George B. Ford

Benjamin Clarke Marsh, An Introduction to City Planning: Democracy's Challenge to the American City, Chapter VII. (New York: Privately Printed, [1909]).

This statement expresses the opinions of a new breed of American planner attempting to avoid the label of the "City Beautiful." Some histories of city planning refer to this as the "City Practical" approach. Ford (1879-1930) was well qualified to help lead this transition. He grew up in Clinton, Massachusetts, attended Harvard University from 1895 to 1898, and spent his senior year studying architecture at M.I.T. After earning his A.B. from Harvard in 1899, he spent two years at M.I.T. where he received a B.S. in 1900 and M.S. in 1901.

After three years in Boston architectural offices Ford had saved enough money to leave for Paris and study for four years at the École des Beaux-Arts whose diploma he received in 1907. Perhaps his thesis at the École, "A Tenement in a Large City," began to focus his attention on the problems of urban planning. That interest would soon be expressed in the essay that follows. Ford wrote it while working for the New York architectural firm of George S. Post & Sons. A year after this initial statement on planning appeared Ford was the American delegate at the Vienna meeting of the International Housing Conference, and from then on his career became devoted increasingly to city planning work. By the end of those productive years he had served more than one hundred cities in some capacity as a planner, lecturer, consultant, or adviser.

Ford returned to France in the spring of 1917 as head of the Reconstruction Bureau of the American Red Cross. Two years later the French Government retained him as a consultant on replanning such badly damaged cities as Arras, Soissons, and Rheims. During the 1920s Ford became an acknowledged leader in the planning movement and in 1925 founded the journal, City Planning. In 1930 he became general director of the New York regional Plan, but that same year his death following an operation cut short this distinguished career.

In attempting to consider the question-of city planning upon the technical side, we must first decide what the features are which effect our problem. To do this it will be necessary to analyze the various buildings which constitute a city and to decide what their respective uses are. Then we must study their relation one to another and also their probable direction of growth. Mr. Richard M. Hurd in his recent book called "The Principles of City Land Values" divides all classes of buildings into Business buildings, Residence buildings and Public or Semi-Public buildings. I believe that for a practical working basis for our purpose we may divide them a little differently, that is to say; buildings in which we work, buildings in which we live and buildings which we use for recreation. In addition we must consider those for transit and transportation. Let us take up each of these classes in turn and search out the special characteristics of each type and class.


Buildings in which we work may be subdivided as follows: Factories, warehouses, wholesale stores, retail stores, offices, banks, exchanges and insurance buildings, and government buildings.


Factories are of three types, the loft building type, the open mill type and the foundry type.

LOFT BUILDING TYPE. This demands large, deep blocks in a city, with wide roadways for trucking. The streets are congested only early in the morning and late at night at a time when there is no teaming, so the sidewalks may be narrow. There must be big, open floor spaces artificially lighted, allowing at the same time for a good circulation of air. These must be near rapid transit lines on the main avenues. At the same time the rapid transit lines must not interfere with trucking. They must be near railroad yards and warehouses and water, if such exists. For the health of the city these factories must be smokeless.

OPEN MILL TYPE. This is better for the workers, for it is more open. There is more sunlight and air. It demands a large unbroken tract of land within walking distance of the homes of the workers. The buildings themselves are divided up into small units and spread apart to allow of plenty of light in all. They should be near other mills of a similar kind for ease of exchange of employees. They must be on a railway siding or water way with the possibility of the use of water for power or washing. The chimneys should be very tall and as far as possible, they should be to the leeward of the city, so that the smoke will not have to pass over the town.

FOUNDRY TYPE. These must be to the leeward of the city to allow smells and gases to escape without passing over the residence districts. They should border on a water way for transportation of heavy materials. They are one story high, very light and open. About them must be space for big storage yards. The homes of workers should be, if possible, to the windward.


These may be divided into three classes, general loft type, grain elevator type and storage warehouse type.

GENERAL LOFT TYPE. These must be near factories, railroad yards and water courses. They must not be very high as they demand exceptionally heavy construction. They must open on wide roadways with narrow sidewalks, as comparatively few people would use the latter. They are not necessarily near the residence sections.

GRAIN ELEVATOR TYPE. These must be on water ways or railway yards. They are high, close together with a certain space between for trucking purposes. The question of lighting does not have to be considered.

