A REVIEW OF THE PROGRESS OF CITY PlANNING.

Benjamin Antrim Haldeman.

Proceedings of the Engineers's Club of Philadelphia 28 (July 1911):215-245.

When B. A. Haldeman (1867?-1955) read this paper on March 18, 1911 before his fellow members of the Engineer's Club of Philadelphia he was forty-four and had been Assistant Engineer in charge of the City Plans Division of the Philadelphia Bureau of Surveys since 1894. One of the major projects with which he was involved during the twenty-four years he occupied that position was the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This imposing diagonal boulevard cut across the Philadelphia gridiron street plan to provide a direct connection between the business center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Fairmount Park. This project was frequently cited as an example of sound planning and how radial thoroughfares could be used to modernize the traditional American grid pattern.

One of the charter members in 1917 of the American City Planning Institute, Haldeman was also regarded as an expert on zoning and before his retirement in 1928 served as Chief, Division of City Planning and Municipal Engineering in the Pennsylvania Department of Internal Affairs. One newspaper obituary noted that he was "known as the `godfather of the city's highways,'" adding: "He also was credited with planning the Roosevelt Boulevard and more than half of the streets in Philadelphia's outlying wards." As this essay suggests, Haldeman regarded city planning as embracing activities that went far beyond street layout and design. Although he used Philadelphia as an example, his proposals had broader implications. Considering his engineering background and professional activities, it is unusual to find him ending his paper with a five-paragraph quotation by Professor Stanley Adshead, an architect who headed the program in Civic Design at the University of Liverpool. Seven long and not particularly original paragraphs that summarize world city planning history have been omitted. In the original this passage begins after the first paragraph.

The "city plan," as generally understood, deals chiefly with the street system, but in a broader sense it also includes, or should include, the distribution of parks, squares, playgrounds, and other open public places, the improvement of the water-fronts and all other public property which may be entirely subject to municipal control. The "city plan" is the foundation and framework upon which the city is built, and its character affects, directly or indirectly, every department of the city government, every class of society, and every branch of industry and trade. But modern "city planning" goes much farther than this and has a far broader scope; it goes beyond streets and squares and involves every function of the city; it reaches the homes and the health, the work and the play, of the community; it aims toward the systematic co-ordination and development of the physical features and the social forces of the city in a manner which shall give greater encouragement and larger opportunity for every legitimate enterprise and ambition of its people; it is altruistic in its intent, and its ultimate object is the making of better citizens as well as better cities; in its most comprehensive meaning and its broadest intent it involves so many and such varied physical and social elements that no one person can hope to solve, or to suggest solutions for, all of its problems. The planning of a modern city which shall fully satisfy all present needs and anticipate and meet the necessities of the future in any large degree demands the best service of the skill and genius of many professions, arts, and trades, no one of which, working alone, can accomplish great results, but all of which, working in co-operation, may achieve a large measure of success. Its social and economic problems do not directly concern the engineer, but his skill and wisdom are essential to the creation and intelligent development of those large constructive enterprises necessary to municipal progress and to the health, comfort, convenience, and safety of the masses of humanity which we find congregating in modern cities....

City planning and city building in the United States, which in the past have been allowed to drift along in a somewhat aimless, indefinite, and haphazard manner, meeting and satisfying only the immediate needs of a community, have come to be civic problems of vital importance in view of the intensive increase of urban population. The growth of cities has been left too much to chance and to the wish and will of the individual; consequently, there has been little thought or care for the future, and such defects in methods as have been revealed from time to time have received little more than temporary relief. Regulations intended to be corrective have occasionally been enacted, but too often such regulations have run counter to selfish individual interests, and are ignored or evaded.

The past two decades have witnessed a remarkable awakening among those classes of our citizens who have been active in the investigation of sociological problems, among engineers, architects, and artists, and among those charged with the responsible duties of municipal administration, to the necessity for material reforms and improvements in the social and physical conditions existing in our large and rapidly growing cities. Municipal authorities and civic societies have begun to realize that the future requirements of cities and towns have not received the consideration which their increasing importance as great centers of population and industry seems to demand, and a general movement has begun which has for its object the physical development of cities by methods which will insure better facilities for urban intercommunication, provide larger areas and a better distribution of parks and other public places, protect and utilize in a larger degree the water fronts and natural waterways, secure a systematic grouping of public and semi-public buildings, create a larger public interest in civic art, and effect a complete and comprehensive co-ordination of all these necessary adjuncts of a progressive, intelligent, and healthy community.

