AMERICAN CITY PLANNING

Frank Koester

The American Architect 102 (October 23, 1912):141­146.

Franz Köster (1876­1927) was born in Sterkrade, Germany where he received his technical education in engineering. His design for an electricity central station won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Two years later he came to the United States where he modified the spelling of his name to Frank Koester. He first worked as an engineer on the construction of subways in New York City. Later he was employed by the Guggenheim Exploration Company and the American Smelting & Refining Company. By 1911, the year he became a U.S. citizen, he had embarked on a consulting career in civil engineering, street lighting, and urban planning. Among his clients were the Pennsylvania cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Scranton.

The article reprinted below was the first in a series of ten. Others can be found in the following issues of American Architect: 102 (December 11, 1912): 201­206; 103 (January 29, 1913): 65­70; (March 5, 1913): 129­134; (April 23, 1913): 201­106, 208; 104 (July 9, 1913): 13­19; (September 5, 1913): 89­94; (October 29, 1913): 161­167; 105 (January 20, 1914): 21­27; and (February 25, 1914): 77­85. They presented in somewhat briefer compass the material that soon appeared in his book, Modern City Planning and Maintenance (New York: McBride, Nast and Company, 1914), one of the earliest books on the subject by an American author and the first such work by an American engineer. Koester's articles and book are full of references to and illustrations of European examples. One is puzzled, however, by his observation that Merian and Canaletto were "among the early masters" of city planning. Merian, the engraver, and Canaletto, the painter, had no known connection with planning of cities. Koester cited without attribution comparative population figures for several American and German cities that Nelson Lewis presented in a paper published only three months before Koester's article appeared. When Lewis's book on city planner appeared two years after Koester published his own work, Lewis made no reference to the earlier publication.

Koester doubtless maintained his contacts with planners in Europe, especially those in his native Germany. One such trip is documented in his book where an appendix presents his address at Ghent, Belgium in 1913 to the International Congress on City Planning and City Maintenance. He titled this "Co­operation of Engineer and Architect in City Planning," a subject his journal articles mention while making it clear that he believed the role of the engineer in planning was the most important. Koester wrote other books, all published in this country: Steam­electric Power Plants (1918), Hydroelectric Developments and Engineering (1915), and The Price of Inefficiency (1913.

The civic pride of the citizens of American cities, so long practically non­existent, is now growing, and the spirit of the movement is finding its greatest expression in the re­planning of cities.

During the last two decades, and principally within the last few years, some seventy­five cities have taken up the subject and have prepared more or less elaborate plans, while in numerous other cities the movement is taking form.

This means a greatly increased activity in building construction and the creation of a demand for a better class of buildings both architecturally and otherwise. It means a large amount, also, of alterations and remodeling, and it is from every point of view of the greatest importance to the architect.

It is essential, therefore, for the architect who has not given the subject of city planning a special study, and comparatively few have done so, to familiarize himself with the principles and practice of modern city planning as it has been developed abroad and in this country in recent years, in order to deal intelligently with such problems as they arise and to be in position, not only to take advantage of any activity of such a nature in his own locality and to be able to contribute expert advice concerning any plans offered, but also to be able to originate city planning movements of his own initiative and to carry them through to a successful conclusion. The purpose of this series of articles, which is an abridgment of a forthcoming book on the subject, is to outline the theory and principles of city planning as it is now understood and practised in the great cities abroad to show how such theory and practice may be adapted to American conditions; to show the important part which the architect has in city planning, especially the architect familiar with the latest foreign developments, and to show how the architect and engineer may co­operate with advantage, as well as to give methods whereby public interest in the subject of city planning may be stimulated locally to the point of action.

To be familiar with city planning is a duty which the architect owes not only to himself but to the public, for even if he is not directly interested in the projects which may be put forward, the community looks to him for professional guidance in forming its opinions on the subject.

In many of the cities which have undertaken city planning, the plans evolved have been of the most elaborate and extensive character, and the draughtsmanship with which they have been prepared has made them beautiful objects of art. Unfortunately, however, in some few instances at least, that is all they are, and their adoption in practice would seem to invite disaster to the city. They are attractive but impracticable, and hence dangerous in the extreme, not only to the cities which are tempted to adopt them, but to the whole city planning movement, since important failures are certain to re­act upon and tend to discourage other cities in their plans.

