B. Antrim Haldeman ( Biographical note )
Proceedings of the Fourth National Conference on City Planning, Boston, Massachusetts, May 27-29, 1912. (Boston: National Conference on City Planning, 1912):173-188.
There appears to be much reluctance on the part of municipal authorities in the United States to actively undertake the solution of some of the civic and social problems that have assumed large proportions and great importance in the swift evolution of our cities. These problems involve, to some extent, the regulation of the privileges of the individual and of industrial and commercial enterprises in their relations with the general public. To such an extent has the American citizen exercised his freedom to do as he pleases, and particularly to do as he pleases with his own property, regardless of public rights, that some form of public control of that freedom seems inevitable if the larger rights of the people are to be preserved. The discussion of such problems, the arousing of public interest in them, and whatever tangible progress toward their solution has been made are almost entirely due to the initiative and persistent energy of citizen organizations. It must be apparent to the most obtuse and unwilling observer, however, judging from the drift of large events in recent years, that the regulation of the use of property, and of private and corporate enterprises that closely affect the well-being of all the people, is coming to be an issue of vital importance to modern progress.
The necessity for limiting the right of the individual to do as he pleases has arisen from the exploitation of the property and rights of the public by private interests, and from the exigencies attending the intensive growth of great cities. Modern methods of big business are forcing a gradually widening control and regulation of trade, and man's inhumanity to man is forcing the police and health authorities to take measures to prevent man's destruction of man.
From the points of vantage that have already been gained by those who believe in some form of public control and regulation of those individual and corporate activities which have a direct bearing upon the welfare of the community at large, it may seem but a comparatively short step to the public control and regulation of land and the uses to which it may be put. We have already seen the exercise of such authority to a limited extent in the declaration that certain industries are nuisances and may not be engaged in certain localities; also in the limiting of the height of buildings and the requirement of open spaces attached to dwellings.
Some of the nations of Europe, out of a wealth of unfortunate experiences in the rapid growth of industrial cities and the crowding together of the people in them, have evolved what is known as the " zone system " for controlling the use and occupation of land. The members of this Conference, and all persons actively interested in town planning and housing, are no doubt familiar with this system, but for the benefit of the layman who may be reached through the Conference or its published Proceedings and whose interest and support we wish to enlist, a brief description of its origin, purpose, and accomplishment may not be out of place.
The system had its origin through the deplorable living conditions which were forced upon the working people and poorer classes of Germany during the period of industrial progress that has absorbed the energy of the German people since the Franco-Prussian war, and during which old feudal towns have been transformed into metropolitan cities and the countryside into a forest of factory stacks. The administrative machinery of the towns, confronted with new and perplexing problems due to the rapid increase of population, was for many years unable to cope successfully with the new conditions by reason of the manner in which land was held, its sudden rise in value, and the lack of any authority to interfere in any effective manner with the owner's disposition and use of it.
The swift progress of industrialism throughout the German states encouraged the rapid growth of industrial towns at a time when the social conditions and the manner of living of the common people were not conducive to either the morals or the health of crowded communities. The workshop and factory drew upon the farm and rural hamlet for their labor, and the working people, unable to obtain proper dwelling places, herded in caves, cellars, and unsanitary buildings, like rabbits in a warren. The rapid increase of urban population offered a fertile field for exploitation by the great land owners who erected barrack dwellings of many stories and rooms which were an improvement over the caves and cellars and into which the working people crowded. Although these dwellings marked much improvement in living conditions, they still bred many evils from the too intensive occupation, and to correct these and provide greater assurance of the public health and safety a multiplicity of building regulations were enacted by the municipal authorities.
Ministerial decrees were issued tending to enlarge the authority of local councils in matters relating to the erection and occupancy of dwellings. Gradually the fact dawned upon the law-makers that the power and prestige of the empire among the nations of the earth depended as vitally upon the health and efficiency of its working people as upon the courage and loyalty of its fighting men. By slow degrees, slow because opposed by the great land owners who dominated many of the legislative bodies, the ministerial decrees were enacted into laws granting broad autonomy to municipalities and enabling them to strike at the root of the evil of their housing system by checking the increase of the speculative value of land, such speculative increase in some cities having risen four hundred per cent in a single year. Municipalities were also authorized to purchase ground, to erect dwellings, and to loan public funds to societies for the erection of workmen's homes. Much encouragement has been given to the erection of one-family houses, and home-owning has been made possible among the working people.
