THE CITY'S PLAN
Julius F. Harder
Municipal Affairs 2 (March 1898):25-45.Harder (1865- ? ), was a native of New Haven where he attended public schools before serving an apprenticeship to a local architect. In 1886 he moved to New York, working as a draftsman and pursuing studies in the sciences. Three years later the Architectural League of New York awarded Harder its gold medal. In 1891 he was employed in the Construction Department of the World's Fair in Chicago, but by 1894 he had returned to New York to practice architecture. Shortly thereafter he began his efforts to add to and improve the parks and playgrounds of New York. In addition to his professional interests, Harder served as vice-president of the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States.The proposition to construct a plan of a great city or to evolve such a comprehensive and thoughtful proposal of sequential action as may at once be admitted ought to underlie so vast a work of human hands, may well be regarded as a problem of staggering proportions. Were it a fact that the deliberate purpose of building a city, let alone a great city, presented itself more frequently, or even occasionally, no doubt the opportunities thus afforded would result in the recognition and establishment of a definite base, principles and records of experiment, those of good result to be emulated, those of failure to be avoided.
But a great city differs from a teacup in this respect, that it is not called into being with the same deliberate intention. However ugly, inconvenient, immoral, unsanitary and uneconomical cities may be, their makers cannot be accused of malice aforethought or anything worse than indifference or rather obliviousness to the direction of the path they were treading. Their interests were those of today and not of tomorrow, only of themselves and not of their neighbors. But someday there comes an awakening and a realization that the elements of a ranking city exist and then all the errors of commission and omission present themselves in staring evidence also.
No one will ever be accused, least of all our own municipalities, of ever having had a deliberate intention of dealing comprehensively with the matter; with one brilliant exception, not so much forethought as is exercised by the cook in preparing a Sunday dinner has ever been bestowed upon the planning of American cities, and what impresses one strongly is the influence of the cows upon our municipal maps. They have been accused of laying out the streets of Boston and it may be said to their credit that they pursued the shortest route. A single one accomplished the destruction of Chicago, but the omnipresent surveyor's apprentice with his infernal machine, the setsquare of 90 degrees, nullified the opportunities of centuries.
One would not believe it necessary to have traveled extensively to arrive at the conclusion that the function of streets is to get about the city from place to place, and so far as the cows are responsible for the arrangement the results are comparatively acceptable. Is there, however, any excuse for a street plan based exclusively upon a principle, or rather lack of any, which compels the traveler wishing to reach a point five miles distant, to travel seven upon the two sides of a rightangled triangle?
If cities could be planned first and induced to grow accordingly there would not be so much of contrary depravity in their makeup. Intention does not precede growth; they grow first and the rational order of creation is reversed. Washington, the exception which proves the rule, has a most excellent plan, but here is the solitary case where intention went before result. The moment that the seat of government was located the future city could be reasonably apprehended and lines determined for its economical development. Here was a new Nation requiring new capital. Its founders went about the planning of the future great city with the same inspired clearness of vision with which they planned the Nation, forged its policies and fought its battles.
The cities of the Old World, beautiful and convenient today, some accidentally, others deliberately so, are not so by reason of original forethought. Looted by robbers, ruffian and polite, razed by barbarians, ancient and modern; again destroyed by the stupendous calamities of flood and fire, they overcame the weak, mushroom growth of locality and accident and furnished splendid opportunities for such comprehensive dealing which at least approaches successful results. To the marauder possessed of the imp of destructiveness belongs also the glory of many of the most sublime and audacious creations.
Ancient and particularly mediaeval cities were planned with the most definite intention and design; true, the habits, methods and conditions of their peoples were not those of the present age, nor are they suited to the changed conditions of modern life, but by reason of the conditions under which they lived, their builders were compelled to exercise foresight in the planning of their family citadel. They evidence appreciation of cause and effect; we betray forgetfulness of both.