STORAGE WAREHOUSE TYPE. These will be scattered on the edges of the living sections, preferably between the latter and the business sections. The question of light does not need to be considered. The roadway should be wide.


These are of two types, those which will handle small goods of great variety and those which handle bulky goods of small variety.

The latter should be on the outskirts, in the neighborhood of waterways and railway yards on wide roadways. The former should be near the retail stores, on back streets, off the rapid transit lines. They demand in either case big open floor space of heavy construction. Light is of much more importance than in the case of the warehouses.


These are of five types. The department store, the high class shop, the specialty shop, the store for the sale of provisions and local trading, and the markets.

DEPARTMENT STORES. These should be near or on the meeting point of the railways and rapid transit lines. They should be on broad streets with wide side-walks. They should also face on a narrow street with a wide roadway to admit of teaming. They should have good light on all sides with plenty of chance for ample circulation of air. They should not be too high, as they will obstruct each other's light. The floors consist of big open spaces, usually built around large courts with skylights at the top.

HIGH-CLASS SHOPS. These should be on a main avenue leading to the best residential section. This avenue should not be too broad to admit of easy crossing on foot. A north and south street is preferable so that both sides will receive an equal amount of shade. They consist of many small frontages with offices and studios for professional men above. The blocks must not be too deep. There should be no rapid transit on or above the street, it being left clear for carriages and automobiles or auto-busses.

SPECIALTY SHOPS. These would be scattered among the department stores and high-class shops. Those of a particular kind would be grouped together. Their requirements are like those of the high-class shops.

STORES FOR PROVISIONS AND LOCAL TRADES. These are on the main avenues and wider streets of the residential sections. They are well scattered. The south side of east and west streets is particularly desirable for shade and also as this situation is the most undesirable for residential purposes. The streets should not be too broad to admit of easy crossing.

MARKETS. These should be near the traffic centers, in large open spaces bounded by wide streets. There should be other smaller markets, similar in other respects, in the tenement sections.


These will be grouped together in the rapid transit converging center and will consist of the following subdivisions: Those for bankers, brokers, and lawyers, those for big corporations and industrial houses, those for engineers and architects, those for newspapers and periodicals.

BANKERS, BROKERS AND LAWYERS. These demand many small offices, single or in groups. For convenience they should be as near together as possible and therefore the buildings have to be high. On the other hand, height, and necessarily narrow streets decrease health and efficiency in as far as they cut off light and air. Therefore height and area covered by such buildings should be limited. Sidewalks should be wide, roadways narrow. Rapid transit stations should be frequent. In the largest cities all rapid transit should be underground.

CORPORATIONS AND INDUSTRIAL HOUSES. These demand large open space; otherwise they are like the above.

ENGINEERS AND ARCHITECTS. These need a maximum of light and therefore are at the tops of buildings. They require large space. They should be convenient to other offices of the district. Many architects are located over high-class shops.

NEWSPAPERS AND PERIODICALS. These should be on unencumbered wide side streets for trucking purposes. The front should be an open square space or small park to care for crowds on election or race days. They should be high for purposes of advertising and illumination. They should be central to railway stations and rapid transit.


These may be divided into three classes--Banks, Exchanges and Insurance buildings.

BANKS. National banks have their main houses in the heart of the central financial section on narrow streets. Branches will be scattered throughout the city among the stores and in the main streets of the residence sections.

Trust companies are like national banks in their requirements. Either of them conveniently fill in spaces between high buildings.

Savings banks will be uniformly scattered along the main avenues of the city.

EXCHANGES. These will be in the financial center. They require large plots of land. They will be comparatively low buildings and like national banks may fit in between high buildings.

INSURANCE BUILDINGS. Life insurance buildings demand large plots of ground often whole blocks. They should face on open squares or small parks or wide avenues; this for advertising purposes. All other insurance buildings are preferably in the heart of the financial district.


These are National, State or City buildings. National buildings are Post-offices, Custom House, Assay Office and Sub-Treasury and Courts. State buildings are Capitols and courts. City buildings are City Halls and municipal buildings, courts and jails, police buildings and fire buildings.

POST OFFICES. The central post-office occupies a large area. It does not necessarily need to be near the business or financial district. It is desirable that it should be near or over the tracks of the main railway lines. Post-office stations will be in all the centers of the city and on rapid transit lines. In every case there must be ample trucking space in the bordering streets. The buildings should be monumental. This latter is true of all government buildings.

CUSTOM HOUSE. This should be near docks, or railway lines from the border.