The story of the industrial and social evolution of Germany is an intensely absorbing one, but we can consider here, and that but briefly, only the manner in which the municipal authorities exercise the powers vested in them to regulate the development of private property. This is accomplished mainly through the employment of the " zone system," under which the municipal department having charge of the city planning, in establishing and extending the street system, also establishes the building lines, determines what percentage of the property may be built over, and the arrangement of the buildings themselves, whether they shall be erected in solid rows, in pairs, or singly, and the distance between the buildings when built singly or in pairs, and the number of floors or stories. No appeal from the established regulations can be taken after the plans have been completed, examined, and finally approved by the several independent committees having jurisdiction. The plans frequently show three fixed lines in a block--the line to which the street is to be opened and improved, a line of restriction a certain distance from the street line beyond which no building is allowed to extend, and an interior line fixing the boundary of the courtyard or garden within which no structure is permitted.
The term " zone " as applied to the system is somewhat of a misnomer and misleading. Although the general theory under which it is applied is that the buildings should be lower and farther apart the greater their distance is from the center of the city, the arrangement is not one of concentric girdles, as might be supposed, but a division into districts, irregular as to area and boundary and regulated in accordance with some local characteristic or special adaptability for certain classes of buildings; in fact, it sometimes occurs that a " zone " consists of a single city block, or even part of a block. True zones girdling the city would result in alternating rings of high and low buildings or a single indeterminate outer zone, regardless of topography or local conditions, and are considered unwise, if not impractical; so also are very large zones, or districts, since the application of absolute restrictions would prevent the establishment of local business and trade centers for the convenience of the people.
The system has undergone considerable modification since its introduction; keen judgment and great care are essential in determining boundaries and in imposing regulations which will permit property to be used for the purpose for which it is best adapted. Although there was, and still is, considerable opposition to it in some instances, it is gradually producing the desired results, checking land speculation and inflation of values, discouraging the erection of barrack dwellings, encouraging the erection of one-family houses, and making it possible for people of modest means to own their own homes.
Thus we find that within the span of about a quarter of a century the industrial classes of Germany have been translated from hovels and dens reeking with disease, degeneracy, and vice, to pleasant homes, surrounded with all the comforts, conveniences, and privileges that make for health, happiness, and good citizenship; and this has been accomplished mainly by breaching the one-time sacred wall of vested rights and establishing the principle that the economic progress of the nation and the integrity of its social fabric transcend the prerogative of the individual.
Since the system has been productive of beneficent results abroad, let us endeavor to determine whether conditions in the United States are such as to justify an effort to apply it here. At first thought it seems full of promise, but many of our cities have been founded and are becoming great with such a broad and enlightened conception of the advantages and amenities of the distinctive home life of America that the advisability of urging such control of land development will depend upon the necessity for the protection it insures, upon the influence of healthy public sentiment to curb familiar evils and abuses, and the extent to which those who are responsible for the development of property, as owners or promoters, are amenable to less arbitrary forms of regulation.
The natural ambition of the American citizen is to be the owner of his home, whereas home-owning is a comparatively new and strange experience to the European. This ambition, properly encouraged and aided by civic organization and the municipal authorities, should be of great assistance in curbing the tendency apparent in many cities to drift toward apartments and tenements.
Just as the industrialism and commercialism of Europe have created congestion and bad housing conditions, so are the same evils following in the wake of the tremendous activity along industrial lines in this country. The centralization of trade and the lack of adequate transportation facilities are, perhaps, the most powerful factors in producing a too intensive occupation and use of land. The desire to make property produce the largest possible income is a characteristic of landlords the world over, and tenement houses under lax regulations are splendid revenue producers.
The conservation of the health of the people is one of the most vital purposes of modern, progressive town planning, and in no place can health be better or more easily conserved than in the home. The influence of the home, its amenities, associations, and surroundings, inevitably mold the character of the citizen for good or ill. The ownership of his home gives to the citizen the pride of partnership in the prosperity of the community and its institutions, and any measure of proven efficiency for multiplying the number of home owners should command the public support even though it may reduce the flow of speculative dollars into the pockets of the landlords.