In working the transformation of the old capitals their modern administrations had fully as much to overcome as we have in any obstacles which are now presented to us, and generally, while there is much in the respective problems which is fairly identical, their details differ as widely from ours as they differed from one another, to which the various results bear living witness. The improved comforts of living, wrought by science, are at least equally new in both cases; but the necessary process by which the old fortifications and the complete subordination of the old city's plan to them had to be combated, and largely eliminated, was a more radical and awkward condition than any with which the modern case has to contend.
Modern cities are largely centers of manufacturing and assembling, of exchange and distribution. Their function will ever be to house the greatest quantity and numbers within the smallest area or rather within the most direct means of intercommunication. Let methods be discovered that annihilate the condition of distances and the day of cities will be past. Man will return to live closer to nature, following his natural inclination, to escape from the crushing artificiality which hems him in.
It is when realization comes and ambition awakens that men may occupy themselves with the thought of what the arrangement of the great city should have been, could its identity and growth have been foreseen at the beginning; and the more gigantic the proposition, the more readily is it, by analysis, resolved into principles and leading elements. It is quite conceivable that in spite of the paucity of experiment upon original plans, but still with the living evidence of hundreds of cities within reach,--none, it is true ideally perfect, but all possessing some elements of success, and all characteristic of some peculiar merit,--that a study is possible by which certain principles, facts, data and record can be gathered, by which failure can be circumvented and success insured, and that which should have been the ideal original arrangement, suitable and fitted to the natural conditions of site and peculiar purpose of a given city, arrived at.
But of what value. at this late day, can be the knowledge of what should have been, even though concurred in and agreed to by all ? The value returns in two ways, first directly in the comprehensive planning of the extensions of the city upon surrounding areas; secondly, indirectly by the application of the factors which evolve the ideal plan and the incorporation of this plan itself in the changes which are constantly occurring in the misbuilt city, with such modification, it is true, as the ideal must suffer by reason of such existing conditions which it will be found prudent and advisable to accept undisturbed.
If it be desired that a city be planned upon a reasonable scale and with due consideration of the comparative and just importance of its related elements, it may be so planned, or at least replanned, by simply proceeding to make general provisions for its inevitable improvements for a hundred years to come. With private individuals and corporations this is considered but an exercise of ordinary prudence, and today costly buildings are erected upon land merely leased for that purpose for a term of years. Practically the entire city, by localities, will be rebuilt from two to eight times within a century, and the most radical changes can thus be accomplished with the slightest hardship to individuals or the public.
While it is true that the execution of radical measures must result inevitably in greater restrictions upon individuals and corporations, and thus interferes with that liberty which is the essence of American institutions, still, against this is to be urged the usual argument, that the resulting increased value of the whole returns again to the greater number. We will be told that the proposition is an idle dream. But the function of all law is the greatest good for the greatest number, and the fact that the citizen has awakened at all is by reason of an appreciation that in this matter, the interests of the citizens collectively are identical with and supersede those of the individual.
Again, the mere establishment of a comprehensive general proposition for improvements will result in voluntary conformity to it in many cases where such conformation will be simpler and more economical than to do otherwise.
But of what purpose is an approach to architectural and artistic perfection? Artistic consideration of all things which involve plan and construction means only common sense and economical consideration of them. Utility is economy, but artistic utility is greater economy. The lines of Beauty are the lines of Utility, and in a larger sense, in their effect upon surroundings and upon the human mind, giving due weight to all other points of view as well as that of first cost, they are far and away the truest economy. Let a problem such as this be solved from the point of view of Art, and all other requirements, such as utility, economy, sanitation and convenience, are solved also. When the intention proceeds upon correct principles and methods, whatever the cost, economical results are assured.
