Horace William Shaler Cleveland

Landscape Architecture, as Applied to the Wants of the West; with an Essay on Forest Planting on the Great Plains. (Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Co., 1873):28­45

Both a visionary and a skilled and practical designer, H. W. S. Cleveland (1814­1900) in addition to his writings on and practice of landscape architecture, should also be known as a pioneering critic of American city planning. He was born in New England and as a young man first encountered the American West in 1835 when he worked briefly as a land surveyor in Illinois. He then settled in New Jersey, purchased a farm and helped to establish the New Jersey Horticultural Society.

At the age of forty he moved to Boston and formed a landscape partnership with Robert Morris Copeland. A decade later found him in Brooklyn to work on the design for Prospect Park that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were commissioned to prepare. Cleveland and Olmsted may have met earlier, but this brief association on the Prospect Park project led to a life­long friendship.

In 1869 Cleveland decided to move to Chicago where he began a professional practice. After 1871, he undertook several projects in partnership with William M. R. French, a civil engineer. Two years later Cleveland's closely­reasoned and sharply­worded little book appeared with the highly critical chapter on American town plans reprinted below. It originated a year earlier with lectures that Cleveland delivered in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

His wife's poor health, the destruction of his books and records in the Chicago Fire of 1871, legal battles with the City over his work for Chicago's South Parks District, and the death of a son all made the city seem less attractive. Finally, at the age of seventy­two, Cleveland in 1886 moved to Minneapolis where his lectures years earlier had been so well received. He spent the next nine years there working to create the splendid park and recreation system of the city.

Among other perceptive comments and criticism in the following chapter from his book, Cleveland called for orientation of streets to capture the maximum amount of sunlight for all facades of buildings. Although he pointed out the shortcoming of the Chicago gridiron street system, he noted: "If the rectangular system must be adhered to..., it would be far better than the lines of streets should be northwest and southeast, and the cross streets at right angles with them." On another subject, he scorns the tiny parks in the midst of residential neighborhoods that have been designed with miniature mountains and lakes: "Mountain ranges are introduced which are overlooked from the chamber windows of the surrounding houses; lakes of corresponding size are created apparently to afford an excuse for the construction of rustic bridges, which are conspicuous at a great distance than either mountains or lakes. A lighthouse three feet high, on a rocky promontory the size of a dining room table, serves to warn the ducks and geese of hidden dangers of navigation."

If I have succeeded in showing that even in the arrangement of a private estate comprising only a few acres, there is abundant room for the exercise of practical knowledge and skill in the application of the principles of landscape architecture, no argument will be needed to prove that very much more intricate and elaborate problems must present themselves when the area is enlarged, and the tastes, interests and future wants of great multitudes are to be provided for in the laying out of a town or city.

The existence of sanitary, economic and esthetic laws which should govern the arrangement of cities, is abundantly proved by the penalties which have so often been paid for their transgression. We cannot plead ignorance in excuse for their violation, and upon us more than any pre-existing nation devolves the duty of their further development and application.

The opening of the lines of railroad across the continent has developed so much that was unexpected in the resources and capacities of the regions they have penetrated; has dispelled so many erroneous ideas in regard to their susceptibility of improvement for the purposes of civilized habitation, and has so facilitated the means of adapting them to such purposes, that it has become a task of almost equal difficulty to obtain a realizing sense of the opportunities which are dawning upon us, or of the responsibilities they involve.

The vast regions yet lying undisturbed between the Mississippi and the Pacific comprise such resources of wealth and variety of sublime and picturesque features of natural scenery as can be seen on no other portion of the earth's surface, that is accessible to civilization. This is the raw material which is placed in our hands to be moulded into shape for the habitations of a nation, and such as we create, it must essentially remain for all future time. All coming generations are to inhabit the cities and towns, and go to their daily labors in the streets, and seek recreation in the parks and pleasure grounds, and be laid to rest in the cemeteries, the foundations of which we are laying or preparing to lay, and whose essential features of arrangement are immutable from the time they are first occupied.

It may not at first sight appear that the duties and responsibilities devolving upon us are materially different from those which have attached to the similar work in which our fathers have been engaged throughout our national existence. A little reflection, however, will show that the march of modern improvement has so altered the relative proportion of means to ends, that the application of the creative powers we now possess to the development of a new country, can no more be governed by the record of the past than the destructive agencies of modern warfare can be directed by the military tactics of a past age.

