Benjamin Marsh ( Biographical note)
Charities and the Commons 19 (February 1, 1908):15141518.
All public improvements should be scrutinized with a view to the benefits they will confer upon those most needing such benefits. The grouping of public buildings, and the installation of speedways, parks and drives, which affect only moderately the daily lives of the city's toilers, are important; but vastly more so is the securing of decent home conditions for the countless thousands who otherwise can but occasionally escape from their squalid, confining surroundings to view the architectural perfection and to experience the æsthetic delights of the remote improvements.
The right of the citizen to leisure, to health, to care in sickness, to work under normal conditions, and to live under conditions which will not impair his health or his efficiency, is coming to be recognized as fully as the right of the state to restrain the wrongdoer or its duty to protect property. The recognition of these rights of the citizen carries with it a recognition that the scope of governmental activity needs to be extended, its initiative untrammelled by constitutional limitations and its services given when they will be of the greatest value. John Stuart Mill is not regarded as an erratic philosopher on the rights of the state, but we are only gradually beginning to appreciate his dictum that the best form of government is that which makes it as hard as possible for a citizen to do wrong, and as easy as possible for him to do right--in a word, that the state should anticipate the needs of its constituent members and be prepared to meet them.
This is especially true as regards those relations which are to be permanent. The difficulty of differentiating where income is concerned between confiscation and regulation, is acknowledged, and this difference the courts are frequently called upon to determine. In a recent argument made by James M. Beck against the eighty cent gas bill the court appealed to him for a definition of the distinction, and Mr. Beck is reported to have replied readily:
Regulation is the orderly ascertainment of what is a reasonable rate, with its enforcement--confiscation is the seizing of all property or earning power without any allowance as to its compensation.
The spirit of this definition of a well known and astute corporation lawyer we can accept as the basis for the action of a city involved in the term town planning. Recognizing the tendency of industry and commerce to centralization and the consequent growth of cities large or small, the city decides that the rights of those who are here, or who are to come, are paramount, and that no one citizen and no small groups of citizens may mortgage the welfare of others by failing to respect and make provision for such welfare.
England is paying much attention to the proper planning of her cities, and John S. Nettlefold of Birmingham has prepared a bill for the coming session of Parliament providing that
a local authority may from time to time by resolution determine that plans shall be prepared indicating the manner in which the making, providing, laying out, widening or improving Of any streets or open spaces In their districts or In any part or parts thereof shall be carried out.and indicating the method in which the authority may enforce these requirements.
The method of purchase of land by the city, when that is necessary, is described by Mr. Nettlefold as follows:
On the question of land purchase, it always seems to me that it would be perfectly fair if state governments or local authorities, that is to say the representatives of the public whatever they may be called, had the right to buy anybody's land on condition that they gave in exchange public stock secured on that land to an amount, and at a rate of interest sufficient to give the landowner the same income as that he is now getting. The landowner would be no loser by the transaction, and the public, whose representatives have bought the land, would not lose by the transaction, as the whole essence of the thing Is that the scrip issued shall give the same income and no more than the income derived from the land. Any fairminded, impartial person cannot possibly call this confiscatory. It is a fair exchange on sound business lines.
The officials of Liverpool, too, are to introduce a bill into Parliament granting the city the right to determine the number of houses per acre, and the heights of the houses. As Liverpool already enforces its regulation that every lodger under ten must have 200 cubic feet of space in a room, and every one over ten, 400 cubic feet, and that when a room is used as a day room as well as a bed room that every inmate must have at least 400 cubic feet this will absolutely prevent overcrowding. It is the intention to limit the density of population to about 200 per acre immediately, even in the center of the city, and to reduce this to a hundred or less in outlying parts of the city.
The awakening sense of civic responsibility is evidenced by the hearty acceptance of these principles by the International Housing Congress which met during the last summer in London. When it is remembered that in 1901 London had only 4,903 acres with a density of between 150 and 200 people to the acre as against the average of nearly 150 to the acre in 1905 for the whole island of Manhattan, the comparative freedom of London from congestion of population is appreciated. Even so the horror of this condition appals thoughtful Londoners.