The consideration of everyday things from the artistic point of view does not mean senseless extravagance and wastefulness nor the mere embellishment and enrichment of details, nor the clothing of constructions in this or that emasculated style of bygone centuries and outlived conditions. It means in the first instance the free recognition of all the Facts and the candid admission of the whole truth. It means that unconscious simplicity which unites harmoniously utility and beauty; a whole composed of various parts, each in the balance of its just relationship with all the rest; and that peculiar domestic economy of suiting means to ends, and at the same time defeating every suggestion of vulgarity and offensiveness, which has made the products as well as methods of the Japanese people characteristic. We, for instance, pretend to be inordinately jealous of the art of our parks, and are at the same moment apparently unconscious that in building an undesigned and offensive bridge of first magnitude, more harm will be done in polluting the mind of the people, than all the artistic parks put together can counteract.
The matter of judiciously planning the comparatively unsettled districts adjacent to New York, presents no serious obstacles; as to these the present conditions are fortunate and similar to those which evolved the plan of Washington, the brilliant results of which should be profitably emulated in New York's environs, and also by such minor capitol cities as Hartford, Providence, Albany, Lansing, Harrisburg and those of the southern tier of states, all of which are still in a formative state.
It is the nucleus of the city, the "old portion," which presents the field upon which the cunning of men is to be exercised. An heroic task, it requires heroic treatment. Nor is it necessary to invoke a conflagration. A transformation, by easy stages, upon the given condition of its present lines can be accomplished, partially at least, by those mild and slow methods which are already in operation for certain purposes, among others for instance, that one which prevents repairs to a certain class of structures, and which will make of New York a fireproof city eventually, but positively.
Would a judicious extension of this same law to the effect that ten years after passage, all nonfire proof or otherwise dangerous buildings within a prescribed area,--marked for specific improvement by the very reason of its bad condition,--are to be condemned, be so very objectionable ? And yet, what an abundant opportunity for the consummation of the most radical transformation it would afford.
Simply as another example may be cited the bill now before the State Legislature, providing for holding a great exposition in New York City in 1901. Is it so very unreasonable to presume that, instead of reducing our best park spaces to a condition of ruin, were better to utilize the incidental destruction, so that it may accrue to lasting advantage without remaining a sad detriment to the city .
Splendid spaces for the temporary buildings could be cleared in the path of permanent improvements, and thus suiting means to ends, two problems meet in one solution.
The next French Exposition to be held in Paris in 1900 will be built in the heart of the town, and while we need not accept unquestioned everything that the French show us, in this they are certainly right. There is no excuse for the location of exposition grounds at a distance and for the sake of the exhibition, the town should take on its color and spirit unreservedly for the time being. then, again, everybody now knows that in these works of construction, while much that is visible is but temporary, there is also much which must be done with the same fidelity and completeness as though built for permanence.
The Chicago Fair, although located at too great a distance from the city, had a most happy site. The immense amount of work done in confining its rampant waterways, in dredging, grading, filling and terracing, in piling, in pavements, in seawalls, docks and piers, in the constructive parts of bridges, in fetching the watersupply, laying of drains and conduits, and gaspiping for lighting, all these, do remain and very much more might have remained, to the lasting improvement of Jackson Park.
If all this can be done for a park, how much more of the constructions of similar enterprises can be made to accrue to the permanent improvement of the city? Probably fully onethird of the amounts thus spent may be made applicable to works of permanency.
But enough happenings will visit a city in the course of a century to discourage the prophet. May it not be hoped that the peaceful achievements of enlightened civilization may at least equal those wrought by the violence of barbarism and the terrors of the elements.