Before the introduction of railroads the settlement of the West was by a gradual process of accretion, a vanguard of hardy pioneers keeping ever in advance, enduring hardships and privations which could only be borne by men unaccustomed to the ordinary comforts of civilization. The better classes who followed were necessarily governed to a greater or less extent in whatever further improvements they attempted, by the works of their predecessors, and nothing approaching to scientific or artistic designs of arrangement of extended areas, based upon wise forethought of future necessities, was attempted. The Government system of surveys of public lands formed the only basis of division, the only guide in laying out county roads, or the streets of proposed towns; and if the towns grew into cities it was simply by the indefinite extension of the straight streets, running north, south, east or west, without regard to topographical features, or facilities of grading or drainage, and still less of any considerations of taste or convenience, which would have suggested a different arrangement. Every Western traveler is familiar with the monotonous character of the towns resulting from the endless repetition of the dreary uniformity of rectangles which they present; yet the custom is so universal and offers such advantages in simplifying and facilitating descriptions and transfers of real estate, that any attempt at the introduction of a different system encounters at once a strong feeling of popular prejudice.

A new era in the process of the redemption and settlement of the wild country has now commenced, and a vast extent of new territory is annually opening to its advancing waves. Wherever a railroad is opened, all the laborsaving machinery and all the comforts and luxuries of civilization are at once introduced, and the newest settlements are equipped from the outset with all the physical necessities of civilized life.

The Eastern man who made the journey to the Mississippi thirty years ago found himself, after ten days or a fortnight's weary travelling by canal boat, stage and steamer, among a people differing in dress, habits and idiom, from those he had left; and if he departed from the great routes of travel and penetrated the interior of any of the Western States, he was forced to submit to inconvenience and discomfort for want of what he had always been accustomed to consider the simplest necessities of life, but whose names and uses were alike unknown to the majority of the primitive backwoodsmen who comprised the rural population.

Now the passage to the Pacific may be made in less time than was then required to reach the Mississippi, and without the surrender of any of the luxuries which have come to be regarded as necessities of modern travel, and which in spite of the tendency to vulgar display in the upholstering of hotels and public conveyances, have done good service in cultivating and refining the manners and the various stages of progress from its condition of savage dreariness to that of smiling culture.

But in the arrangement of towns no advance has been made from the original rectangular fashion, which even when the site is level, is on many accounts objectionable while with every departure from an even surface, the advantages become apparent of adapting the arrangement of the streets to its inequalities.

Every one who is familiar with the river towns of the West will recall innumerable instances of enormously expensive works in cutting down hillsides and building up embankments; of the almost total destruction of valuable building sites; in one place by their being left in an inaccessible position on the top of a precipice; in another by being exposed to all the drainage of a street which is far above them, while all the naturally beautiful or picturesque features of the place have been destroyed or rendered hideous in the effort to make them conform to a rectangular system, as if the human intellect were as powerless to adapt itself to changing circumstances as the instinct of insects, whose cells are constructed on an unvarying pattern.

All these evil results might be obviated by due forethought and the exercise of judgment and taste in adapting the arrangement to the site; and now that we have reached the point when vast regions may be controlled by companies or individuals, and the sites and plans of towns can be selected and pre-ordained, it is unworthy of the progress of the age in science and art that no advance should be made in a matter of such importance.

If a town is to be laid out on any given tract of land, the first question in the mind of a landscape architect should be: How can the area be divided so as to secure the best disposition of the different departments whose necessities can be forseen[sic] and provided for?

How can the streets be best adapted to the natural shape of the ground, so as to economize cost of construction, and attain ease of grade and facility of drainage, by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by nature to save expense of cutting and filling, while preserving the most desirable building sites in the best positions relative to the roads?

How can any naturally attractive features, such as a river, a lake or a mountain, near or distant, be made to minister to the beautiful or picturesque character of the place, by adapting the arrangement to the development of their most attractive aspects?