The conclusions reached by the housing committee sent by the City of Birmingham during the summer of 1906 to study housing conditions in Germany and other countries are being universally adopted in English cities.
The creation of new congested district without the necessaries of healthy life now going on in large cities, can only be prevented by obtaining power to forbid the erection of any new buildings except in accordance with a general plan for developing all uncovered land within the city boundaries. For the preparation of this plan a special committee should he appointed consisting of representatives from the public works, health, baths and parks, tramways, and housing committees, together with an architect, builder, medical man, lawyer, surveyor, and estate agent to be coopted by the council for their special knowledge of housing requirements and land development.
The need for excess condemnation and larger initiative for the city they appreciate, and assert that "the healthy development of the city would undoubtedly be much assisted if the council could obtain power to purchase land without, as at present, being obliged to specify the exact purpose for which the land is to be used."
Much of our social effort in American cities to better living conditions is aftersight instead of foresight, and we are engaged in the tremendous and impossible task of trying to end the evils we have helped to cause or to perpetuate. The German town plan contemplates a very different attitude....
It is the special purpose of this paper to indicate that such rational planning is essential in order to protect those who without it must sacrifice for mere shelter so much of their income and savings as to compel them to lower their standard of living or to appeal to charity.
To this end five distinct functions should be involved in the system of town planning:
1. The limitation of the area within which factories may be located (like fire lines) and the securing by the municipality of proper facilities for transportation of freight by canal, railroad, subway, etc.
2. The determination by the municipality of the districts or zones within which houses of a given height may be erected, the number of houses which may be erected per acre, the site to be covered and consequently the density of' population per acre.
3. The securing by the municipality of the proper means of transportation of the people.
4. The provision of adequate streets, open spaces, parks and playgrounds in anticipation of the needs of a growing community.
5. The right of excess condemnation, i. e., the authority to condemn more than the area to be used for the immediate purposes contemplated by the condemnation, so that ultimately city makes no net expenditure for land to be used for public purposes.
To consider at greater length the limitation of areas within which factories may be established: We grant of course that men and women should not be required to spend two or three hours a day in going to and from their work. Are we yet equally honest in acknowledging that unless factories and places of employment afford proper habitation within a given limit of time and money, those who must work in them will herd within this time and money limit, no matter what inducements to lead a normal life may be offered them elsewhere?
To limit the areas within which factories may be erected is to recognize the right of the workingmen to leisure, and to a home life during the time when he is not employed. But it is essential, in order that factories may be able to compete with others, and that there may not be a waste in loading and unloading, that proper transportation facilities should be provided. It is futile to prohibit the location of a factory on Manhattan Island, for instance, in the midst of a population of 500 to the acre, but where it has the best of transportation facilities, and to order it to locate in a remote part of Queens, where land may be cheap and the population only five to the acre, but where there are absolutely no transportation facilities. The city should therefore have the right to say to the prospective employer of labor: "Before you locate your factory we must be assured that due regard is had to the welfare of those whom you will employ, and we stand ready to help you in securing the proper transportation facilities for your freight, etc."
The determination of the zones within which dwellings of various heights may be erected, is only an extension of the health and police regulations of most American cities, analogous in spirit to the regulations of boards of health, etc., as to the number of cubic feet of air space required in rooms for each adult or minor. It is radically different from this provision, however, in that the restriction as to houses may much more readily be enforced, if once enacted.
In a handbook written recently by Percy Alden and E. E. Hayward the following standard of living for British workmen is enunciated:
The minimum for the average workingman's family is a cheap but well built house with four or five suitable rooms together with a quarter acre garden or at least with a fairsized courtyard. The site should be a healthy one, and the house perfectly sanitary, well lighted, well ventilated and well drained--and--here follows the crucial point)--this accommodation must be supplied at a low rental or it will be found beyond the means of the working classes.