Although the zone system as employed in Europe is the outgrowth of a long and persistently fought battle for the improvement of housing conditions, it has resulted in other economic and administrative reforms, and it is along these lines that its application in the United States might also produce important results and be of great benefit. It would enable the municipal authorities to predetermine the character of improvement in any given area and, as the permanence of the improvement would be assured, very large economies in the planning of streets, the construction of public works, and the conducting of the general public service could be effected.
One serious defect in American methods is the lack of stability and permanence in improvements of all kinds. Temporary and makeshift structures are erected to serve until such time as the character of the improvement in a neighborhood may be determined or until such improvement shall greatly enhance the value of property. Sometimes a district will undergo such a transformation as to necessitate radical and costly changes in buildings, streets, and public works which would otherwise be permanent.
Under the zone system the permanent population of any given area may be determined with a reasonable degree of accuracy before a single building is erected upon it. With this factor known it is possible to intelligently forecast the needs of the district for every class of public works and public service and to plan accordingly, with the confidence that whatever is done will be done properly, permanently, and economically.
Transportation is the great, controlling factor in the growth and development of the modern city, and the most difficult problem municipalities are called upon to solve.
Its difficulties would be greatly lessened if the density of population could be kept within reasonably certain limits. This is understood in the German system of town planning and the locations of the trams, or street railway lines, are determined as the street system is extended, and are based upon the volume of traffic likely to be created by the known population and the predetermined character of the territory they will serve. The same is true of main, or trunk, lines of every kind of underground service, water pipe, electrical lines, pneumatic tubes; and subways, pipes, and tubes for every purpose of subterranean transportation. The number and capacity of public service structures under, upon, or above the surface depends upon the density of the population and the local needs of the community; these elements being known, the original construction of public works can be of the most permanent character and the liability for repairs, reconstruction, and enlargement can be reduced to a minimum.
Wide streets, planned with the almost certain knowledge the zone system would give of the traffic requirements for long years of service, would permit of a far more economical system of secondary and residential streets than we now find in most of our cities. In almost every city we find large areas laid out with streets of uniform width and uniform improvement, but they seldom carry an equal amount of traffic or are of equal public use except in congested localities. Certain ones, by reason of easier grades, better connections with important points, greater business activity, or other favorable local conditions, attract the greater volume of travel, leaving perhaps half a dozen adjacent ones unused and unlovely expanses of costly pavement.
The zone system would permit property to be restricted to the use for which it is best adapted by natural conditions. If hilly and picturesque districts were reserved for high-class residences, or for residences requiring lawns or gardens, the cost of improvement, both as to property and streets, would be greatly reduced by removing the necessity for the usual formal street system and the great amount of grading required for the building of solid rows of houses on small lots. Instances have occurred in Philadelphia where the street system had been established with due regard for topographical conditions and with a view of encouraging open development, but had to be changed and the rectangular system substituted in order to permit owners to build solid rows of small houses, the cost of grading the sites being, of course, added to the price of the houses and paid by the home buyers. Moderate priced single or double houses might have been built, if such regulations could have been enforced, without detriment to any interest except, possibly, that of the real estate speculator or the operative builder.
It also frequently occurs that a quiet and attractive neighborhood that has been occupied for many years by the better class of residences, surrounded by well-kept grounds, is invaded by rows of cheap houses, the character of the neighborhood enabling the builder to realize large profits Since these profits are generally the sole object of the builder, the operation seldom fits harmoniously into the surroundings, and almost invariably the result is that the character of the neighborhood changes and property loses some of its desirability and value, except for the erection of more rows of houses. Operation houses are usually built for sale rather than for stability, and if their erection was confined to certain districts there would be a competition among builders that would result in a higher class of workmanship, more attractive arrangement and surroundings, and better value for the purchaser of a home.
In many of the towns of the Middle West and West, where the one-family house, set back from the street and surrounded by ample open space, has been the almost invariable type of dwelling, the rapid growth of recent years has encouraged the introduction of large apartment and tenement houses. These have been set down in residential neighborhoods, close to the street line, rearing their many stories high above all surroundings, obtruding themselves into fine vistas, cutting off the view from adjacent residences, and destroying the dignity and charm of handsome, tree lined streets. Proper restrictions, confining such structures within designated areas, would result in greater beauty and symmetry in the growth of the city and would prevent the incongruous mingling of totally different types of buildings.