Every one can see in the mere statement of these questions, (which are but samples of many which will readily suggest themselves), that the answers must involve possibilities of vital moment in a sanitary, economic and esthetic sense, and although the answers may be only approximately and conjecturally correct, it by no means follows that there is no room for the exercise of judgment. To pretend that their conditions can be best filled by an invariable adherence to the rectangular system, is as absurd as would be the assertion that the convenience and economy and comfort of every family would be best secured by living in a square house, with square rooms, of a uniform size. The rectangular system has this in its favor, that the first cost of laying out is less than that of a more elaborate architectural arrangement, because any surveyor can run out the lines, and moreover, there is no way in which so many lots can be got out of a given area. By a parity of reasoning, square houses would cost less than more elaborate buildings, because any carpenter can build them, and they will cut up into rooms more economically than an irregular building. Yet people do not hesitate to pay large prices for elaborate architectural designs for buildings, which are to last at most for a few generations, while they suffer a town, which is to last forever, to grow up without an effort at adaptation to present circumstances or future necessities, while it is obvious in many cases that present economy involves enormous and irremediable future outlay or loss. The instances in which irreparable and inestimable evils have resulted from the violation of such principles of landscape architecture, as are indicated by the above questions, may be found in almost every city in the country, and the almost superhuman efforts which some of them are making to obtain relief, afford sufficient evidence of the importance of timely exercise of care for their prevention.

It may not at first appear that any very serious objection can be urged against the rectangular system when the site is a perfectly level one, but the consideration of a case in point, whose exceptions may serve as illustrations of the truth of the general rule, will prove that it involves the sacrifice of advantages whose value can hardly be estimated. Chicago is situated on a vast plain extending in every direction for many miles beyond the city limits.

Probably no city ever had such an opportunity as hers to secure every possible advantage which the situation admits, by the exercise of judicious forethought in the preparation of a design adapted to the necessities-which were certain to arise. Other cities have grown up by gradual accretion in a long series of years, but Chicago has grown from a mere village to an immense city in the course of a single generation, and many of her active and energetic citizens of to-day have shot wild game where now are located some of her busiest thoroughfares. Her founders were always sanguine of her future destiny, and from an early day declared their conviction that she would become one of leading commercial cities of the country. They had the history and example of all the cities of all the world to teach them the necessities, and warn them of the dangers which must arise, and which could never be rectified if not foreseen and provided for in the original design. The site was a dead level, offering no natural features to affect the design, except the lake and the river, the former comprising the only object worthy of consideration for esthetic effect, while the latter furnished a secure harbor for lake craft, and must of course always be intimately connected with the business interests of the city.

No evidence of special reference to these features appears in the original plan, and the only important provision which indicates the faith of the founders in the future greatness of the city, is in the breadth of the streets, which is generally from sixty-six to eighty feet, a most important provision certainly, and one which is so often neglected, that it reflects credit upon the judgment of those who exercised such forethought.

Within the present city limits are comprised about eight hundred miles of streets, and with the exception of ten or twelve whose course is diagonal to that of the general system, and only one of which comes within a mile of the central business portion of the city, all the streets run due north and south and east and west. The town having originally started on these lines, the great city has grown up by simple projections of the same, the diagonals being old country roads whose convenience was too well established to admit of their removal. Before going farther, it is worthy of remark that the arranging of the streets according to the cardinal points involves a sanitary objection of no mean import. No fact is better established than the necessity of sunlight to the highest degree of animal health, and no constitution can long endure, without ill effect, the habitual daily privation of its health giving power. City houses at best can rarely be so well provided for in this respect as those which stand alone, as is generally the case in the country, and it is all the more important that every facility should be afforded to secure as much as possible of its genial influence. But every house on the south side of a street running east and west must have its front rooms, which are-generally its living rooms, entirely secluded from the sun during the Winter, and for most of the day during the Summer. This fact, coupled with that of the indoor life of American, and particularly Western, women, is enough to account for a very large share of the nervous debility which so generally prevails. If the rectangular system must be adhered to in city arrangement, it would be far better that the lines of streets should be northwest and southeast, and the cross streets at right angles with them, than as now disposed.

The present city limits embrace an area eight miles in length by five in breadth, and with the exception of the few diagonal streets above alluded to, the city is simply a vast collection of square blocks of buildings, divided by straight streets, whose weary lengths become fearfully monotonous to one who is under frequent necessity of traversing them.

