William Paul Gerhard, C.E.

Journal of the Franklin Institute 140 (August 1895):90- 99

This is a separately-titled major section of one paper in a series called "Sanitary Engineering." Gerhard (1854-1927) presented these in Philadelphia at the Franklin Institute. He was a prolific writer, and by the time he delivered this paper he was the author of a dozen books, several of which were published in Germany. A native of Hamburg, Gerhard studied at the polytechnic school in Carlsruhe where he earned his civil engineering degree in 1875. There one of his teachers was Reinhard Baumeister, author of the first German treatise on city planning.

After a brief period of military service, Gerhard came to the United States in 1877. He began his career in this country as assistant engineer in the St. Louis department of public works. In 1881 he became chief assistant to George Waring, a leading sanitary engineer and reformer. After serving briefly as chief engineer for a New York engineering company, Gerhard embarked on a career as consulting engineer and author of studies on hydraulic and sanitary engineering. In addition to his numerous books and many articles on water supply and sewerage, he prepared some seventy articles on architecture for the dictionary of that field edited by Russell Sturgis.

In 1911 his achievements were recognized by the technical university at Darmstadt which awarded him an honorary doctorate of engineering. Although he became a U.S. citizen in 1893, it was German planning principles that he describes approvingly in this paper after declaring his debt to four of the major figures of Germanic planning: Baumeister, Joseph Stübben, Camillo Sitte, and Karl Henrici.

The municipal and sanitary engineer's services become of paramount value in the laying-out of cities and towns. This complex problem arises:

(1) When new towns are founded.

(2) When, owing to the tendency of men to congregate in cities, these grow so quickly as to require the extension of their limits by the addition of new outlying districts.

(3) When the alteration of the older parts of a city becomes necessary, owing to the increased internal traffic which requires the extension or widening of streets, or when, as in European cities, the abolishment of fortifications in old towns and the tearing down and planing off of fortified walls causes a sudden growth and expansion of the town, and calls for a reconstruction of its narrow streets, simultaneously with the building up of its outer districts.

In all such cases the actual work of extension, in whole or in part, should be carried out under a general, well-considered plan, and under the guidance of certain practical as well as aesthetic principles. We must confess, at the outset, that little work of the kind has, in the past, been done in the United States in the way suggested, for, as a rule, American cities grow in a haphazard fashion and often so quickly as to render the study of the problem and the preparation of plans out of the question.

For a learned and systematic consideration of the practical and aesthetic principles involved in town building and street planning we are largely indebted to the works of my esteemed former teacher of civil engineering, Professor R. Baumeister, of the Carlsruhe Polytechnic School, to the elaborate work on the same subject by Baurath J. Stübben, City Engineer of Cologne, Germany, and to the studies and labors of two eminent German architects, Herr Camillo Sitte, of Vienna, and Professor Karl Henrici, of the Polytechnic School at Aachen. While Baumeister and Stübben deal with the subject more from an engineering and health point of view, Sitte and Henrici discuss street architecture chiefly from the position of the aesthetic and the landscape architect.

In matters of street architecture there is a vast difference between European and American cities. The former are, as a rule, much more interesting, the sights are grander, the street perspectives are more beautiful and ever-changing, the impressions of the vivid and varied traffic are more lasting; monumental buildings are placed to better advantage; waterways are more picturesque, and more glimpses are afforded of gardens, parks and rows of trees used for the ornamentation of the streets. Compared with European streets, the American city streets lack architectural effects; we have too many dull, stupid and monotonous rows of houses, each house being identical with its neighbors, and in the business portions the ugly sky-scrapers of many stories shut out the light of-day, the blue of the sky and the pure air of heaven while there is a lack of prospects and outlooks of ever-varying views, and of expressions and impressions of beauty. In all this, I firmly believe, we have very much to learn from the older cities of Europe.

