DEMANDS FOR THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

Anonymous

Municipal Journal and Engineer 21 (September 5, 1906):243.

Editorials in this journal devoted to municipal affairs and urban engineering often dealt with how cities could be improved. The issue of September 5, 1906 contained several articles on this subject, introduced by this editorial. The concept of comprehensive city planning lay somewhat in the future, and this issue concentrated on such things as tree planing, design of artistic utility structures and fixtures, and the provision of attractively landscaped parks. The editorial noted that cities required more than the services of architects and looked forward to a time when specialists in municipal art would become available. The writer thought they would be graduates of schools of architecture who spent "post-graduate years in the study of municipal art in Europe." The editorial predicted "that the first to qualify for this field will reap a rich reward."
American cities are earnestly striving after the beautiful, the artistic, and the attractive. Everywhere evidences of this can be seen, in public parks, in civic centers, in improvement societies. But with this general demand for the city beautiful comes an appreciation--by the few, at least--of the lack of men able to advise and plan for the desired results. There are a few specialists in landscape architecture and park designing; a few architects with a genius in the grouping of buildings who can design noble civic centers; a few artists with the brush or chisel who can be relied upon to secure aesthetic effects in the designing and location of fountains, statuary, and other decorative appurtenances of a city. But who is to see that all these are not spoiled by numerous hideous blots in the shape of, say, red fire hydrants of ugly outline, stiff and obtrusive poles for supporting lamps and wires, cast-iron abortions of fountains, and the like ? And if we develop specialists in this also, where is the small city to find the money to hire all these? And what if their several designs conflict artistically?

One solution would be the finding of some one man, or, what is more practicable, the formation of some firm or other cooperative body of men, who combine in themselves all the requirements for deciding such questions in an authoritative manner. Commissions have been employed by Boston, New York, Washington, and other cities, composed of the leading structural and landscape architects, sculptors, artists, and engineers; and similar action is recommended to all large cities. But the expense would be prohibitive to small ones. Unfortunately the citizens of this country have not at hand such beautiful examples to educate them in correct artistic principles as to the case abroad, nor is art so generally studied here. The difficulty referred to is therefore greater on this account. We suggest that to meet the emergency, cities form boards of municipal art, something after the nature of boards of health, who shall have authority over certain defined affairs, the scope of which can be increased as they prove their fitness and secure the confidence of the citizens. If these could be under the control of, and profit by the advice of State boards, the benefit would probably be still greater. A difficulty which would arise at the outset would be the selection of the members of these boards; for while physicians and sanitary engineers are accepted as proper material for boards of health, there seems to be but one profession generally available for boards of municipal art to draw from--architecture, which represents but one phase. But we believe this difficulty and others which would arise would be met in a wise fashion.

Whether or not such a plan be adopted, there is and will continue to be, a growing demand for specialists in this line. They will probably be graduates of art and architectural schools, who have spent post-graduate years in the study of municipal art in Europe and wherever it can be found. We predict that the first to qualify for this field will reap a rich reward; which will, however, be but slightly commensurate with the lasting benefits they will confer. They will be indeed worthy of the title of municipal artists. 


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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