It is admittedly taken for granted in this article that the crowding of people three or four hundred to the acre is not the ideal of housing conditions for which American cities are striving, and although we do not now attempt to secure any such standard as the British why should we admit any lower standard?
With the increase of population in our great cities it is becoming increasingly difficult for workingmen, with a family income of $15 a week, or $700 a year, to secure within the city limit homes with even a minimum of garden space which they can afford to rent. It is equally true that, unless wanton speculation in land is restrained, no land will be available for such homes. And such speculation can best be stopped by the action of the government in determining what sections of the city shall be maintained as residence sections for working people. If the prospective purchaser knows that a five or six story tenement can legally be built in any vacant cornfield, covering seventy or eighty per cent of the lot, he will pay a price for the land that will compel him to erect such tenements to recoup himself. When once an exorbitant sum has been paid for the land, the rent for the house must not only pay the interest on the cost of its construction, provide for deterioration, loss by vacancies, etc., but also guarantee the last purchaser of the property a remunerative interest on the money he has invested. It is because regulation and not confiscation of property rights is contemplated that it is imperative that cities should determine zones of buildings. Should the city government attempt to restrict in the way indicated, the nature and number of buildings to be erected for residential purposes in old and built up portions of the city, confiscation of property rights would, in many cases, result because of the enormous economic values of land in sections of the city used for business purposes and the prices already paid for the land. Where the maximum income is even approximately determined in advance, loss by speculation is prevented since anticipated use of land determines the price paid for it, and no one is injured, but the owner who hoped by "cornering the market" on the health, income and privacy of prospective dwellers, to reap large profits where he had sown nothing, and to make a fortune by a transaction through which he had added nothing to the value of the land, but who is restrained from this antisocial action.
A few illustrations can be given from actual conditions in various sections of New York. With a population of sixty to the acre, about 12,000,000 people could be crowded into Greater New York. We must remember, however, that only about onehalf of the area of the city is available for dwellings, so that with such a population the actual density on this basis would be 120 to the acre.
In 1905 eight lots, 100 x 200 feet, on the upper West Side above 150th street were sold for $70,000 and shortly resold for $130,000. Unless the present owner of this property is to lose on the transaction, the users of these eight lots must pay as rent on the land, regardless of the rent paid for any building constructed thereon, $3,600 a year (at six per cent), more than they would have paid had this transaction not been made with reliance upon the anticipated use to which the land might be put. If used for tenement purposes, not over fifty families at most--255 individuals--ought to be allowed to live on this plot--20,000 square feet, and with this maximum each family would be obliged to pay $72 a year additional rent as a result of this one speculation. In an ideal state of society, possibly we might say that the people ought to go into the Bronx or over into Queens, but here again the same process, as proved by reference to the increased value of land in residential sections of those boroughs, is going on.
The assessed increase in taxable land value of Queens during 1906 to 1907 was fiftytwo per cent--of the Bronx where values have, been rising gradually three and threetenths per cent--of Brooklyn six and threetenths per cent and of Richmond rapidly developing as a residential section, twentyfour per cent. The full increase in selling prices it is difficult to ascertain. Manifestly any regulation of land speculation must be put into effect speedily in New York if it is to benefit the working people, thousands of whom are, even with our present standards, on the verge of dependence, and tens of thousands of whom are far below the normal standards of living which we should adopt. It is generally admitted that rents in Manhattan have risen twentyfive per cent to thirty per cent within a very few years, and although exhaustive statistics are lacking, it is also generally admitted that from twentyfive to thirtyfive per cent of the earnings of ordinary laborers goes for rent if they have even the minimum accommodations compatible with decency and health.
The standard of living of wage earners may be raised in at least two ways: by increasing their wages or by reducing their expenses. Is it easier to say exclusively and arbitrarily to the employer: "You must increase the wages of your employee irrespective of their earning capacity and the price of your goods," or to say to the speculators in land: "You must limit your profits to a degree consonant with the welfare and earnings of those whose presence alone gives value to the limited commodity they must purchase from you."