ASSAY OFFICE AND SUB TREASURY. These should be near docks and should border on wide streets for trucking.

COURTS. These should be where they will receive good light and near rapid transit lines. They should not be too high. They are preferably on a main avenue or square.

STATE CAPITOL. This should be the crowning feature of the city, preferably on a hill with open park space about it. It should be at or not far from the center of the city. It should be distinctly monumental in character. Precedent gives it a dome.

STATE COURTS. These should be on the main square not too high, monumental, well lighted and accessible to transit.

CITY HALL AND MUNICIPAL BUILDING. This should be the next most important and monumental building after the State Capitol. It should be on or near an open square or small park as near the center of the city as possible. The municipal office building differs in no material degree from other office buildings. The borough halls should occupy prominent places on squares or small parks in their respective districts.

COURTS. These should be in the center of the city or in or near the centers of the outlying parts and sections of the city, especially the residence sections.

JAILS. These should be in the rear of the city courts connecting with the latter. They should be well back from the streets for privacy and for light.

POLICE BUILDINGS. The central building should be near the courts and the City Hall. The branch buildings should be near the local center, especially in the residence sections.

FIRE BUILDINGS. These should be evenly distributed throughout the city preferably on wide streets.

PUBLIC COMFORT STATIONS. They should be underground at all

important corners or squares in the inner city.

Asylums, Penitentiaries and Poor Farms are necessarily well outside of the city.


Dwellings may be divided into three classes: Houses which are occupied, in the vertical sense, by only one family; tenements and apartments in which there is, in a vertical sense, more than one family and hotels to include lodging houses and boarding houses which are occupied by transient families or by unmarried people.


These should be in all the outlying districts. They should be grouped about their own centers, that is, their own public buildings, stores, markets and whatever else is necessary for an independent existence. The streets as far as is consistent with the future development of the city should be irregular and winding, arranged in small plots so as to allow of a certain amount of land about each house. The size of the lots will depend on the character of the district. The best residential districts require large avenues and streets, many open spaces and much planting. The cheapest residential districts require small plots of land, but should never call for more than twelve houses to the acre. The roadways should be narrow, the sidewalks narrow with a small grass plot in front of the house and a garden behind. An open space should be left in the middle of the block to serve as a playground for the children of that block. As the houses receive light from all sides, orientation is not important. Rapid transit lines on the main streets should be within walking distance of all homes. It is considered desirable by economists that the most expensive and the least expensive houses should all be in the same neighborhood, that is, with the best houses on the main streets and the poorer houses on the secondary streets. In any case lots should not be too deep. A great deal depends upon the natural topography of the country and every advantage should be taken of this in planning the district.


TENEMENTS. These should be within easy walking distance of the main rapid transit lines. They should exist only in the neighborhood of factory and business centers.

The great essential is sunlight and air and anything which will conduce to home likeness. It has been proved conclusively as a result of scientific research by Monsieur Rey of Paris that the streets in the tenement section should run North and South or at some angle with North and South not over forty-five degrees away from it in either direction. To economize space these north and south streets may be quite narrow, with narrow blocks between, only wide enough to take buildings two rooms deep. By this arrangement it is possible to have sunlight in every room in every apartment for at least one to three hours even on the shortest day of the year. This implies that the tenements should not be over five stories in height. This arrangement further allows of through ventilation in every apartment. Roadways need not be more than 18 or 20 feet in width. These will be bordered by trees, then come narrow sidewalks, then grass plots, then the two-room deep buildings, then in the rear gardens with the spaces in the centers of the blocks used as playgrounds for children. This allows of the conversion of the district, when commerce requires it, into an economical arrangement with wide streets and large blocks. The block of tenements should not be continuous but broken into small units with open stairs between to allow of the free circulation of air. If necessary in winter, these open stairs may be glassed in. The roofs should be used for playgrounds and possible drying space. The street facades of the tenements should be broken in plane and in height with a possible maximum of five stories. They should be made as attractive as possible with the use of light, warm color in plaster, terra-cotta, light brick, faience, sgraffito or painted work and should be decorated with flowers and vines in window boxes, with possible pergolas and trellises on top. Playgrounds and park-like squares should be found at the intersections of the diagonal and cross streets. There should be many of these, no one of them need be very large.

HIGH-CLASS APARTMENTS. These should have larger streets and should be built in larger units; otherwise they are like the above.