A city, considered in its essentials, is an apparatus of an operative character and a means of operation for those who make use of its facilities. It is, in short, a depot and a distributing apparatus, and its principal functions are the housing of the public and the possessions of the public, their protection and distribution. The city is thus not only the static mechanism of buildings, but the dynamic mechanism of a distributing machine, and it is therefore necessary to consider it, not only from the architectural point of view but from the engineering point of view as well.

City planning, consequently, in which full consideration is not given to the engineering side, but in which only the architectural features are developed, are likely to be of doubtful value, if not worse than valueless, for if put into effect, new and unexpected difficulties would be encountered, which would perhaps more than overbalance their desirable features.

It therefore appears of first importance for the architect having a city planning project under way to associate himself with an experienced engineer, as only in this way can safe and thoroughly practicable results be obtained.

And the engineer selected must be a civic engineer, not merely an engineer with the customary training, but one who has the special training and experience necessary to consider all the varied features of the city as an operative mechanism and to take advantage of the most recent and advanced foreign practice.

In the planning of a city, the architect and engineer should not plan or replan separate portions of it, but should plan it as a whole, with respect to the immediate requirements and to the requirements of the future as well, and the most careful attention should be paid to the probable direction of its growth, the presence of natural obstacles and of natural incentives to growth.

City planning is not only a question of architecture and engineering, for it goes more deeply into the lives of the citizens, affecting them in numerous ways with a degree of importance that can only be realized by those who have made a study of the subject.

The effect on its citizens of the building of a city in accordance with the highest principles of the art of city planning will be one of a remarkable betterment in their social, ethical and physical condition. The superior appearance, beauty and harmony of the city will develop artistic taste and will result in increased civic pride and patriotism. This is turn affects the character of the individual favorably, improving moral conditions. The better hygienic system of the well planned city provides more light, purer air and more healthful and less expensive living quarters, affecting favorably the whole lives of its citizens.

The improved plan of the city, by providing safer and more direct means of transportation, prevents accidents and saves enormous amounts of time. The conveniently located parks, recreation places, public baths, gymnasiums and playgrounds with ready access to woodlands and athletic fields, provides increased opportunity for physical development. The proper location of municipal markets affords cheap and wholesome supplies of food. These factors, with convenient location of schools, libraries, churches and other structures of a public nature, all unite to place the life of the citizen on a higher plane. A greater sense of responsibility is instilled while the comfort and enjoyment of the individual is added to, and an increase of population of a higher character effected.

The extent to which this improvement goes is far more than is realized by the average observer. In Germany, where city planning has probably reached its highest development, the results are more remarkable. This is shown by a comparison with six cities in Germany, selected at random, as compared with six cities in the United States, which had in 1880 approximately the same population.

Cincinnati has grown 16.1 per cent., 27.7 per cent. and 42.8 per cent. respectively in the three decades, while Breslau's growth has been 22.8 per cent., 54.9 per cent. and 87 per cent. during the same time. In the thirty years Buffalo has increased 173.4 per cent. and Cologne 254.6 per cent.; New Orleans, 56.9 per cent. and Dresden 147.1 per cent.; Louisville 80.9 per cent. and Hanover 146.2 per cent.; Providence 113.9 per cent., and Nuremberg 234.1 per cent. and Rochester 144.1 per cent. and Chemnitz 237.1 per cent.

The German cities have increased almost twice as rapidly as the American cities, and while all this increase is not due to city planning, a very considerable portion of it can be so ascribed.

The arrangement of traffic canalization, location of factories, the easy movement of products the well nourished condition and the ambition of employees furnish a powerful impetus to industry. City planning justifies itself at every point, an America is waking up to it in a wonderful way.

While the movement in its present recrudescence is recent, the art of city planning is one of the greatest antiquity. The remains of the earliest communal abodes of man, of however primitive a nature, show a certain definite arrangement. With the development of races, villages became towns and towns cities continually on a larger scale, and it is undoubtedly true that the higher the degree of civilization of a people, the greater will be the size of its cities. The civilization of the Romans was largely expressed in the city of Rome, and the glories of ancient peoples generally shown in their cities.

