Captain J. Keily

Victorian Institute of Surveyors,Transactions and Proceedings (September 1889):88-104.

American readers--and doubtless those from Britain and even Australia itself--may be surprised to read this statement about the elements of town planning and urban design written at such an early date. Few American or British professionals had presented equivalent papers before professional societies. It is all the more surprising that it should come from Australia, a land many think of as little more than a raw frontier society at that time. Keily, whose background has not been revealed, wrote and spoke only a few months before another Australian, John Sulman, delivered his own better-known paper advocating a ring and radial street pattern as the most efficient and attractive. Possibly Keily's paper moved Sulman to set out his own ideas that represented an architect's approach to town planning. A number of passages that are not relevant to the main subject have been omitted. These include references to specific Australian buildings or parts of cities as well as a tedious digression on the proper symbols, devices, and mottoes that should be adopted to identify engineers and works of engineering.
PART I.--Introduction
Having recently been member of a committee of this Institute, whose office it was to discuss certain portions of the proposed Health Act, my attention was strongly directed to the fact that almost every clause was an isolated one; and that there was not the slightest connecting link between its several parts.... So long as every building block was not less than a certain size, or the streets were not less than a certain width, or provision was made for a drainage line, all the conditions of the problem were satisfied. Allotments scattered at random, like the drift boulders of the glacial period, would fulfil the provisions of the Health Act just as well as the most scientifically planned design of the Architect or the Engineer.

But, although such a measure may suffice for the purpose for which it is intended, it is the duty of the Engineer, the Architect, and the inquire whether or not it is possible to impart to new towns and new suburbs such unity, and such general features, as would suit the tastes and habits of an intelligent and cultivated people; such features as would give ample scope to the painter and the architect; such features as would make our towns fitting nuclei for the still greater towns yet to be founded on them; such features as would impart a distinct character to all; such features as might proudly be referred to in recording historical events; and, finally, such features as would tend to create a healthy, a happy, and a genial people. To attain such a purpose, something more is required than long, formal, straight-lined streets, and huge masses of brickwork; but, whether the streets be straight or curved, or whether the buildings be large or lofty, or small and low, the aim of the designer and the master should be perceptible throughout.

On the other hand, it may be urged that the foundations of most of the future towns of this colony have been already laid; and that, therefore, their central and principal parts are to a great extent irrevocably fixed. This fact, however, is but partially true. Probably, there is not a single town in this colony which is not expected to increase in size and importance; and there yet may be many towns in Victoria as large as Melbourne is now. To leave the development of all those towns to mere chance would be a serious mistake, indeed it would be an irreparable blunder.

But there is another, and perhaps a still more important phase of the question to be considered.

The members of this Institute are not all confined to Victoria.

They are scattered all over Australia; and who can doubt that there yet remain many mighty cities to be founded on this great continent.

Thus, the seed sown here may bear fruit a thousand miles away....

[I]t may be safely asserted:--

1st. That the growth of our towns should not be left to the chance addition of house to house, and of street to street.

2nd. That any system, however crude, which might be devised, would be better than no system.

3rd. That, therefore, every addition, however small, to any town should be made in accordance with some pre-existing design; and

4th. That it is legitimate work for this Institute to attempt to ascertain not only the general principles which ought to govern such a design, but also the most suitable means for realizing it....

PART II.--General Principles
In order to reduce a number of promiscuous facts to a system, it is first necessary to lay down certain elementary principles which will be readily accepted, and which will form a foundation or an alphabet, so to say, for the superstructure which is to be raised upon it....

Centre of Unity
In every town there should be some part which would predominate over the other parts, and around which all the other parts would naturally group themselves.

Although it might not be the centre of position, it would nevertheless generally be the practical and influential centre of the town; and it should assert itself accordingly.

All its features should be on such a scale as to distinctly proclaim not only its superiority over the other parts, but also the comparative position of the town itself with reference to other towns.

The stranger, on entering it, should be able to perceive at a glance that he had reached the very heart of the town, to which all the other parts were subordinate, and upon which they depended.