Who should be first in Brooklyn, with a density of less than thirtyfive to the acre, in the Bronx with a density of less than twenty to the acre, in Queens with its 82,000 acres and a density of about three, and in Richmond with a density of two to the acre--the land speculator or the grafting politician, concerned solely for his income, or the municipality with due regard to the interests of all concerned ?
To consider the necessity of securing adequate transit facilities for the proper distribution of the population of a city: It is a matter of course that in order to get people to and from their work, proper transit facilities must be provided, and special emphasis has been laid upon the need for proper restrictions regarding land brought into the housing market by increased transit facilities, because of the tendency to speculate in that land as soon as the time element is removed. Is it too much to say that the municipality should insure such transit facilities as will afford every worker a seat and bring him to his place of work in threequarters of an hour, from a home with the conditions above enumerated, and within Greater New York, for a five cent fare? Two hours on a car, in addition to a ten hour day of work mean a twelve hour day with the consequent exhaustion.
The authority which determines the location and nature of residences, and the location of factories, should control, or at least cooperate closely with those controlling the projection of transit facilities for passengers and freight.
The provision of streets, parks, open spaces and playgrounds next comes under consideration. The acreage of parks and playgrounds for various densities of population has not been definitely settled. It is highly significant that as conservative a business body as the Staten Island (Richmond) Chamber of Commerce, foreseeing in 1902 that the island was to be a residential area, proposed to secure onetenth of it for recreation purposes. This is typical of the foresight which should be exercised in every city recognizing the rights of the public. To insure the proper distribution of these parks so that the interests of the whole population would best be served is the problem to which town planning addresses itself. The need for such early decision is emphasized by the experience of Manhattan which from 1890 to 1900 acquired three small parks covering ten acres for $5,237,363 Central Park, acquired between 1853 and 1863, cost $5,028,844. It contains 840 acres. By its delay, New York has been obliged to pay more for three small parks than for Central Park. Illustrations might be multiplied indefinitely. When it is realized that a city should ordinarily own for streets, parks, playgrounds and public buildings about half of the territory within its limits, the importance of the business policy of plan instead of chance, in its development is very apparent.
The right to condemn a larger area than is needed for the immediate purpose contemplated, follows naturally. This is not a plea for municipal trading; it is merely a plea for the application to the business of a city of the business principles by which the working classes may be saved needless expense in the purchase by the city of those opportunities for which they must help pay, and the acquirement of which is often postponed on the plea that the city can't afford it,--a futile method of stating that the city cannot come into its own.
It is useless to deny that, in such procedure, there is the possibility of graft;-- that exists whenever money is paid. To the cities which have now reached the debt limit, it furnishes, however, an important method of extending the protection and relief which the city owes, and of permitting the acquisition at a reasonable price of the land the city must ultimately own to secure the normal development of its citizenship. It is much easier to condemn land, and there is less danger of the cry of confiscation, when the prices demanded have not been inflated by the hopes of a large and unwarranted profit.
Reference has been made chiefly to conditions in New York because the writer is more familiar with conditions in the metropolis. All the boroughs, besides Manhattan, present in substance the problems of town planning--as against town replanning,--which exist in every city of any size; in fact several wards in some of these boroughs are as large and populous as many large cities.
So serious are the problems presented in this cursory review, that they reveal the wisdom of the bill constituting the commission to investigate the subject of public improvements for the Metropolitan District of Boston, which provides that the persons appointed by the governor of Massachusetts and mayor of Boston "shall be persons of recognized qualification and large experience in one or more of the following subjects or professions, namely, finance, commerce, industry, transportation, real estate, architecture, engineering, civic administration and law."
Some similar commission is needed for every large city in the country properly to plan the symmetrical development of our centers of population with due regard to the rights of all constituent members. .