A city may be likened to a house; its waterways, bridges, railroads and highways are the entrances, vestibules and exits; its public buildings are the drawing rooms, its streets the halls and corridors, the manufacturing districts the kitchens and workshops; tunnels and subways are its cellars, and its rookeries the attic; the parks and recreation places are its gardens, and its systems for communication, lighting and drainage are the furniture. The city is a house of many chambers, and the first condition in forming its ideal plan is the shortest route from each to each. Thoroughfares and the tide of travel pouring through them have been compared to streams; there is, however, this distinction, that in the case of streams, where a narrowing of the way occurs, the current runs the swifter, whereas the human current of street traffic is retarded by contraction or its equivalent, congestion. Where this occurs, and simple widening or relief by parallel side streets proves impracticable, a street may be floored over. An elevated platform of ample height above the roadway admitting light and air below, giving entrance to the buildings, as well above as at the level of the ground, and perhaps itself, arcaded with glass, would appear to be the inevitable fate of lower Broadway, for instance. Broadway, from the Battery to Tenth street, within the memory of men now living, has been rebuilt three times. Is it better for it? Yes, somewhat; not very much nor by any means has its improvement on the score of rational economy, let alone considerations of convenience and beauty of aspect, kept comparative pace with its growing importance and increasing function as the main artery of the city. If its width was proper at the time when twostory buildings alone were contemplated, how could the same width accommodate the increased facilities demanded by the enormous populations housed in the twelve, sixteen and twentystory buildings with which it is now lined? If such a width provided only the necessary light and air for the original buildings how can the canon now forming possibly supply a sufficiency under the multiplied demands? The choked condition of the street proves all this, its surface transportation having become a source of danger and all but useless by reason of congestion. Yet how simple a matter, if taken in time, would have been the prevention of all this, for the inevitable condition could reasonably have been foreseen.
Broadway is now the disappointment of every visitor, the despair of every native. Its truly noble buildings, costly to extravagance, are lost to sight from any point of view; its irresistible rush of traffic its uncombatable roar of sounds, the depressing effect of its towering walls, all conspire to induce a desire to escape from it as from a threatening catastrophe. What should have become, by reason of its position in the peculiar geography of Manhattan Island, our most magnificent and impressive street, has forever lost its opportunity.
Whatever may be possible of accomplishment for other sections of the city in prevention of similar enormities of contending conditions must be begun in season and in earnest; in this case action has been too long delayed. It is now too late. For many other and similar cases the opportunity exists every day. Now is the appointed time!
It is truly remarkable that the men who are responsible for the "gridiron" plan of New York City, north of Houston street, completely omitted the diagonal system of primary avenues, although the plan of the city of Washington which is essentially based upon the principle, had been determined upon and mapped at least 10 years before the New York Street Commission was called into being. Theirs must have been a stupendous work of precise surveying and mapping, sufficient to command the labor of only men of considerable attainments. Whether, however, the peculiar functions of such avenues, intensified as they were by the particular geographical conditions of the site and the great area with which they were dealing and which they were engaged in plotting into an organized future city, were wholly overlooked, or whether, by reason of the confusion of the cowpath lanes of the lower town, they fled to the other extreme and intentionally omitted every element of street planning not at right angles, will probably remain shrouded in obscurity. It is immaterial and its effect upon succeeding generations remains precisely the same. As a matter of fact the street plan, then perpetrated had only the dubious merit of the most childish regularity and of devoting the maximum proportion of area to building sites. Every consideration of economy of intercommunication, future financial economy, sanitation, healthfulness and aesthetics was absolutely left out of the reckoning. One artery only, the original turnpike, now the Bowery and upper Broadway, at once the central thoroughfare and the only one diagonal to the rectangular system, exists, and is a pathetic evidence of the economy and convenience that might have been general.
Let charity repress any rising criticism of incompetency or thoughtlessness. We will gladly pay heavy penalties for corrections and still heavier ones, the longer we maintain indifference. Even ten years ago, a law was made providing for the expenditure of one million dollars per year for the creation of small parks made necessary for breathing spaces, healthfulness and elbowroom for an enormous population. But this is merely a drop in the bucket of what the future holds in store.