HOTELS. Hotels should be near the railway stations and the rapid transit centers, also near the theatres the important retail stores. They occupy a large area, are necessarily high and, as far as possible, they should have a southern exposure. They are on the main streets and avenues. They require a side street with a wide roadway for carriages and automobiles, also a back alleyway for unloading supplies and coal, and removing ashes.

CHEAP HOTELS AND LODGING HOUSES. These are in the tenement districts on the main streets. They should be near parks and public baths. For convenience of patrons they should be near the rapid transit lines, factories and stores.

BOARDING HOUSES. These are scattered throughout the residence sections on side streets. Their requirements are like those of tenements

RESTAURANTS. These occupy ground floor space with small frontage throughout the business sections.


This may be divided into three classes--educational buildings, buildings for social recreation, and those for physical recreation.


For mental education there are schools, colleges, libraries and museums; and for spiritual education, churches.

SCHOOLS. These are well scattered throughout the residence sections. They may face in any direction. Most school rooms should not be on the north side only, however. They should be adjacent to playgrounds or some large open space. They require a large plot near rapid transit lines. They should be on a quiet side street.

COLLEGES. These should be monumental in character, particularly when in a big open space. They should be bordered by quiet streets and near many rapid transit lines. A commanding location is preferable.

LIBRARIES. The main library should be near the college groups, readily accessible to all rapid transit lines. It requires a large plot facing on a broad avenue or park, and should be monumental in character. The branch libraries should be well scattered throughout all the residential sections and on main avenues.

MUSEUMS. These should be located near the colleges and central libraries and on some large open space or main avenue and near many rapid transit lines. They should be monumental.

CHURCHES. These are well scattered throughout the residence sections on or near main streets and rapid transit lines.


This includes theatres, operas, concert halls, dance halls, cafes, saloons, billiard parlors, political halls, trade unions, clubs, social settlements, neighborhood parks and recreation piers.

THEATRES. These are all in a district together, near or at the converging of the rapid transit lines and near the railway stations. They should front on wide streets for the convenience of carriages and automobiles.

SALOONS, DANCE HALLS, BILLIARD PARLORS. These are scattered throughout the cheaper residential sections, preferably on the ground floor corners, underneath apartments. Billiard parlors and dance halls occupy rear spaces, with small street frontage, often behind saloons

POLITICAL HALLS AND TRADE UNIONS. These are on the main streets of the tenement sections near rapid transit lines.

CLUBS. These are in groups on or near avenues leading to the best residential sections and near rapid transit lines. A southern exposure is desirable.

SOCIAL SETTLEMENTS. These occur in the heart of the cheapest house and tenement sections. They should be on or opposite a neighborhood park, preferably on the leeward side, and there should be a space for a garden behind. They should be on quiet streets near the local library and the local bath house. An east or west exposure is desirable.

NEIGHBORHOOD PARKS AND RECREATION PIERS. These are in the tenement sections within easy walking distance for all the families of the district. They should admit of a good through draught for the prevailing summer winds.


This may be divided as follows into gymnasiums, public baths, playgrounds and recreation piers, parks, and taking recreation in its broadest sense of re-creation; hospitals and sanitoria.

GYMNASIUMS. These should face on open spaces or play-grounds and should have light and air from the opposite sides.

PUBLIC BATHS. These should also face on open spaces and should have unobstructed light from above and the possibility of good circulation of air. In all cases they should be well scattered throughout the tenement districts.

PLAY GROUNDS AND RECREATION PIERS. Playgrounds should be established in every section of the tenement districts. They should be small and there should be many of them. They should have a southern exposure, open to prevailing summer winds. In all cases there should be plenty of trees, grass and flowers. Recreation piers should be open on three sides to all breezes and sunlight, and as near tenement districts as possible.

PARKS. These should be distributed in all directions in the outlying districts of the city and connected with one another by broad parkways. They should be accessible from all parts of the city by the main radiating avenues. They should take advantage in every way of natural topography. Larger districts should be reserved, yet beyond, for future parks, to be held until the city grows out to them.

HOSPITALS AND SANITORIA.- These must have good air and sunlight. They should lie to the windward of the city on outlying ground or on the water's edge or on islands. They should preferably be to the leeward of a park. They require large areas to spread out in, as the buildings should not be built more than one or two stories in height. Relief and emergency stations should be scattered throughout the city on quiet side streets. All hospitals should be readily accessible to rapid transit.