The planning of extensions of existing cities and the laying out of new towns require a very careful consideration of the numerous engineering works located both above and below the streets, and of the constructive, sanitary and aesthetic features of streets, squares and buildings. Broadly speaking, the requirements relate to traffic, to building and to sanitation. It is fortunate that in street planning and street architecture, the aesthetic and art requirements coincide with the requirements of hygiene. Everything in this line which helps to embellish a city has also sanitary advantages. I, therefore, crave your pardon, if, in the following, I mention matters which at first blush may appear to you to be more of an architectural nature, or belonging to landscape rather than to sanitary engineering.

In developing the plan of a city we should consider the mode of living of the inhabitants and the character of its habitations and other buildings. Regarding dwelling houses we may distinguish the open or detached, and the closed, block or terrace arrangement of houses. A city may generally be divided into several districts, such as (a) the manufacturing districts, with factories, industrial establishments, warehouses for wholesale trade, and bonded warehouses; (b) the workingmen's districts, comprising laborers' dwellings or cottages, and, in some cities, the tenement-house districts, although it is to be hoped that tenement-houses will ultimately disappear, and that the aggregation of large numbers of people into small, dark, overcrowded and unhealthful apartments will cease; (c) the shopping districts, containing the large shops and stores, generally located on the main thoroughfares of traffic, and constituting the retail business section of cities; (d) the business section proper, including the centers of wholesale and general business, the exchanges, the banks, the chamber of commerce, the post-office; (e) the sections in which the railroad terminals are located, including travelers' headquarters, hotels, express offices, etc.; (f), the residential districts, made up by the mansions of the rich and by the dwellings of the well-to-do people.

In laying out the principal thoroughfares on the general plan, we should carefully consider the size, character and the centers of traffic, as well as the radial, diagonal, longitudinal and belt traffic. We should make provision for the traffic on foot, for heavy truck or wagon traffic, for carriage, cab and hack traffic, for equestrians, for stage lines, and tramways, whether propelled by cables, electricity or by horses; finally, we should include the steam railroads and transportation by water, and endeavor to establish some well-considered system in the traffic of a city.

The principal axiom to be followed is that city streets should be laid out not only for traffic, but also with an eye to permanent beauty, by bringing architectural structures and sculptural monuments into agreeable position or into effectual grouping. The requirement that engineering and landscape architecture are to be combined should never be lost sight of in street planning. It is of still greater importance in the laying out of boulevards and of parks, drives and speedways.

The width of streets should be determined according to their importance or the probable amount of traffic. The grade or longitudinal profile, the cross section of the street, its surface drainage, the facility for building, all these matters should be considered.

The rectangular system of streets, so prevalent in American cities, does not merit approval on aesthetic, much less on practical grounds. In a skilfully laid out network of city streets, straight lines of too great length are avoided as being very monotonous and as wearying the eye; gentle curves or variations in the width help. Intersections of thoroughfares should be utilized and set aside for public buildings, such as railroad stations, theatres, churches, museums, banks, telegraph and post offices, court houses and markets. Schools and hospitals should be relegated to the quieter side streets. Likewise should the street perspectives be beautified by artificial ornaments, monuments, and sculptural works set with a good background, or graceful statues, or by water jets and fountains, or by arcades. On important street crossings and squares there should be provided landing places affording safety for pedestrians crossing a thoroughfare crowded with vehicles, and these landing places may be adorned with candelabras or with pavilions, with fountains or public seats and benches, or with graceful shrubbery. The intersection of important streets should be utilized for squares, and the artistic embellishment of these should always be considered. Advantage should be taken of the natural configuration of the ground in the laying out of streets. The uneducated eye must be taught to appreciate the beauty of undulating ground, in which opportunity is afforded to look down from the high points on beautiful layouts of commons, on public parks, or to look up from the lower points to buildings or monuments on commanding sites. The beauty of many an imposing architectural structure is, in American cities, lost, owing to the impossibility of looking up to the building.

The division of the cross-section of wide streets into footpath, roadway and boulevard, offers opportunity for landscape effects by providing special promenades in the center, with rows of shade trees or shrubbery and flowerbeds, and the traffic may be benefited by separating the carriages, the horseback riders and the heavy teams and trucks.