The sky-scraper, as an institution of the business life of America, is a costly luxury for which the public pays, and will continue to pay in ratio increasing with its growth, a heavy price in both cash and health. It increases enormously the difficult problem of transportation, and with its brother evils, the subway and the tenement house, for both of which it is partly responsible, it is moving steadily toward the creation of an abnormal condition of urban life under which the city dweller will arise in the morning, enter the subway through a subterranean passage, be hurled to his office through an underground tube, toil all day under artificial light, and return to his apartment at night without having known the caress of the sunshine, the smile of the blue sky, the breath of the fresh air of heaven, or anything of nature's wide beneficence--a condition having a tendency to lower the human race to the level of the mole, the woodchuck, and the angle worm. The sky-scraper, eminently respectable as it now seems to be, may ultimately be a greater menace to the health of mankind than the slum, for it will strike at the vitality of every class, from the highest to the lowest. This menace of the sky-scraper, the subway, and the tenement can only be removed by the enactment and enforcement of regulations limiting the height of buildings, defining the areas within which those of maximum height may be erected, and prescribing the percentage of surface area they may cover and the amount of light and air space around them.
In no department of city building is there a larger opportunity for the advantageous application of the zone system than in the defining of the areas within which industrial establishments may be erected. Mills, factories, and workshops of almost any kind may now be set down in any locality which seems favorable to the promoter of the enterprise. Such establishments must invariably have facilities for transportation by rail or water, or both, especially if they are conducted upon a large scale, as most modern establishments are. Their random placing may work to the disadvantage of an entire neighborhood. There is a large economy for any concern in having transportation companies deliver and receive freights directly at its doors, and the problem of supplying such service is a difficult and complicated one where industrial plants are distributed widely throughout a community. In Philadelphia, which is distinctively a manufacturing city, there are constant requests for permission to lay sidings at grade along or across important streets to effect connections with railroads. To refuse such permission is to lay the municipal authorities open to the charge of discouraging the business of the city, and to grant it means the blocking of general traffic by cars crossing the streets or standing upon them while being loaded or unloaded.
The confinement of industrial establishments within certain prescribed areas would protect residential districts from invasion by incongruous or otherwise objectional institutions and would immeasurably simplify the problem of industrial transportation, both local and foreign. The creation of factory zones in locations conveniently reached by rail or water would permit the development of terminals of maximum efficiency at minimum cost. Drayage between the mill and the shipping station is a large item of expense to the manufacturer, and the collection, classification, and distribution of freights from or for scattered and isolated yards are distracting problems for the traffic manager and the yard master. The short haul, the reduction or concentration of trackage, and the saving of time and energy where freights originate or are distributed within certain prescribed areas, all count for economy in trade and transportation. Main traffic streets for through travel could be kept clear from obstruction by railroad crossings and sidings, and to a considerable extent from costly bridges, if freight yards and freight-carrying lines were kept within the industrial zones.
So apparent do the advantages of the industrial zone seem, and so complex and costly are the problems of industrial transportation under present methods, that it is strange the manufacturers and transportation companies, in their efforts toward scientific and economic management, have not used their influence to establish such a system. Indeed, some of the large industrial concerns have found such an arrangement so desirable that they have established their own industrial colonies in which their factories and freight service are entirely separated from the residential sections. Only the most extensive ones, however, have been able to do this successfully, the smaller ones having found the problem of obtaining and keeping skilled labor a difficult one in colonies a considerable distance from large towns.
Many large industrial establishments are removing from the cities on account of the high price of land and the consequent difficulty and cost of expanding and taking care of increasing business. This exodus is a serious menace to the progress and prosperity of manufacturing communities, and might be effectually halted if the municipal authorities could set aside certain areas for manufacturing and establish such other regulations as would tend to keep land values within reasonable limits for such purposes.
If this Conference, or any other civic organization, or any considerable number of our people, should agree that large benefits would accrue from the adoption of the zone system in the development of our cities, there would still remain a difficult task and a long campaign to overcome the opposition of powerful property interests and to obtain the necessary legislation to establish it as one of the fundamental elements of modern city planning, and in this connection several important questions immediately suggest themselves.
First. Is it necessary, or even advisable, that such a system be established or advocated at the present time?