In redesigning the great city, due weight must be accorded, first to those extraneous conditions, which bestow upon the locality its city functions, and which in the order of their importance, dictate its departments and practical conditions of operation. Upon the one hand is the open sea; upon the other the most extensive territory of productiveness which the world has ever seen; surrounded by tide water upon every side, with practical direct overland railroad connection to the north, and to the northwest, a great concentrated carrying trade upon the great lakes, future adequate canal connection with which can even now be distinctly foreseen; and the everincreasing demands upon the energy of the city to perform the business of industrial clearing house for the Nation. These are conditions, eminently practical, which in wise conjunction with interior and local requirements preclude haphazard methods in the new plan and are entitled to the profound study of the best qualified brains of the time. These conditions will impose imperatively the location and extent of docks, of railroads, of bridges, of ferries, of warehouses and markets, of the manufacturing districts, and finally of the system of streets and intramural communication, the seat of City Government, private buildings and residence; of the parks and other systems.
While it is fair to admit that such a plan must contain a certain elasticity, both in original intention and in the mode of application, to permit of the incorporation of future developments which it must ever remain impossible to foresee; still, in the main, it may proceed upon theories of tolerable certainty. Such, for instance, that the southerly end of Manhattan Island will remain the nucleus of anticipated accumulation and that the area directly contributory to the city's activity will extend in a radius of at least 50 miles from it.
Let it be supposed that Union Square be extended on the north to 18th street, on the east to Third avenue and on the south to Eleventh street, east of Broadway. Thus are immediately created monumental conditions of site for the future City Hall, including an official Mayor's residence, of the highest order; 14th street is the only street which need pass through it. Upon the center at the south is Lafayette Place, a fine street at present, terminating in a site for a monumental building, eight blocks away; upon the northcenter is Irving Place with Gramercy Park two blocks away; upon the east is Stuyvesant Square, but one block off. Upon the west, the present Union Square and Broadway, with Broadway entering from the north and south.
Madison Square is but five blocks to the northwest; from the south continue Astor Place until it strikes the eastcenter of Washington Park, but four blocks away; Fourth avenue leading out to the north, considered as being widened, forms a splendid Boulevard connection with the principal railroad station, which in turn becomes a secondary center of radial avenues, while Christopher street extended through but five blocks, enters upon the southeast corner, and connects the North river by the shortest possible route, at an important ferry point. From the northheast extend a new avenue to another group of important buildings, Bellevue Hospital, and away to the northwest extend another to West 34th street at the North river.
From the eastern side of the new City Hall Park at Third avenue and 14th street, cut a new diagonal avenue to the intersection of Grand and Jackson street to Corlears Hook Park and the East river. This forms at once the shortest route connection with that great commercial South street, the widening of which to 200 feet has been long in abeyance, and at Delancey street with the approach to the new bridge now in course of construction over the East river, thus giving ready access to an immense territory on the other side. But the result of this last alone is much more than this;--with the fact of the new bridge, this artery would work the transformation of the entire section between 14th and Grand streets and from the Bowery to the East river. Traversing a thickly populated tenementhouse district, become known as one of more or less "turbulence," this would disappear from the locality, giving way to business buildings, stores and warehouses. The people tenanting these districts, do so, because their work is in the city and their hours of work, or activity, are long. Let adequate transportation along this highway and continuous across the bridge be provided and they will find homes across the river, better and cheaper in a thousand ways for themselves and for the community of which they form a part.
The systems of diagonal avenues, results, aside from its practical and economical superiority, in conditions known as "Vistas." These occur not only at the actual point of intersection with others of their own kind, where the area of intersection necessarily becomes so large that its center may be occupied by a structure of importance, but also at their intersection with every street of the rectangular system by affording greater length of vision and bringing larger objects or an increased aggregate within the extended angle of sight. In general, the view, instead of terminating in a perspective nothing, rests upon an object. These several objective points will be occupied by monumental structures, as the sites become proportionately valuable, through their importance commercially, so as to warrant the erection of buildings of the first class upon them.
These vistas are the delight of foreign cities and indeed of our own monumental Washington. Their presence from the purely æsthetic point of view is of the very first necessity.