In the art of city planning, genius has occasionally arisen; among the early masters being Merian and Canaletto, the former developing the general plan of the city and the latter excelling in its interior arrangements. Sir Christopher Wren in 1666 after the great fire of London had the genius to reconstruct the city on a plan that would have made it one of the most beautiful in the world, but he was ahead of his time and London was permitted to grow up into the disordered mass of streets and lanes that to­day make it the greatest spot of confusion on the face of the globe.

L'Enfant, however, who planned the city of Washington, admittedly the most beautiful city in America and one of the most beautiful in the world, enjoyed the double good fortune of having the support of the founders of the republic and an unencumbered site upon which to build, while most city planners have had to reorganize existing cities.

Equally fortunate was Baron Haussmann, who rebuilt Paris. He was given a free hand and a plan was developed in which conceptions of order, convenience, variety and grandeur were not allowed to be interfered with by any question of expense. Great avenues were cut through labyrinths of streets and foul and congested districts were replaced with parks and spacious squares. Hundreds of millions were spent and Paris is still spending gladly and with a lavish hand for extensions of his plan.

The early masters, however, did not impart their theory, leaving only their accomplished work as examples. Modern or practical city planning, therefore, is a new art, based upon principles, theories and practice only recently placed on a scientific basis. The modern masters are Reinhard Baumeister, the originator of the science of city plannings[sic] and Camillo Sitte, the definer of aesthetic principles, while Joseph Stübben is probably the greatest of practical city builders Their work is available in theory, design and practice and will serve for future emulation as it has served modern Germany well as the basis of her wonderful cities.

In the scope of practical city planning are included the broadest principles and the fullest details. The leading elements are the plan of the city as a whole, the segregation in suitable districts of the different classes of the population, and their proper housing in classes of structures suited to their requirements, the arrangement of such classes of structures in groups and district units and the placing of such groups and units in proper relation to the whole; the development of other classes of units, such as civic centers, parks, public squares, grounds, athletic and recreation fields and cemeteries and their location with reference to their uses and nature; the supplying of the units with the facilities and the public structures necessary for the business to be transacted in them; the location in civic centers of buildings suited thereto, both as to their uses and their architectural qualities; the arrangement of systems of transportation, the laying out of streams of traffic, location of railway stations and bridges and harbor facilities; the systematic location of schools, libraries, churches, hospitals, institutions, theatres, and other semi­public structures; the general hygienic design of buildings and the system of city sanitation and waste disposal; the laying out of adjoining lands, woods and fields for purposes of recreation, the artistic regulation of structures and street plans and the laying out of surrounding territory, all in accordance with a settled plan, adapted to fulfil in the best possible way, the purposes intended and to take care of the growth of the city and prevent its abnormal development.

The planning of a city, like the planning of anything else, should be carried out with a view to the use which is to be made of it and to best adapt it to that use, and in addition to make it as pleasing from an artistic point of view as possible. There should first be strength in the design, and if strength he economically manifested, the artistic enrichment of the design will be easily effected.

In city building, the strength of its design may be indicated by its plan. Its streets and avenues should be broadly and firmly laid out, advantage taken of its natural site and a sense of unity caused to pervade the whole as a result of its unity in structure. Its design should not be crowded, or its streets narrow and at haphazard, nor should they be throughout of such absolute uniformity as to destroy their individuality and make the city merely a monotonous aggregation of streets, as is so often the case in American cities.

A city should be planned and built with a breadth of view and boldness of execution; it should be built more for the future than for the present and its design should halt at no necessary elaboration nor consider expense.

What the city is for should always be considered and the most economical and effective methods of reaching its aims should be adopted, yet the fact that it is not merely utilitarian should not be lost sight of. A city should not only be a place of residence but an inspiration to its inhabitants and a worthy object of their civic pride. 


Selected, scanned, edited, provided with headnotes, and formatted as a web document by John W. Reps, Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, West Sibley Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. Tel: (607) 255-5391, Fax: (607) 255-6681, E-mail: jwr2@cornell.edu 
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