Under this head we may consider railway stations, yards, express companies, docks and street traffic.

RAILWAY STATIONS. These should be brought together as far as possible near the center of the city, with broad streets and rapid transit lines connecting them. Trains entering the stations should be electric and underground to save space and to avoid smoke nuisance. A good example of this is the Gare des Invalids in Paris. They require large areas. They should be near all rapid transit lines and near the center of the radiating avenues of the city. They should face on broad streets on all sides for the convenience of carriages and automobiles.

YARDS. These should be in outlying districts, if possible on waterways. They should be bounded and approached by broad streets for trucking.

EXPRESS COMPANIES. These are usually between the railway yards and the trucking streets, or in the rear of the stations beside or over the tracks. They should be convenient to the business sections.

DOCKS. If these are on a river a space should be allowed behind them for lengthening the docks at some future time. In any case the avenue behind should be treeless and very broad for trucking. They should be easily approached from the rapid transit lines, especially for connecting with the stations.

STREET TRAFFIC. In general this should be radiating and annular. Elevated tracks should occur only on the broadest avenues. There should be trees on either side to mask the structure as in Paris and Berlin. Subways should be used in all the most thickly populated districts in the business districts. Surface cars should be electric, operated from a slot between the tracks and should be used only on the broader streets. Other surface traffic can be taken care of by motor busses. The stables should be in outlying districts on large plots of land bounded by wide streets, and as far as possible they should be kept out of the residence sections.


This covers the features which enter into city planning and gives a general idea in detail of the requirements of the different classes and kinds of buildings composing such a plan. It is impossible to lay down any one scheme which would be applicable to all cases, as the natural topography of cities differs widely, and as the reason for existence of no two cities is necessarily the same. In general, however, the following scheme shows a possible idea for a typical all-around city which would combine the features we have above enumerated.

The nucleus would consist of the government buildings, which would be of a monumental character, in and about which there would be a circle of broad streets. Around this would be the business center of the city where the main financial buildings would be placed. Next would be found the offices of the large corporations and industries, and those of the bankers, brokers and lawyers. In the near neighborhood would be the railway stations with a ring of tunnels connecting them. From this nucleus there would radiate in all directions broad avenues with intermediate minor avenues. These broad avenues would lead to secondary centers at some distance away. These secondary centers would be connected by broad avenues, among themselves, forming a ring about the city. These secondary centers and this ring of boulevards would form a separation between the business city and the residential city. Inside of this ring would be the factories, warehouses, wholesale stores and some tenements. On the main avenues leading to the secondary centers would be the principal stores and shops, clubs, hotels, libraries, banks, etc. Each of the secondary centers would be complete in itself with all buildings necessary for the immediate use of the residents in this neighborhood. Outside of the ring of boulevards here might be a belt of tenement or apartment houses depending upon the quarter of the city. These would be on many narrow streets running north and south (or nearly so), as above described. Beyond these would be winding and picturesque streets with irregular blocks and lots for small houses. The mills and foundries and any building with a smoke nuisance should be to the leeward of the city in outlying districts. In and beyond the small house residence districts should be the parks with their large connecting parkways.

These suggestions for combining the features of an ideal city are purely in the abstract and not at all dictatory. In every case every possible advantage should be taken of the natural features of the site. The presence of water-ways and unsurmountable hills having far more effect on the plan and normal development of a city than all other features combined.

In general, every attempt should be made to create a city both for the present and for the future which may be as livable as possible, that is to say, in which the living conditions of the inhabitants shall be such as to conduce to the greatest healthfulness, efficiency and happiness possible in consideration of the economic and topographic peculiarities of the city in question. The streets should be so arranged as to give the maximum convenience of access, one to another, of related businesses. They should give the greatest ease of access from the homes to the places of work and from the homes to the places for social or physical recreation. The maximum healthfulness should be sought by subordinating everything to obtaining the best circulation of a pure, dustless and smokeless air. The maximum healthfulness and cheerfulness in places where one works or lives should be sought by leaving everything open to the access of sunlight. A healthful, cheerful and moral community may be gained only by so limiting the population in the various sections of the city as to avoid the possibility of ever arriving at the horrible conditions of congestion to be found in most of the world's greatest cities today. Here are the ultimate objectives of every ideal city plan, and without which no city plan can be successful; Convenience, Health, Happiness and all that which tends to make for a better Family Life. 

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: 
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