the presence of a sufficiency of trees and well-kept gardens. Ample space should also be provided for the purpose of playgrounds for the children, and these should be of a pleasant character and something more than gravel or asphalte[sic] wildernesses.

A point that is not always borne in mind in designing squares or open spaces is the proportion which the space should bear to the surrounding buildings, and particularly to the dominating building which is to abut upon it. The charm of the older cities was in hardly any case obtained by the use of large open spaces; their pleasing result was attained by a judicious grouping or arrangement of comparatively small spaces. Sitte states that in front of a building such as a church of considerable height in proportion to its breadth, in which the "vertical" note predominates, the "place" or open space should be deep and narrow, while in front of a long façade such as that of a town hall or other building of considerable length the open space should be wide, rather than deep. Experience shows, he says, that the minimum dimensions of a "place" should be equal to the height of the principal edifice fronting thereon, and that is maximum dimensions ought not to be more than double such height.

Another point which he emphasises from an artistic standpoint is the necessity, particularly in the case of squares or open spaces, for closing in or "framing" the view, so that the buildings appear to be continuous.

In many of the older cities it will be found that the streets and thoroughfares communicating with open squares or "places" do not run directly into the centre of the open space as in so many modern plans, but rather enter one end of it. In others, the "place" is artificially enclosed by colonnading or entrance arches, to form a closed-in view.

No paper on town planning would be complete which does not touch upon the possibilities of improving the great collection of towns which we call London. The London Traffic Commission a year or so ago deliberated upon the peculiar difficulties which beset London, and with the passing of an Act dealing with the subject of town planning it is possible that some considerable alleviation may be effected in the present conditions of traffic congestion.

The first necessity is for co-ordination of effort among the many authorities in whose tender mercies the hapless Greater London is situated. Some such co-ordination should be possible under the direction of a central authority invested with sufficient powers.

Given such co-operation, the next thing is evidently to take stock of our present advantages--our parks, open spaces, water- courses, commons, country lanes and main highways, and to make all such assets as accessible and convenient as possible.

Of Garden Suburbs we have already a few, but they need to be increased in all directions.

In parks and open spaces London is apparently well provided, but many of these are concentrated in the better-class neighborhoods, and whole tracts of bricks and mortar still exist with hardly a tree-planted street, and only an occasional spot of green grass in the shape of a disused burial ground. In North London we have Regent's Park and Hampstead; in East London there is Victoria Park. These make a good show on the map, but they are within reach of a proportion of the people only. Meanwhile areas which might be utilised as public parks are steadily absorbed by factories and rows of mean streets, each individual owner naturally striving to make his land return as much as possible by crowding the bricks and mortar as closely as building acts will allow.

Let us consider for a moment what sort of improvements are reasonably practicable. It is comparatively easy to plan an ideal city if "ways and means" have not to be considered, but in another sense it is just the existing "ways" and "means of communication" which must be considered and utilised to the fullest extent.

Apart from the question of improving and widening many of the existing roads out of London, and of providing new routes where necessary, one of the first considerations should undoubtedly be to bring the larger parks and as many other green open spaces as possible within easy reach of all sections of the community. A glance at the diagram map accompanying the Paper will show what might be done in the way of forming a broad boulevard or ring strasse, somewhat on the lines that have made Vienna and other cities so magnificent. It will be seen that the suggestion would provide for the connecting of the principal parks by a broad tree-planted avenue, with green grass and gardens at frequent

intervals. If some such proposal were adopted it would give an altogether different character to London. No matter in which direction one approached the central districts--the heart of the Empire--the eye would be able to rest upon at least one broad belt of greenery encircling the town. Imagine the improvement effected if Hackney Marshes, for example, were transformed from a plain bare wilderness of parched grass with straight ugly canals, into a veritable Bois de Boulogne intersected by beautiful waterways.

We do not make half enough of our present assets, and with expert assistance, such as can be readily given by members of our own and kindred professions, there will be innumerable fields for the beautifying of London.

The Regent's Canal is in many places one of the most beautiful of London's ways, but it means little, if anything, to the thousands of Londoners who catch but a glimpse of it from the top of an omnibus over the parapet of a high-walled brick bridge, or through the chinks of an advertisement hoarding. What a glorious series of shady walks might be made by its banks with a little thought, a little sacrifice.

Very few great cities are more finely situated by nature than London, if we could but realise it. Both on the north and south it is girdled by hills, and the broad expanse of heath at Hampstead and the hills of Sydenham and Forest Hill are splendid fringes for a splendid city.

