THE BUILDING OF THE CITY.
Proceedings of The Engineers' Club of Philadelphia, 28 (January 1911):1-12. Paper read before The Engineers' Club of Philadelphia, November 5, 1910Leffmann's background has not yet been determined. Doubtless he was a civil engineer, probably working in or for the City of Philadelphia. For several years he served as vice- president of the Engineers Club of Philadelphia, his term ending in 1901. Like many other engineers and architects of the period Leffmann believed the modern city should be a combination of grid and diagonal streets. He put it this way: "Two sets of streets will be laid out. One set will cross at right angles, the other diagonally. This combination is seen in Washington, D. C., but it will be applied in the model city more extensively. Four serious defects have been noted in Penn's plan for Philadelphia: Lack of diagonal thoroughfares, narrowness of the streets, failure to reserve open spaces and areas for public buildings, failure to plan for great expansion along the lines of the primary plan. In the model city the streets crossing at right angles will be of the uniform width of 100 feet from house to house, and the diagonal streets will be 200 feet."The figures of the United States census have shown for several decades a strong trend toward congestion of population in cities. It is true that the recent development of electric traction has slightly checked this movement, but it still remains a dominant influence. Space and time do not permit me to consider the several causes of this tendency, but it may be said, as a summary statement, that these are partly economic--that is, connected with industrial problems-and partly sentimental--that is, dependent on the gregarious disposition of mankind....
Whether the rush to cities is favorable or unfavorable to the highest civilization need not be here discussed; the tendency is with us, and it behooves the practical man to endeavor to minimize the evil and enhance the good features.
It is proposed to lay before the Club some thoughts that have been in the writer's mind for a number of years, mainly tending to the view that cities ought to be built according to rule and measure. The modern city is merely a great house, and should be planned as a house is planned, though, of course, the labor of such planning is very great. Cities are no longer strategic points in great areas of unprotected lands. The modern states are in reality no longer dependent on
"Cities high, with towers and turrets crowned,"
but the cities are the headquarters of the business and communal life. The progress of sanitary chemistry and engineering practice has been such that we are now capable of dealing satisfactorily with all the problems of transportation, illumination, police and fire protection, water-supply, sewage and garbage disposal, and communication of intelligence that arise in large cities.
A most important point in dealing with these several problems is to anticipate them; not to wait until they arise and then have to deal with them under conditions that are antiquated and insufficient. Items appearing frequently now-a-days in the newspapers and journals show that many are thinking along these lines. The present contribution will be probably more radical than any yet offered. Experiments have often been made in building villages, but usually either as pure land speculations, or as a sort of benevolent feudalism in connection with some industrial enterprise. Pullman, Gary, the several villages that the Krupp company has built, and some small enterprises in connection with factories in England are instances. These operations, well called by socialistic writers "toy villages," are too narrow in scope and too much involved in the industrial accessories to exemplify the principle presented in this paper. The founders of the toy villages play at building and management for awhile, then grow tired or die and laisser faire methods prevail.
The successful city will be planned from the beginning, not only as to its construction, but as to its operation. It will be run as a corporation for reasonable profit, for it will be found that the most satisfactory service can be given to the residents in that way, and hence a steady increase of population will result. The details of construction will be worked out by engineers, and the details of business methods by financiers before the construction begins.
To make the paper less abstract, some of the features of the proposed "Twentieth Century City" will be set forth. Let it be called Protopolis--"The Model City."
Commercial opportunities must be given prominent consideration. It is evident that the industrial situation in civilized countries has now reached such development that commerce is one of the mainstays of national prosperity. For commerce, the city must be located on the shore of a large river or bay, affording a deep channel and ample anchoring ground. A considerable area of flat land. a few feet above high water, should be available. This should be mainland, or at most separated from the mainland by a narrow, shallow channel, navigable only for small craft. It will be an advantage if, at a distance of about 25 or 30 miles, the level of the land rises rather sharply to a height of several hundred feet, but this is not essential. The body of water on which the city fronts should be so wide that no appreciable influence can be exercised by a settlement on the opposite side.
Protopolis will be laid out in "unit areas," each say 5000 feet square. A group of 25 such areas arranged as a square will constitute the "primary plan." Of course, just as William Penn laid out only two miles of the large area that was at his disposal, so the builders of Protopolis should control a much greater territory than that required for the primary plan; but the later operations will be merely repetitions of this plan.
Two sets of streets will be laid out. One set will cross at right angles, the other diagonally. This combination is seen in Washington, D. C., but it will be applied in the model city more extensively. Four serious defects have been noted in Penn's plan for Philadelphia: Lack of diagonal thoroughfares, narrowness of the streets, failure to reserve open spaces and areas for public buildings, failure to plan for great expansion along the lines of the primary plan. In the model city the streets crossing at right angles will be of the uniform width of 100 feet from house to house, and the diagonal streets will be 200 feet. In the latter class the roadway will be of larger relative width than in the 100 feet streets. No traffic street will be less than 100 feet wide, but there will many non-traffic streets for special purposes, as will be set forth later. At each end of the water- front of the city one-half a unit area (2500 by 5000) will be reserved for park purposes, and at the line furthest from the water-front two unit areas will be reserved for the same purposes. Each unit will also have its own small park.