Regarding the proposed width of streets and the distance between streets or the depth of the blocks, it should be noted that too great width of carriage-way is undesirable, as it tends to increase the dust and dirt, and the cost of street maintenance. Likewise should the distance between streets be limited, for very deep blocks are undesirable and lead, where the land is valuable, to a building up of the interior of blocks with rear dwellings, or with factories, workshops and storage buildings. All buildings should have a frontage on the public street, and the rear part of lots should be utilized for yards; or better, the center of the block may be laid out in well-kept private gardens or pleasure grounds, with low and open dividing lattice fences, or else all the yards in a block may be combined into one large open space, with drying yard, playground and lawn, thus providing plenty of pure air and daylight to the rear of our dwellings. The ideal mode of building from a sanitary point of view is the detached method, but it is only adapted to the suburbs and outlying villa districts of cities.

Public squares in cities may either serve for general traffic, or for meeting places, for markets, for approaches to prominent buildings, such as city halls, churches, synagogues, theatres, museums of art and of natural history, or schools, or else they are intended for adornment and as locations for monuments. Open squares in cities have a distinct sanitary value, because they afford breathing spaces. If they are laid out as a public garden, common or park, with lawns and flower-beds, shrubs and trees, benches and seats, they afford opportunity for recreation, constitute playgrounds for city children, they promote the healthfulness of a city by lessening the street dust, removing the street noise, and by maintaining a purer atmosphere. Squares and parks are, therefore, aptly termed the "lungs of a great city."

In addition to promenades liberally planted with trees, and open spaces and public gardens, a large city should have public parks and airing grounds, to afford its inhabitants opportunity for taking exercise in the open air. Where possible, the parks should be connected by boulevards, and these, laid out by a clever landscape artist, may afford pretty outlooks on the city, onto the broad expanse of its surroundings, or a distant view of the water.

As regards their location in relation to the plan of the city, all public and important business buildings and structures may be divided into three classes. The first class embraces buildings which are business centers and which centralize the traffic, such as city halls, court-houses, exchanges and bourses, banks, main post-offices, houses of parliament, or capitol buildings, judicial buildings, municipal government buildings, halls of record, telegraph and telephone headquarters, hotels museums, libraries, terminal depots, railroad stations, ferry-houses and docks for arrival and departure of steamships. To the second class of buildings belong those which have a tendency to distribute traffic, such as sub-stations of post-offices public telegraph and telephone stations, churches, schools, police stations, open and covered market halls, exhibition buildings, theatres, circus, concert halls, club-houses, other places of amusement, fire-engine houses, people's public baths and wash houses, asylums, livery stables, also buildings in public parks. The third class consists of buildings which should be confined as much as possible to special outlying sections of a city, and of these I mention military barracks and military drill grounds, jails and prisons, hospitals, reformatories and orphan asylums, cemeteries and mausoleums, abattoirs and slaughter-houses, cattle and stock-yards, noxious trades, gas works, waterworks pumping stations, reservoirs, standpipes, settling and filtering basins, sewage pump and disposal works, garbage dumps and the like.

In European cities generally much more attention is paid to a good and suitable selection of sites for monumental and public buildings than here. It is unusual to find a church, or a theatre, or a school, located in the middle of a block. Open spaces on at least three sides are required for churches, museums, schools, hospitals and theatres, with the incidental advantage of gaining better light and air and better approaches to the buildings, and of having better and more numerous exits in case of danger from fire or a panic

The water-fronts of harbor towns or of cities situated on the banks of a river are also worthy of embellishment and improvement. Much remains to be accomplished in American cities in this respect, for here the water-fronts are usually the least attractive portion of a city, whereas in cities of the continent the reverse is often the case. Water-courses or canals flowing through the heart of cities should be kept clean, and may serve to beautify the same, if all liquid or solid filth is carefully excluded, if the banks are rectified and protected, if they are hemmed in by well-built stone embankments, with gardens or parkways, and if picturesque and ornamental bridges are carried over the same. Natural coves or basins may be made points of great attraction, as every one will concede who has ever seen the beautiful Alster-basin in the city of Hamburg, Germany, with its boulevards and garden banks, its hundreds of row-boats, sail- boats. and little steamers on the water, travelling to and fro, and enlivening the landscape.