On the east and west we have already an almost continuous chain of truly beautiful parks, and yet the main roads lined closely on each side by houses in many cases thread their way through the closely built area between the parks, almost within reach, yet entirely out of touch with the green grass and green fields. Nine-tenths of the passengers on the tram, or bus, or tube are entirely oblivious of the parks so near at hand, and, although they may perform the same journey day after day for years, have neither the time nor the inclination to go a hundred yards to see the parks so thoughtfully provided by an earlier generation. The remedy is clearly to open out all such parks so that they can be appreciated and utilised to the fullest possible extent.

London has also been fortunate in the past in taking advantage of the little hills and valleys which exist in her very midst. St. Paul's owes much of its effect to the height of Ludgate Hill on which it stands; the Valley of the Fleet, Notting Hill, and other natural beauties within the area of buildings will occur to everyone. One and all emphasize the necessity of taking the fullest advantage of every rise and fall of the ground.

No planning, however, can hope to be of real service in beautifying our cities unless the architecture of the buildings is in accord with its needs and worthy of its purpose. Some efficient architectural control there must be, but at the same time it is evident that in England at any rate as free a hand as possible should be given to individual tastes. With our present methods this may appear well-nigh impossible, but with a better and more general appreciation of the art of building it would not be an impossible ideal to reconcile these conflicting schools.

Although perhaps in the central and more important areas it may be necessary to require buildings to be to a strictly regulated and restrained design, in the outskirts there is no reason why much more latitude should not be allowed for individual ideals. The garden suburbs, which have been formed in various places around our great cities, are many of them delightful in their planning and surroundings. Port Sunlight near Birkenhead, Bournville and Harborne near Birmingham, the Hampstead Garden Suburb and many other model estates in the neighborhood of London, all testify to the advantage of such suburbs, combining as they do the beauty of the country and the facilities of the town.

The Bill now before Parliament provides for the town planning scheme to be prepared by the local authority, such scheme, when approved by the Local Government Board, to have effect as if it were enacted in the Act.

The preparation of such a town plan will in the ordinary course of events be the work of a committee or commission appointed by the local authority or authorities concerned, and it is to be hoped that they will have the advantage of skilled expert advice. It may be interesting to compare this with the practice that obtains in German towns under the magisterial system.

The Mayor or Oberburgermeister is under this system elected for a long period of about 12 years, and he is assisted in his functions as head of the executive by a Cabinet of a select number of special councillors, also elected for a term of years. Practically the whole of the town government is in the hands of this paid Cabinet or "Magistrat," and they have the advantage of expert advice from the city architect, engineer and medical officer. In the preparation of town plans it is also customary to consult one or other of the leading professional men of the country, who have built up reputations as specialists in this class of work.

In England it is evident that the preparation of a scheme so vitally affecting the future of a town must not be left entirely to a committee composed of butchers and bakers, however well meaning, or of property owners or others who have their own axes to grind. The best advice obtainable must be secured, and this will not doubt be readily and cheerfully given by surveyors, architects, valuers and all concerned with the material advancement of the town. The further submission of the completed scheme to the Local Government Board will ensure that a fair hearing is given to all objections raised and that the proposal is as free as possible from objectionable features. Whether it will also ensure that the scheme shall contain a sufficiency of sites for public buildings, gardens, parks, open spaces and similar amenities remains to be seen.

The acquirement of property required for these purposes and the compensation to be paid in a general scheme for redistribution of land would in themselves form ample material for an interesting treatise, and I do not propose to go into these questions which are somewhat outside the scope of my Paper.

A brief summary of the conclusions to which one is led may not be out of place, though in the nature of the case it cannot be considered as in any sense exhaustive.

1. Each town must have an individuality of its own.

2. Natural assets, such as hills, woods and water, must be preserved and extended.

3. Main lines of route must take the direction required by the traffic and contour of the ground.

4. Geometrical planning must not necessarily be adopted as satisfactory.

5. Long straight streets, when adopted, should have a definite "motive."

6. Slight curves or irregularities in frontage lines and building lines may, in many cases, be adopted with advantage.

7. Line of sight should, in most cases, be restricted within reasonable limits, i.e., lines of long streets, except as mentioned above (No. 5), should be broken, and all views should as far as possible be framed in a suitable setting.

8. The grouping or arrangement of the principal buildings and open spaces should in all cases be specially studied with a view to securing the best effect for the whole.

9. No planning scheme can be considered as complete without a sufficiency of open spaces, and due regard must be paid to proportion and to architectural design.

The Paper has I fear been already too lengthy, but I cannot conclude without an expression of my great indebtedness to all those who by the supply of information of illustrations have helped so materially to its compilation. The subject is indeed a large one and I hope that the discussion will bring out many sides of the question not yet touched upon.

The usefulness of the Town Planning Act will depend largely upon the way in which its provisions are carried out throughout the length and breadth of the land, and it is not too much to hope that our profession will be privileged to perform its share of the great work. . 

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: 
To Top of Page
To Homepage