Here and there at wide distances from each other single squares have been reserved for public use, and in one or two of these squares an elaborate effort at decoration has been made by means of what is commonly understood to be landscape gardening. Mountain ranges are introduced which are overlooked from the chamber windows of the surrounding houses; lakes of corresponding size are created apparently to afford an excuse for the construction of rustic bridges, which are conspicuous at- a greater distance than either mountains or lakes. A lighthouse three feet high, on a rocky promontory the size of a dining room table, serves to warn the ducks and geese of hidden dangers of navigation, and this baby-house ornamentation is tolerated in a great city which aspires to an artistic reputation; the crowds which throng these places in pleasant weather give evidence alike of the popular longing for relief from the din and turmoil of the streets, and of the facility with which they might be made available for purposes of instruction by a truly artistic use of objects of natural beauty and interest.

A little area in the south part of the city, known as Ellis Park, is a pleasing exception to the general rule, making no such display of absurdities, and being beautifully kept and richly decorated with flowers tastefully arranged in masses set in a velvet sward. Few people, except those in the immediate vicinity, are aware that the city is indebted for the possession of this little gem to the enthusiasm of an amateur, who furnishes and watches over the flowers and provides for the wants of the trees and grass, and finds his reward in the gratification of his ruling passion and the consciousness of the pleasure he confers on others.

The reservation of the area now occupied by Lincoln Park was the earliest and most judicious selection of land for the purpose of public recreation, and it will always possess a peculiar and superior value and interest from the facts of its vicinity and ease of access to the business portions of the city and its position on the shore of the lake, which is the only natural feature of the whole region around Chicago, which possesses any distinct characteristics of sublimity. These are in effect the same as those of the ocean, whether in the idea it conveys of grandeur by its vast extent, of terrific power when roused by storms, or of living, sparkling beauty in its ordinary condition, when its rippling surface is dotted with fleets of sails and steamers. The shores possess none of the picturesque features which are essential to give the full effect of sublimity to an ocean view. There are no jutting headlands, no deep bays, no islands, or "cold, grey stones;" nothing in fact but an even line of sandy shore. The unbounded expanse of water, with its ever changing hues and moods, comprises in itself all that conveys the impression of grandeur, in which it is in no wise inferior to the ocean except in a single characteristic, and that is one which would only be observed by a practiced eye. The heavy ground swell which is often seen in the ocean when no wind is blowing, and which is the result of storms so distant that no other evidence of them can be discovered is never seen in the lake. While its storms last, its breakers are as grand and terrific as those of the ocean, but the waves subside with the winds, and we never see, as on the ocean, a surface unrippled by a breath of air, but heaving with a solemn series of advancing waves which break upon the shore with a roar like thunder.

The lake is the one single natural feature which Chicago can command which possesses intrinsic sublimity and unceasing interest. In arranging a park upon its borders, therefore, it should be the objective point of attractive interest, the development and exhibition of which it should be the study of the artist to secure under such variety of conditions as would tacitly acknowledge its supremacy. The shaping of the ground and the arrangement of the trees should have reference to this end, and the drives and walks should be so arranged as to open views of the lake from different points, giving continual variety by the different framing of hills or foliage through which it is seen, but making it always the essential object of the picture. Instead of this, the park is cut off from the lake by a low range of sand hills which must be crossed before it can be seen. No art whatever has been applied to give a picturesque effect by the use of such accessories as would excite emotions in keeping with the grandeur or the beauty of the scene. The visitor crosses the hill and the blank sheet of water lies before him in its full extent, and all at once. No previous glimpses of portions of it, seen through distant openings between the hills or under an archway of overhanging foliage, awakens curiosity and excites the imagination by the intricacy and variety thus afforded; and indeed, so far as any pleasure is derivable from the view of the lake, the park offers no advantages over the wharves of the city. Yet with this magnificent sheet of water at hand to furnish the key note of whatever improvements might be attempted on its shores, the prominent decoration of the park is an elaborately artificial lake which seems to have been constructed for the purpose of exhibiting a further display of such childish toys as adorn the squares. More rustic bridges, a miniature castle, and a grotto of imitation stone adorned with colored glass, the effect of which when lighted up, as a Chicago paper gravely informed its readers, "is quite equal to that of the celebrated grotto in Wood's Museum!"

To return, however, to the subject of rectangular arrangement, from which I have wandered.