This movement has gathered force and increased in popularity until at the present time its scope embraces practically all our principal cities; its spread has been almost phenomenal during the past decade, and much earnest enthusiasm has attended its growth and much notable improvement has already resulted from it. It is difficult to say whether this movement was suggested by an appreciation of the wisdom of forestalling the further extension of the faults and evils which were rapidly becoming apparent in our methods of city building or by the example set by European cities; but however that may be, it is true that our advocates of the new processes draw a large part of their inspiration from what has been actually accomplished abroad.

Whether the inspiration came from abroad or was conceived at home, most of the American cities have undertaken large projects of urban development and embellishment in a vigorous and determined manner. In many instances commissions of expert engineers and architects have been employed to make a comprehensive study of local conditions, prepare a general preliminary plan, and submit a report covering such suggested improvements as may seem feasible, adaptable, and broadly in the interest of the public welfare. In other instances state or municipal legislation has created local boards or commissions to perform similar services, and also to carry their recommendations into effect.

When William Penn founded Philadelphia, the dwellers in European cities still herded in the narrow streets and courts within the city walls; but even at that time the disadvantages of the prevailing conditions were becoming seriously realized, and Penn determined to adopt a radically different plan in laying out his new city. In this he was more foresighted than any of the contemporaneous pioneers of American city building, and his example was adopted and followed in the subsequent planning of most of our cities. The rectangular system, familiarly known as the "gridiron" or "checkerboard" system, which he adopted was a long step in advance of the systems which existed in the cities of his time. Although he had large faith in a great future for his new city, he could not foresee to what extent it was destined to grow or what would be its necessities in the years to come. If, in addition to the rectangular system of streets and parks he laid out, he had provided broad diagonal streets radiating from the square he established at the intersection of the two great avenues in the center of the city, and from the termini of High Street at the two rivers, his plan, in the general principles involved, would have been a well-nigh perfect one, not only for his time but for the centuries to come.

The rectangular or "gridiron" system has been adopted and followed to a greater or less degree by all American cities. The older ones, New York and Boston, for instance, which had originally followed the practice of European cities of that time in laying out streets, adopted it, although the latter never took to it so seriously as others did. Once adopted, it was difficult to depart from, for it was an easy system to follow in the development of our rapidly growing towns, and its defects were not seriously felt until cities began to assume metropolitan proportions and the tremendous progress of their various industries created conditions which it could not fully satisfy. This system, relieved by well-planned diagonals and modified to meet local conditions of topography, is undoubtedly the most practical and economical one; it was adopted for the city of Washington, and as a result it is probable that the street system of that city will need to be changed very little, if any, in the years to come, unless conditions of trade and transportation should be revolutionized in some manner not conceived of at the present time.

The necessity for relief from the congested conditions existing in many parts of Philadelphia, and particularly in the chief business centers has come to be very seriously realized, and a number of projects for affording such relief have been suggested, but have not received official sanction. The opening and widening of streets through improved property will be a very costly undertaking, but such action is rapidly becoming essential to the healthy growth of the city. A long time will be required to effect the desired changes, and in order that the work may be done in a systematic and economical manner a comprehensive plan based upon a careful study of existing conditions and probable future needs should be established. With such a plan for a base of operations, the physical changes could be made intelligently and systematically in small sections from time to time as funds were made available for such purposes; this is the policy now followed in Paris and recommended by the Royal Commission for London.

The Parkway from City Hall to Fairmount Park, if constructed on its present confirmed lines, with an eye single to the great substantial advantages and benefits which must accrue to the entire city and to present and future generations of its people, can be made the most magnificent improvement of its class in the world; with an unbroken view of the massive outlines and lofty tower of the City Hall at one end and a splendid Museum of Art crowning the heights at the other, and with handsome buildings of a public or semi-public character surrounding a great square at the western end and adorning both sides of the main avenue, its completion will give to Philadelphia a grand and distinctive feature of monumental proportion and dignity in which all her citizens can feel a just pride and which will contribute more to her national, and even international, reputation as a city of progressive thought and activity than any other municipal work now contemplated. Unless this great work shall be carried out in a liberal, broad-minded, public-spirited manner, free from the obstructive influences of provincial conservatism and a false spirit of economy, instead of an enduring monument to civic intelligence, capacity, and energy, it may stand as a perpetual intimation that our citizens are not equal to great occasions or capable of grasping great opportunities and so shaping them as to reflect a lasting fame and reputation upon the city.