They are not merely for the purpose of affording opportunities for the picturesque upon the irregular building plots caused by them in traversing the regular system of streets, although this is one of their minor and secondary merits. Their main advantage, still æsthetically considered, consists in quite the reverse from the picturesque: namely, the impressiveness arising out of the repose and dignity of the greater masses which they impel.
It may thus be readily deduced that the diagonal avenues become, for a variety of reasons, the arteries of primary importance and value.
The relation and disposition of the park system in the general plan presents a problem of the most absorbing interest. Extending its ramifications throughout the domain of the city, possessed of intensity and identity of character, by contrast giving value to surroundings and taking emphasis from them to itself, presenting the normal criterion of nature and restoring measure to artificiality, it interferes formally and at random with the geometry of the city and is an accommodating agency in smoothing its difficulties.
Along the lines of parkways connecting the parks, like the links of a chain, become reserved the residence districts. Located upon them also are the Libraries, Museums, Art Galleries and Public School Buildings, with their attendant playgrounds, and recreation places, not merely for the use of school children, but for the public general also. And right here the temptation becomes irresistible to say a word upon the habits of the city dweller which affects our city plan.
The people of large cities necessarily become addicted more or less to sedentary habits and through the circumstance of city artificiality become more and more themselves automatic; none the less however they remain creatures of flesh and blood and the functions imposed by nature upon the complex machinery of man's organism must be performed, to the end that normal physical and mental health and happiness may be maintained.
Before the existence of great cities and the causes which created them, man in his ordinary pursuits performed sufficient physical work to keep the blood in circulation and fill his lungs with wholesome air. Natural physical human work, substitution for which by mechanism all man's inventiveness is bent upon accomplishing, must be resubstituted in the form of artificiality itself: in the form of voluntary exercise, recreation and play.
Childhood and youth have suffered most from the overcrowding in cities, and it may be that in the future great cities there will be no place for children; at any rate the present attitude of the city toward the child betrays that tendency, treating him as an insufferable nuisance. There is no room for the child in the tenements and not much more in more comfortable homes. When he escapes to or is thrown upon the street he must become a lawbreaker for indulging a natural inclination for movement, exercise, noise and fun. When he acquires sufficient agility to escape the perils of ordinary street traffic, he is still not free from the dangers of constant pursuit by the police.
He is not allowed to "walk upon the grass" because this would destroy the only "municipal art" which the municipality prides itself in possessing, which is encouraging and as it should be in the right place, but there are some places in which it is all wrong. He is always chased, sometimes clubbed and occasionally shot at. Other people's children are a constant source of annoyance and complaint of every housekeeper. If the future should disclose a celebrity born and reared in New York in the present decade, it will probably be a fine example of an enemy of organized society with a grievance against the human race.
In spite of all this, the "hoptoads" dance very gracefully in the gutters and the pavement has recently been changed from Belgian blocks to asphalt; and the ardor and enthusiasm of the American small boy, displayed in baseball and football, played upon rough granite for this greensward, is a joy forever and still quite human.
Advanced civilization has quite unconsciously deprived the child of his play. Its restoration by providing the opportunity and the place is not particularly an act of charity or a bestowal of merciful privilege, it is but an act of simple justice. The city owes a duty to its youth and to itself immediate and imperative, in providing this safeguard for the preservation of its moral, mental and physical health.
The natural and logical place for the child's playground is in connection with his schoolhouse, and it is to be used not only during school hours but also out of them and at night. Here he may learn the lesson of personal discipline and restraint, which orderly play makes mandatory. And while his recreation may be voluntary as distinguished from compulsory, the entire operation of the playground will still be educational in its character.
In addition to this there must be larger places of paramount importance for the exercise and recreation of the people, and the playground, with its games and contests, may with dignity and profit receive recognition and consideration from the state.