If one has occasion to cross any considerable portion of the city on a line diagonal to the uniform course of the streets; that is: if he wishes to go from the northeast to the southwest part, or from the northwest to the southeast, he must of necessity travel nearly one third farther than would be necessary if he could take a straight course. The relief afforded by the few diagonal streets which exist is but partial, because they are not systematically arranged to meet the necessities of the case, but they serve nevertheless to prove how valuable such a system would be, for they are always thronged, and the demand for business sites along their lines is far beyond that upon any of the streets in their vicinity. Except in the occasional instances where these avenues afford relief, the traveler whose course lies diagonally to the cardinal points, must traverse two sides of the great square which lies between his starting point and his destination. He may relieve the monotony of the straight streets by taking a zigzag course, but he can in no wise abate one jot of the distance.

Think now of the aggregate of unnecessary miles which must be traveled in the daily traffic of a great city, (and a city which may be termed a vast workshop, to which it may almost be said there is "no admittance except on business,") the wear and tear of the teams, and the loss of time which might have been saved by a judicious system of diagonal avenues.

Chicago is now preparing to spend millions of dollars in constructing a series of parks which are necessarily very distant from the thickly peopled districts of the city, because land in those districts is too valuable to be secured in sufficient quantities for such a purpose. The nearest park of the new system is between four and five miles from the Court House, and all of them are on the open prairie, and as yet far beyond the limits of any semblance of city streets. They are situated respectively north, west and south of the city, and are to be connected with each other by a chain of grand avenues or boulevards, having roadways on each side of a central mall, lined with trees and adorned with fountains and other objects of attractive interest.

The arguments most relied upon by the advocates of parks have been that they serve as "lungs to the city," by furnishing a magazine of pure air to supply the densely peopled districts, while they provide also a place of resort and recreation for the inhabitants, where they may seek relief from the turmoil of the confined streets in which their lives are passed in daily toil and refresh themselves with the sight of trees and grass and flowers. But how do these conditions apply to the case we are considering ?

The streets of Chicago are all sufficiently wide to afford ample ventilation. There are no densely peopled, narrow, winding streets, courts or lanes; and if there were, what relief would they get from parks five miles off?

Doubtless in time those parks will be enclosed within the city which will grow up around and extend far beyond them, but it will be no population of laboring poor that will dwell in their vicinity. The palaces of the rich will surround and overlook them, and it will be only on an occasional holiday that the toiling denizen of the central business marts, can afford the time or the means to go with his family to those distant gardens. That this assertion is not a mere theory, is proved by the following extracts from the report of the Central Park Commissioners for the year 1872, which has come to hand since the above was written:

"That large part of the people of the city to whom, from the closer quarters in which they are most of the time confined, the Park would seem to promise the greatest advantage, cannot ordinarily leave their daily tasks, at the earliest, till after four o'clock; nor their homes, which in the majority of cases are yet south of Twenty-fifth street, before five. A visit to the Park, then, involves two trips by street cars, which with the walk to and from them will occupy more than an hour. The street cars on all the lines approaching the Park are at five o'clock overcrowded, and most members of a family entering one below Twenty-fifth street will be unable to get a seat. Under these circumstances, the pleasure of a short visit to the Park, especially in the latter part of a hot summer's day, does not often compensate for the fatigue and discomfort it involves, and accordingly it appears that as yet a majority of those who FREQUENT the Park are people in comfortable circumstances, and largely of families, the heads of which have either retired from business or are able to leave their business early in the day. Except on Sunday, and Saturday afternoons and general holidays, the number of residents of the city who come to the Park in carriages is larger than of those who come by street cars and on foot.

And again: "It is obvious from the great difference in the relative numbers of people who visit the Park respectively in carriages and on foot on ordinary days. and on Sundays and holidays, that to the great body of citizens it is yet too difficult of access to be of use except on special occasions; a large majority of the visits of ordinary short daily recreation being made at present by the comparatively small number, who can afford to use pleasure carriages or saddle horses, or of those from whose houses a walk to it is easy and agreeable."

That Chicago should even now provide for future certain wants, evinces commendable wisdom and exceptional energy and enterprise, but if younger cities will learn wisdom by her experience, and exercise an earlier forethought, they may secure results which are unattainable for Chicago by having their parks and boulevards as integral portions of the city, instead of being merely ornamental appendages. 

Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: 
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