Some general and sanitary requirements of a well-studied city improvement plan are the following: good location; protection against high water and floods of rivers; dryness and cleanliness of building soil; ample means for traffic, on land and by water; facility for future enlargement; ample public squares, gardens and parks; well-lighted streets and well laid and well-kept pavements; perfect drainage, sewerage and sewage disposal; easy mode of removal of refuse and destruction of garbage; healthful habitations; freedom from soil contamination; prevention of pollution of rivers, lakes, coves or water-courses; pure drinking water supply and ample supply of water for all other purposes; ample provision for plenty of light and air in the streets, in the centers of house-blocks and in the habitations; avoidance of smoke nuisance, and noiselessness of streets.

The execution of the improvement or enlargement plan for a city requires a large number of well-devised engineering and architectural structures, above as well as below the street surface. For purposes of a water supply a city needs a distributing system of pipe mains, with shut-offs, house taps, street hydrants for fire department use and for washing and sprinkling the gutters and streets, also public drinking fountains, horse-watering troughs, ornamental fountains, etc. For purposes of sewerage the city requires underground pipes and masonry conduits, man-holes, inlets, flush-tanks, house connections, gutters, catch-basins, also public urinals and public water-closet accommodations. Then again, a city requires means and facilities for public street. and house-lighting by either gas or electricity, involving a distributing system of gas pipes, mains, sub-mains and branches, valves and siphon boxes; house and street lamp services, street lamps and candelabras, and, on the other hand, electric wires or cables, subways and electric light poles. For facilitating intercommunication, a city requires telephone and telegraph wires for the public, for the police and fire departments, with fire alarm boxes, telegraph and telephone stations, and pneumatic conduits for parcels and mail service. Other Underground conduits for the distribution of light, heat and power, comprise steam mains, pipes for water, fuel or natural gas, conduits for hot water and for compressed air, electric cables and pipes for distribution of cold refrigeration. On the street surface the traffic requires pavements for carriages and trucks; sidewalks for pedestrians; roads for equestrians; horse, electric and cable roads, with their underground cable and trolley wire conduits--overhead wires should not be countenanced--elevated roads and underground railroads, etc.

The street traffic of a city also requires certain accessories for public information and public convenience, such as house- numbers, street signs, warning-signs at grade crossings (I may say here that railroad crossings on a level with streets should be abolished in well-laid-out cities), street clocks, columns for advertising purposes, fire-alarms, signal boxes, columns for weather indications, waiting pavilions for street railways or steamers, public conveniences, lampposts, letter boxes, news stands and pavilions for sale of refreshments, music pavilions, seats and benches, etc. There is no reason why these utilitarian devices should not serve as tasteful embellishments of our streets by having them designed in an artistic manner.

It is finally necessary that a city improvement plan be carried out in accordance with well-framed building and sanitary regulations. Such building regulations refer principally to construction and stability, to safety from fire, to traffic considerations, and to healthfulness of buildings. Those relating to the salubrity of buildings, and to maintenance of the public health, are doubtless of the greatest importance. The rules should limit the size of the area of lots available for building; they should regulate the height of buildings in proportion to the width of the street, to secure light, air and sunshine to the houses. They should control the period when newly-finished dwellings are to be occupied, and should prohibit cellar habitations. Other regulations should have reference to the filling-in material used for low building lots, to the drainage of low land subject to overflow, to the maintenance of cleanliness on vacant lots in cities, to factories, workshops, stores, and to noxious trades, to schools, places of assembly, like theatres, lecture halls and churches. In order to facilitate building operations, it may be wise to apply building regulations of less severity to the outer districts of a city, or, in other words, to arrange for several distinct building zones.

The engineering works enumerated and described form together a large sanitary system, which must be planned by sanitary engineers to establish safeguards for the public health in centers of population, and which, assisted by a wise sanitary administration, helps to diminish the deathrate of a city. 

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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