The part of which Blackwell's, Ward's and Randall's Islands will be assigned in the development of the future will be vital and interesting, as it may be presumed with tolerable certainty that the uses to which they are now devoted will not indefinitely continue, the East river in which they are located now flowing through the center of the city and being no longer a boundary of separation. Their location in relation to the greater city, thus becoming central, their importance, in addition to their peculiar advantages of site, becomes greatly enhanced. These, and the beautiful possibilities of the Harlem river valley; the group of many islands which form a natural Venice in Jamaica Bay, and many others, are all problems which will seek solution in the broad domain of parks and playgrounds, parkways and residence districts.
But even the "gridiron" plan yields something to analysis and admits of some improvement. Note for example the most stereotypes condition of affairs, say three of the usual blocks of 200 by 800 feet, placed with their lesser dimension on the avenues to the east and west and traversed by two cross streets between, each sixty feet wide. We have now a plot of ground covering 720 by 800 feet, which may be resolved into three elements: The thoroughfares, the sites occupied by buildings, and the courts of backyards of the same. In order to make the comparison in as simple terms as possible, supposed we leave the avenues on the east and west as firstclass thoroughfares, build up the two intermediate streets, and cut a secondary avenue in the middle, running north and south seventy feet wide and a secondary street fifty feet wide running east and west, upon which are the courts, now open instead of enclosed. We can now increase the width of the primary side streets from sixty to seventy feet and still retain practically the same area covered by buildings as in the original plan. In the first case there are 480,000 sq. ft. of building area and 96,000 sq. ft. of streets, as against 481,800 sq. ft. and 94,200 sq. ft. respectively in the second. The length of streets in the first case is 1,600 feet as against 1,520 feet in the second. There are now sixteen corner sites where there were but twelve before and eight additional ones of a lesser importance at the intersections of the secondary streets with the Courts.
All the north and south, that is, the traffic arteries that were there before remain, but they have been reenforced by secondary avenues, one of the purposes of which is to relieve the primary longitudinal streets of fast and objectionable traffic; and it must be recognized that by reason of the geographical conformation of Manhattan Island, communication in north and south directions must become ever more and more voluminous. The main avenues will now carry surface transportation, carriage and passenger traffic generally, while the secondary avenues accommodate trucking, freight and the elevated structure for fast transportation. And it is here assumed that the nuisances of dirt and noisiness pertaining to elevated structures must yield to progress in that direction, and that the multiplication of lines in the direction in which transit is demanded will satisfy the requirements of both slow and rapid transportation.
By means of the secondary side streets running east and west, it is intended that the rear entrances of buildings may be made accessible, for the delivery of provisions, coal, ice and for servants' entrances, and for the removal of garbage, ashes and other refuse. To show how utterly futile all efforts have been to effect this advantage in any other way, it is but necessary to point to New York's weekly garbage parade and to the fact that these interesting collections are accumulated during the week under the front stoops.
From the point of economy and improved protection against fire also, the importance of reaching the rears of buildings cannot be overestimated. Not only the private residence and the business house, but hotels, theatres, apartments, clubs, restaurants and buildings of every description, would profit surprisingly by this circumstance. The principal avenues would be relieved of the delivery of goods entirely, always at crosspurposes with the tide of travel in the street; of the loading and unloading of trucks; of the inconvenient, dangerous and cramped cellar and basement entrances and sidewalk elevators, railings, coalholes and so on; all of which now occupy valuable space upon the fronts of our buildings, and at the level of the street.
Now let the natural lighting of the two examples be compared for a moment. There being twice as many avenues as before and one third less crossstreets, it follows, considering the sunlight as from the south, as it each day reaches the pavement of the north and south streets for a much longer period and with increased strength than of those running east and west, that there will be fifty per cent. more light and 33 1/3 per cent. less shadow in the streets. Again, the noonday sunshine is wanted in the thoroughfares, but not in the houses, and the morning sun is of greater importance in the dining and other rooms of the residences than in the streets. The result as to the buildings is a maximum of cooler houses in the summer and warmer in winter, as the second arrangement does not expose nearly so many fronts and rears to the heat from the south or the cold from the north, and as to both the streets and buildings--with the arrangement of the rear yards, which collectively form the inevitable courts of the blocks, also longitudinal and open upon the secondary streets, instead of enclosed on all four sides and extending in the east and west direction--that so far as increased light and circulation of air pertain to sanitary superiority and healthfulness, the second arrangement is far preferable.