There is, naturally, much honestly intended opposition to and criticism of this project, which is entitled to sincere consideration and respect, but the fact remains, and should be seriously considered by our citizens, that great works of this kind have long been important features in the development of European cities, and contribute very largely to that fascination and attractiveness which annually tempt thousands of Americans to cross the Atlantic and spend millions of dollars in those beautiful foreign cities; also, that nearly all of the cities of the United States are actively engaged in similar undertakings, and that Philadelphia, once the capital and long the most important city of the Union, has, whether justly or unjustly, suffered in her prestige, and should take quick and intelligent advantage of this great opportunity which has come to her doors to regain some of what she may have lost in fame and in fact.

The banks of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers should be improved by embankments and broad avenues constructed with a view of improving their attractiveness and providing increased landing and commercial facilities for the port; the practical benefits of such work are well illustrated by what has been accomplished in the widening of Delaware Avenue and the construction of modern wharves and bulkheads between Vine and South Streets. The banks of the Schuylkill within the boundaries of Fairmount Park have been improved in an attractive manner by the Commissioners of Fairmount Park but along its lower courses, where opportunities are offered for an improvement which would be both useful and ornamental, nothing has been attempted; the improvement of that portion of the river was first suggested about fifteen years ago, and has been constantly agitated since that time, but nothing tangible has been accomplished beyond arousing and keeping alive a sentiment in favor of it.

All of these suggested projects for extending and improving the street system, for constructing embankments and broad commercial and ornamental avenues along the river banks, and for creating parks, parkways, and open public places, are closely related to each other in the common object of advantageous and attractive development, and general preliminary plans embracing all of them should be established by the proper authorities. The work necessary to carry such large projects of improvement into effect would, by reason of its cost, extend over a long period of time, and the existence of a well-considered comprehensive plan would insure its being done along systematic and uniform lines.

At the two great city planning exhibitions held in Berlin and London in 1910, which attracted engineers, architects, and other interested parties from all parts of the world, the United States was more largely represented than any country except Germany; nothing from Philadelphia was shown, but the new plans for Washington and Chicago were esteemed the finest and most magnificent of the entire collection. Reports as to the character of the exhibits, the attendance, and the interest shown in these events furnish conclusive evidence of a remarkable growth of activity and enthusiasm in the work of city planning in recent years; the comprehensiveness of the plans and the magnitude of the work contemplated by them indicate not only a sharp rivalry among cities for the material things that make for greatness, but also a quickened public sentiment and a determined public demand for the accomplishment of great purposes in great cities which not only expect to remain great but are ambitious to become still greater.

The people of the United States look eagerly forward to the time when Washington, in carrying out and completing the work contemplated by the plan for improvement she has adopted, will be the most splendid as well as the most influential of the world's great capitals. New York, now ranking second in the list of the world's great cities, is forging ahead to first place through the great works she has accomplished and the still greater ones she is now planning. Chicago has entered the lists as an intensely active competitor for place with New York by commencing the two hundred and fifty million dollars' worth of municipal improvements called for by a new city plan, for the preliminary studies and reports of which the sum of eighty thousand dollars was paid. The leading citizens and influential organizations of Boston have prepared a program of progress, and under the popular slogan, "Boston 1915, the finest city in the world," propose to accomplish the transformation of that city during the next five years. About sixty cities and towns of the United States have prepared more or less elaborate plans for improvement and embellishment, and are busily engaged in doing the great things demanded by the pace of twentieth century progress. Philadelphia. must take the same broad view of the responsibilities of the future, and in preparing a comprehensive plan for improvements is placing herself in the position of preparedness for the contest for commercial, industrial, and social supremacy of the coming years.

The fact that European cities are reconstructing their street systems upon modern and progressive lines, that their water fronts are in a high state of both useful and ornamental development, that they are constantly exerting themselves toward still greater civic improvement and civic attractiveness, and that many American cities are bending their energies in the same direction, may not be a sufficient reason why Philadelphia should do the same; but there are other and more potent reasons.

In the natural course of events a city knows no finality; barring any extraordinary violence of nature or of man, it goes on forever; its physical attributes, its progressiveness, its importance and influence as an industrial, financial, and political world-power, are what its citizens determine they shall be. In the days of absolutism cities were made great by the will of ambitious monarchs, and were kept great by equally powerful successors; but progressive modern governments have been emancipated from absolutism, and cities now achieve greatness only through the high ambition, concerted energy, and tireless activity of their loyal citizens. This being true, we must rely for rational and permanent progress upon the larger interest of the people and their broader view of civic problems.