The claim that it is necessary cannot hold if the objects it is intended to accomplish can be achieved in an easier and less disturbing manner. That its accomplishments in German practice have been generally beneficial cannot be denied, and the very fact that we are considering it seriously is convincing evidence that we believe it possesses some merit. It will not do to say that we do not need it at present; that is a half-hearted way of approaching the problem. Although present conditions are largely responsible for the organization of this Conference and our energies are being directed toward the improvement of civic processes and the removal of obstacles to civic progress as they now exist, our largest field of usefulness will lie in the keenness of our prophetic vision and the skill and wisdom with which we may direct the course of civic progress toward higher and nobler ends in the future. Therefore, if, through the vista of the coming years we see that public control of the occupancy and use of land in the interest of the people is inevitable, now is the time to inculcate the principle rather than to postpone action until the difficulties the zone system is intended to overcome have become too great to be readily uprooted. Let the lesson of the sky-scraper teach us to anticipate and prevent the growth of its brother evils.
Second. Would not the attempt to establish the system in this country be regarded as an unwarranted invasion of vested property rights incompatible with the American idea of freedom?
Any attempt to engraft the system into our schemes of municipal development would probably meet with great opposition from land owners, real estate operators, and operative builders, and from large interests not directly concerned in the development of land. The objections of the first would doubtless be based upon the abridgment of their right to do as they please with their own property; of the second, upon the cutting off of prospective profits; and of the third, upon the general proposition of the invasion of vested rights. All of these arguments were advanced against the establishment of the system in Germany, and all had to give way at the behest of the people.
In this country, or in some of the states at least, land owners place perpetual restrictions upon property, prohibiting all succeeding grantees from improving it except in a certain prescribed manner. They establish a permanent building line beyond which no building may extend, fix the minimum cost of the house to be erected, and prohibit certain buildings and the carrying on of certain kinds of business. If it is within the power of an individual, during his brief enjoyment of ownership, to place a restriction upon land which shall be binding upon unborn generations, it should be placed within the province of the public authorities, representing the whole people and acting for their common good, to impose similar restrictions.
The curtailment of the prospective profits of the real estate speculator and the operative builder, whose interest in land seldom amounts to bona fide ownership, may not seem a serious obstacle, but instances are not wanting in which it has been used with telling effect.
The plea for the protection of the vested right has not the force it had a few years ago. The great unrest we find throughout the country today may readily be traced to the exploitation of nearly every line of activity under so-called vested rights; the days of perpetual franchises and special privileges are passing away, and, while every reasonable safeguard must be maintained around the rights of property and invested capital, their leveling down to the service of the people who have given property its value and capital its reward is proceeding steadily.
Third. Is the organism of our municipal governments sufficiently stable to administer such a trust with exact justice and continuing firmness?
A long process of reasoning might be necessary to convince the people that our municipal officers may be trusted with such large powers as are involved in the practical application of the system, for there are too well-founded suspicions that public service does not always mean serving the public. But the administrative machinery of our cities is passing from the control of political machines and corporation influences to the control of enlightened public sentiment. The people have been thinking and inquiring into public affairs, and they are learning that the city, with all its vast resources and wealth, is theirs, created by their energy and labor. They are learning what a tremendous organization the modern city is and, in the pride of their own work as its creators, are beginning to assert their right to rule it. Municipal government in the United States is undergoing an evolution that points toward material improvement, and the time may not be far distant when our cities will be governed as wisely and honestly as those of Germany, where the power of the local officials is so great, and so unrestrained by constitutional or statute laws, that only the most capable and trustworthy men dare be placed in the public service, and where election to a public office is a real honor, the greatest that can be conferred upon a citizen.
Fourth. Cannot the undeniable benefits the system has conferred upon foreign cities be obtained by other means and under our present laws?
It may be entirely possible to obtain many of the benefits claimed for the system by other methods and with the legal instruments we now have at hand, but it will require wise, forceful, and courageous officials whose tenure of office is not subject to the vagaries of party politics or the influence of selfish interests and who shall enjoy the confidence and support of the people. Accomplishment will be by slow degrees, and some enabling legislation will be required in any event. The many associations of a national or local character that have been organized to carry on the work of social and civic improvement can exercise a large influence in encouraging progressive thought and action among municipal authorities and the people, and in bringing about harmony and cooperation in matters affecting the public welfare as well as in the large constructive measures essential to the substantial and permanent development of the modern city.