In other respects than these, advantage would result to the buildings. For many years builders have felt, that however readily the unit of twentyfive feet lends itself in the transmission of property, in the interior arrangement, particularly in domestic planning of houses its presence is attended with marked inconvenience. The dimensions of width being most often found to be either too wide or too narrow. Apparently this unit of twentyfive feet is not in consonance with a subtle something, which for want of a better name, may be called the "human scale"; that is, the normal size in which objects are in accordance with the average requirements of human beings. This is a peculiar circumstance, which experienced planners will agree to in so far that in those localities where this unit is not imposed and where the dimensions of width are more elastic, greater satisfaction in respect to convenient planning results.
The experiment is presented, offers a minimum repetition of this unit, and in the example, the main dimensions having been retained for the purpose of comparison, it is about twentyseven feet. The unit of twentyfive feet may be either retained or abandoned at pleasure, but what is of importance is the fact of a greater diversity of sizes, and of corner plots at some intersections, which yield more elastic conditions for the satisfactory planning of all descriptions of buildings, particularly of that of the longsuffering tenement.
Finally, the financial value of the real estate arranged upon such a plan of streets, should be much greater. The sites are located more largely upon active, rather than passive thoroughfares, and the main avenues, freed from all objectionable features, return to some degree of dignity, grandeur and impressiveness. It certainly seems that some arrangement of primary, secondary and tertiary streets, partly upon a parallel partly upon a radial plan, would be found to contain the elements pointing to a solution of questions and æsthetics, engineering, sanitation and transportation and such others as pertain to better care of the streets themselves and improved habitations for the people.
But will all this be done? Oh, yes, something will happen; at least, it is entirely comportable with a proper patriotic pride to assume that New York will continue to increase proportionately with the growth of the nation. Whether the enlargement will be guided by intelligence, or whether, as in the past, timely opportunity is to be stupidly neglected, is the only question. It is merely one of degree. All things considered, it might be more remarkable if the right thing were not done than if accomplishment should finally crown continued effort. Cities of lesser consequence and in worse condition have accomplished successes comparatively as great as the opportunity now contains.
The accomplishment of the most radical and fundamental transformations is not so entirely improbable. Already the new charter has greatly simplified methods of legislation and unified authority and responsibility. Under its provisions the new Board of Public Improvements brings into intelligent and comprehensive relationship nearly all the most important constructive departments of the city government. Thus is recognition of a certain cohesiveness between the several works already established. Much of the law provided for this Board is quite explicit, and in conjunction with that relating to the new Art Commission it would appear that no obstacles exist to a beginning.
Civic pride and interest in municipal affairs will in time evolved a logical city plan. Its determination and applicability are matters of comparatively simple accomplishment. While it should not be muddled or meddled with on a trivial scale, still it does not involve great expense or require much time. But its value is incalculable. It will but derive additional value if the revision is made without direct bearing upon any specific feature, thereby inducing the necessary calm in which alone all essential requirements can be weighed in their just relation. As to how far and at what time any portions of the plan should be undertaken for execution is another matter. No one may say with what comparative suddenness opportunities will arise for its application. The results of a conflagration, a fundamental change in transportation systems, an exposition, a requirement for new public buildings, the location of new bridges, railroad stations, parks and docks, are but a few of the many things which appear every day and are liable to cause grave errors when dealt with independently, and of which the probabilities are reduced to a minimum by reference to the friendly plan.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org To Top of Page To Homepage