A city can no more be the judge of its own greatness than an individual; it must keep in step with the world in the world's work, and it must win the world's acknowledgment and applause. To do this, it must aim toward higher ideals through every avenue of civic endeavor and civic duty, and it must pursue that aim with tireless energy and devotion. This is what the new departure in city planning means and stands for; it seeks not only finer streets, larger parks, and greater opportunities for industry, but it aims also to raise the standard of citizenship and to make city life more worth the living by providing for the improvement of the social condition and the environment of its people, and by creating a better, brighter, and more beautiful city for all.

Our people are too prone to be content with existing conditions and to give little heed to the call of the future, apparently forgetting the parts we have to play in the tremendous progress of the greatest industrial and commercial era the world has known. The signs of the times point inevitably toward the accomplishment of large undertakings for the physical improvement and embellishment of cities. The general and almost universal scope and force of the movement indicate that modern progress demands the things involved in it; we must advance and hold our position or we will gradually retreat and relinquish whatever of world-prestige we have won. Either we must undertake these new burdens or admit that we are weak and incapable, and unable or afraid to attempt great things which will assist us in maintaining our position as a really great city.

Again, we need these things; they will be a direct and constantly increasing benefit to us. Every citizen sees and criticizes the faults and defects of our streets; every citizen with a family knows that his children need fresh air and play to stimulate their physical and mental health and-growth, and he knows that they cannot find these things in the public streets or diminutive back-yards of Philadelphia; therefore, we need parks and playgrounds. Every well-ordered citizen wants attractive surroundings; in his busy hours he will accomplish more and in his leisure hours he will find greater enjoyment if he can constantly look upon beautiful things; therefore, we should encourage and cultivate a higher order of civic pride and dignity, and insist that in those constructive features of our city over which the people or their representatives exercise control there shall be a proper recognition of the value of art and beauty as well as utility and service. These things pay; Europe is paid millions of good American dollars every year simply because of her beautiful cities, and that flood will increase in volume unless we can find ways and means to keep our people and their dollars more interested at home.

In closing the author wishes to take the liberty of quoting from a recent article in the "Town Planning Review...." and in which Mr. Stanley D. Adshead, Professor of Civic Design in the University of Liverpool, says: "In the contemplation of a city, we have before us the most comprehensive of the works of man; its solid walls tell us of his stubborn will, its fine facades of his success, its twisted streets of his uncertainty of purpose, the squalor of its slums of his defeat. It is in human life that we have the secret of its growth, and man himself is but a reflection of its breadth.

"A city is the greatest of the works of art; written on its walls are the tradition and the history of the past, outlined in its composition is the imprint of the human soul. The city is a great stage, and city building is a real theatrical art. Mellowed in harmonious color and reflecting the soft blue of the sky, the effect of its sunlit walls is such as the most brilliant stage display can but poorly suggest. And yet it is but the background of the citizen who traverses its ways. Great is the city whose architecture is passed unnoticed by the crowd, but not unfelt. Great is its presentment when its more important buildings alone demand conscious attention, leaving the rest but subconsciously felt. Convincing is its merit when the persistent formality of its street is conducive to a sense of respect, and arouses in the heart of the citizen that pride of citizenship alone engendered by civic art.

"Democracy, with its new responsibilities, has grappled with the problems of its youth; it has made mistakes, it has to answer for far-reaching and most disastrous results, but it has passed through the fire. At first, intoxicated with the freedom it had won, it sought but mercenary gain. Cities became factories, and life merely a business concern. Sham respectability became a cloak for truth of expression, and what interest existed in civic design was centered around questions of construction and the importance of hygiene.

"But there has been a change; knowledge has spread, democracy has grown, the modern city awakes to a new dawn, and today it is the democracy who watch with anxiety the growth of towns.

"Most of our larger cities which have grown by leaps and bounds during the period of industrial activity of the latter half of the last century, require pulling down, Haussmannizing, and re-erecting on intelligent lines. This, then, is the work which the municipal authorities and the town planners of the future will be called upon to undertake, and it is in the carrying out of such undertakings that an appreciation of what ought to be will be found necessary before dealing with what is." 


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: jwr2@cornell.edu 
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