In short, it should have a distinct character of its own, which should not only be symbolical of the social life of the existing town, and of its past history, but which should also clearly foreshadow its future.

Therefore, in every town, whether large or small, this predominant central feature should be on as magnificent a scale as the circumstances would permit.

The primary element requisite for the creation of such an important feature in a town is space, and sufficient space for such a purpose should always be provided.

Upon that space should be erected all the principal public buildings, each building being a separate block, and artistically designed so as to be symbolical of its purpose.

The design and grouping of those buildings would give abundant scope for the development of the best talent in the country....

Shape, Size, and General Arrangement of Central space.
The shape and general arrangement of the central space in new suburbs and new towns should be left to the taste and skill of the designers; but the minimum limit of size should always be defined.

Beyond similarity of shape, there is but little connection between squares in the central part of a town, and squares in its suburbs.

Suburban squares are in general not a necessity; they are used partly for ornament, and partly as an economical method of providing gardens for the adjacent dwellings.

On the other hand, squares in the central part of a town are a necessity, although they may also be ornamental.

It is strange that the former fact is constantly overlooked.

No tangible matter more readily adapts itself to a change in the direction of its motion than water; yet, if two streams of water meet at right angles to each other, there is always a certain amount of retardation of the flow at the junction, and, consequently, the Engineer always increases the carrying capacity of his channels there.

But this simple principle is systematically ignored when it is applied to streams of people, and of carriage traffic where two streets intersect.

It cannot be that streams of people and of carriage traffic are expected to possess greater mobility than water.

In fact, the only reason that can be assigned for it is that the question is never considered until it is too late.

It is unnecessary to cite special practical examples of this case; every one who has lived in a large town has had abundant, experience of it.

Wherefore, it may be stated as a general principle, that the intersections of streets in the central parts of a town should be made of sufficient width to prevent retardation of the traffic.

In short, at each such intersection, a square or rectangle should be formed, the side of which should not be less than double the width of the street which it crosses....

Size of Suburb or Town Block.
The next question for consideration is the area which ought to be considered the limit of size to be attached to a given central feature. I am of opinion that, for a town, the maximum area should not exceed 4 square miles, and, for a suburb, the maximum area should not exceed 2 square miles.

In other words, at one mile from the centre of the town, the plan of a new suburb ought to begin, and at three-quarters of a mile from the centre of a new suburb another new suburb ought to begin. Such an arrangement would leave a distance of 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 miles between the two nearest centres.

It would also help to break the monotony in the continuous lines of streets and blocks of houses to be seen in many suburbs....

PART IV. Details
Proposed new suburbs should be classified by the Town council.

In a first-class suburb an area of at least 10 acres should be reserved for public buildings and places of amusement in the centre of the suburb.

In a second-class suburb the area reserved should be at least 5 acres.

Streets should be divided into five classes.

1st Class, not less than 100 feet wide.

2nd Class, not less than 80 feet wide.

3rd Class, not less than 60 feet wide.

4th Class, not less than 50 feet wide.

5th Class, not less than 40 feet wide.

The main street in every suburb should be of the first-class.

This arrangement permits two pathways of 15 feet each; two plots for trees and drains, 15 feet each; and a central carriage- way of 40 feet.

In the central square mile of a first-class suburb, no street should be less than 80 feet in width.

In the central square mile of a second-class suburb, no street should be less than 60 feet in width; but in the smaller central square whose side is half-a-mile, the streets should be of the same dimensions as in a first-class suburb.

In any part of a town or suburb, no street should be less than 40 feet in width.

Squares should be formed at the intersections of all streets as follows--

In first-class suburbs, at all intersections within 400 yards of central of suburb.

In second-class suburbs, at all intersections within 400 yards of centra of suburb.

The side of an intersecting square should be not less than twice the width of the widest of the streets which lead into it.

The necessary reserves for drainage purposes should be made. 

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: 
To Top of Page
To Homepage