Fig. 1 shows the scheme of the primary plan of 25-unit areas. Each side is 25,000 feet long. To avoid complication in the drawing, only a few of the streets crossing at right angles are shown, but all the diagonal ones are indicated. The larger park areas are shown by the suppression of all the streets, except one diagonal, which is continued through each park, of course as a sunken way, as is done in the case of the traffic streets in Central Park, N.Y. In the center of each unit area--the point at which two diagonals cross--four blocks are suppressed, making a local park area. All building blocks are 400 feet on each side. When occupied by ordinary residences, these blocks will be crossed in two directions, at right angles, by streets 50 feet wide not open to general traffic. These intersecting streets will also be employed in blocks devoted to business or manufacturing purposes, unless special reasons apply. For certain purposes the whole block may be used. One of the objections made to the plan of upper New York is that the main streets are so close that sufficient continuous building space is not always available. The reserve area in the center of each unit will cover about 18 acres. Details of a unit area are shown in Fig. 2; details of blocks are shown in Figs. 3 and 4.
The simple remedy is to build up from the established datum instead of digging into it. The entire city should be, so to speak, on stilts; that is, the street surface should be like the surface floors of ordinary houses, not resting directly on solid ground.
Among the first persons to suggest this plan was Dr. B. W. Richardson, a distinguished English sanitarian of the latter part of the last century, who recommended it in connection with an elaborate plan for the building of a sanitary city. Mr. W. Copeland Furber made independently the same suggestion some years ago at a meeting of the Club. In the years since Dr. Richardson propounded his views great changes have been made in the methods of municipal administration, and many new problems, especially those connected with underground construction, have been developed. The application of concrete has simplified many features of construction, and there seems to be no serious reason against the adoption of the method. Consider what would be the comfort of a city in which no street excavation took place and almost no street repair. It is intended that street surfaces in Protopolis shall be similar to those used for the best footways. No asphalt, wood-blocks, vitrified brick or Belgian blocks will be used, for no draft animal will appear on the streets. The horse is out of date for such purpose. All vehicles in Protopolis will be machine-driven--electric, internal combustion engine or any other source of power. The extensive area
beneath the street, stretching from house line to house line, will afford room for all subway installation and for freight traffic. Of course, under the houses will be the usual cellar space. It follows, therefore, that no overhead construction will be allowed. There will be no necessity for surface tracks. The suburban connections will run underground or in a few places overhead. Communications at short distances will be carried out by automobiles. Interruptions of traffic will be far less frequent, as not only will many of the causes of such interruption be eliminated, but the vehicle can easily turn out of the way or seek another street.
Fig. 5 is a rough drawing, showing the plan of construction. No city of importance is now without its central lighting and power plant, water-supply, and sewerage, but in the model city central refrigerating and heating plants will be installed. As an incidental result of the city plan, attention is called to the value of the non-traffic streets as playgrounds. The problem of playgrounds is regarded as one of great moment, and many cities are preparing to spend considerable money for establishing playgrounds.
It is important, however, that such areas should be near the residences of those who use them. Playgrounds at a distance, however attractively laid out and equipped, can be of only spasmodic usefulness. On this account the traffic streets continue to be used largely in all cities. Children are put in peril, pedestrians are annoyed and imperiled, and traffic is disturbed. With the excitable foreign populations that throng the congested districts of our cities, injury to a child by a street-car often provokes a local riot. The rough sketch (Fig. 4) of the arrangement of house lines with regard to the non-traffic streets shows two areas in each block in which no house frontage exists . These areas (50 by 175) will be suitable for local playgrounds. As only the sides of the houses touch on them, no serious inconvenience will be felt by the residents, and the termini of each area can be closed by stout wire netting, so that those outside will not be in peril. These two areas will be sufficient for the needs of the residents of the block. The non- traffic street on which the houses face would be reserved for quiet recreation, especially for very young children. No playing would be allowed on the regular traffic streets.
Elevated railroads would not be entirely suppressed in Protopolis. Some of the 100 feet wide streets would be occupied by them, especially by the main lines handling the freight. As all train movement would be by smokeless engines, the slow-moving freight trains would produce little annoyance. The several features of city life would be carefully classified. One section would be set apart for manufacturing; another for general business, amusement, and institutions of learning; another for high-class residences, another for residences of the humbler order. The horrible mixture of mills, business houses, high- and low-class residences, which is so marked a feature of Philadelphia would be avoided.
The engineering features of the model city could be discussed at much greater length, but time requires that something now be said as to the financing of the operation.
The financial management of American cities is a stench in the nostrils of decent people. Even the president of the United States, who is, or was until recently, an optimist, said a few years ago that if he was asked in what respect the development of the country had failed to realize the hopes of its founders he would place the failure to secure proper government of cities as one of the most disappointing events. Everywhere in American cities we see extravagance, neglect, stupidity. All of them are borrowing money for necessary improvements, yet there is no doubt that with proper management a modern city can be operated at a profit and yet give its citizens better accommodations than any American city gives.
A remedy for these troubles would be to make the entire city a business enterprise. The whole area should be owned by the corporation, under which the construction should take place. Such a corporation would, of course, require a large capitalization, but large sums are no longer startling. A capital of $100,000,000 is a trifle in modern finance, particularly when a fair return is assured. It is not possible to go into details, but it may be pointed out that an essential feature would be that no land should be sold. The corporation must retain control of every part of the territory, and thus secure the increment of value which the increase of population necessarily brings. Land may be leased for a limited term, subject to the most stringent building restrictions, so that the city plan may not be disturbed. In proportion as the necessity for street construction arises, the additional capital can be easily obtained. Residents of the city might be allotted a limited amount of the stock, but not enough to secure to them control of the corporation.
It is obvious that the success of this enterprise involves a not inconsiderable degree of altruism. This may be considered by many a serious objection, but there seems to be only two methods of solving the municipal problem. One is to transfer all ownership to the public at large, namely, socialism; the other is to establish a benevolent feudalism with an element of what has been called "enlightened self interest."
However utopian and even fantastic these plans for the model city may seem, it is evident that there is a serious striving for some plan for the betterment of municipal life.