Proceedings of the Fifth National Conference on City Planning (Boston, 1913):1-16.
The Executive Committee has placed upon me the duty of submitting to this Conference an outline of a city planning program, intended, with such amendments as shall be brought forth by discussion, to serve as a practical guide for local efforts in advancement of the city planning movement. Various features, forming parts of such a general program, will be taken up in detail at later sessions. I begin by assuming on the part of this Conference a general understanding of what city planning is, and a general acceptance of the desirability of having a city plan, and will take up at once the question of the method of going about it.
There are three logical divisions of any city planning movement: first, the winning of public support; second, the planning itself; and, third, the translation of plans into facts.
In every locality it is wise, and in a real democracy it is necessary, to begin by winning public support before making considerable public expenditures either in preparing plans or in executing them. And for that reason there is, perhaps, more pressing need for agreement as to the best methods of developing a wise and effective public opinion in regard to city planning than as to the steps which are made possible only by such public support. It is not to be supposed, however, because the education of the public must begin before the other steps, that it can cease when the other steps begin, or even that it can be very far advanced without the object lessons afforded by practical accomplishments in planning and in putting plans to practical use.
The three divisions of our program are concurrent; they advance or fail together; and I believe it will give a clearer conception of the subject if we begin, not with a discussion of the first steps to be taken in arousing an indifferent public to the importance of comprehensive planning, but with a description of the conditions to which we hope our program may lead us--the sum, as it were, of all preceding steps in the program.
Let us first get before our eyes the clearest image we can of city planning as a successful going concern, fully established in the framework of municipal government, accepted and supported by public opinion as firmly as the public school system or the fire department. After thus getting a clear view of our objective, let us reconnoiter the intervening obstacles and endeavor to agree upon the most promising courses to pursue toward the goal.
Do not get the idea that I am to set before you this evening as the aim we have in view an inspiring vision of the well-planned city of the future, efficient, healthful and beautiful. Such visions must be set before those who need to be convinced that city planning is worth while, and all of us need the inspiration of such a vision at times. But, as practical idealists, what we are concerned with tonight are, first, the complex but humdrum human mechanism by which in every city such visions are to be more and more fully realized; and, second, the steps by which we hope to get this mechanism into successful operation and to keep it working.
Looking forward, say, fifty years, let us imagine the status of city planning in a fairly well-conducted American city.
There will be some official body charged with the prime responsibility for the custody, interpretation and amendment of the city plan. It is immaterial for our present purpose to inquire whether this responsibility will be centered primarily in an individual official, in a board or commission of individuals chosen solely for that purpose, in an ex-officio board made up of the heads of certain city departments, or in some more complex organization. Whether the official head is single or multiple, there will be a staff of assistants, and we may call the body as a whole the City Plan Office.
In its function as custodian of the city plan, this office will have accumulated very extensive archives. These records will relate to the entire physical environment of the people--not merely to the visible aspect of the streets, of the public squares and parks and of the public buildings, but to the locations, grades and other essential facts about all the sewers, conduits, pipes and subways beneath the surface of the streets; all the poles and wires and other objects above the surface; all railways and other special means of public transportation; all catchment areas and waterways, from those which furnish the city water supply, and from the smallest gutters that take the first rush of storm water discharge, through reservoirs and ponds, sewers, ditches and canals, to rivers of the greatest flood capacity in the region; and, finally, to every piece of land, and every building and improvement thereon, both public and private.
Among the older documents of the office will be found certain reports and plans prepared during the first quarter of the nineteenth century by various committees and commissions, both volunteer and official. These old reports will be interesting historically as the first serious efforts toward the envisaging of the multifarious problems involved in the future physical growth and physical improvement of the city as a single complex whole, toward the collating of the most promising solutions proposed for a great many of these diverse problems, and toward the welding of these pieces of plan into a harmonious, self-consistent general scheme by a process of mutual adjustment, elimination and supplemental planning. It is probable that many of the projects outlined in the early reports will have been carried into execution; that some will still remain upon the tablets of the city as worthy plans, not to be abandoned even though long postponed; that some will have been proven by the lapse of time to be impracticable or unwise and will therefore have been deleted from the current record of things to be provided for; and, finally, still others will be looked on as the scarce recognizable germs from which time and thought and growing knowledge will have developed strangely different schemes, already in course of execution or holding a conspicuous place in the public mind. Probably one of these early reports on the city plan--which made the strongest and most lasting popular impression-- will have acquired a considerable prestige; will be frequently appealed to as giving endorsement "in principle" for all sorts of projects, good, bad and indifferent, and will be used also as a wet blanket for suppressing all sorts of new projects (also good, bad and indifferent) which did not happen to be included in it.
The printed page of these old reports and the drawings which accompanied them will have taken their place in the archives along with hundreds and thousands of later reports and drawings, dealing with all sorts of phases of the physical growth of the city: such of the ideas embodied in this mass of records as have the vitality to survive will have become constituent parts of the real city plan, either as accomplished facts or as potential facts duly regarded in making the innumerable daily decisions that comprise the bulk of municipal administration.
In a place full of progressive and active-minded people the number of ideas proposed for physical changes in the city will have been almost countless in the course of fifty years, and the number of these ideas which will have won their way to acceptance as worthy of execution is bound to be very great. Some of them, coming in conflict with ideas embodied in the earlier efforts at city planning and being regarded as the more important, will have displaced these earlier ideas or compelled sufficient modification of them to remove the conflict.
We thus conceive a city plan as a live thing, as a growing and gradually changing aggregation of accepted ideas or projects for physical changes in the city, all consistent with each other, and each surviving, by virtue of its own inherent merit and by virtue of its harmonizing with the rest. If we adopt this conception of the city plan, it will be apparent that the archives of the City Plan Office, in its capacity as custodian of the plan, will contain an enormous mass of records of ideas which will not have survived, or will have survived only by undergoing radical modifications set forth in other and later records. The records of these superannuated and discarded ideas cannot wisely be cast aside, because many of them will have lost their place in the accepted plan by a narrow margin and are liable to be given new vitality and value by unforeseen events or maturer judgments in the future. The ideas will have been as diverse in their origin as the elements of a vigorous democracy; some put forth by volunteer committees and civic organizations, some by official plan commissions, others by private citizens, by newspapers, by politicians in search of an issue, by visiting strangers, and a steady grist will have been ground out by the departmental employees of the city in the regular performance of their duties. The forms in which they will be expressed and recorded will be as various as the graphic arts--from the most sketchy memorandum to the most fully elaborated design, set forth by means of the written and printed page, the plan and map, the picture and the model. Records of all the ideas deemed worthy of really serious consideration as parts of the city plan will be embodied in the archives of the City Plan Office, and one of its most important functions as custodian will be to maintain a system of classification, filing and indexing that will make these records useful; so that every new project coming up for approval and adoption as a part of the general city plan, and every proposal for actual immediate execution, may quickly be brought into comparison with every previously accepted project with which it might conceivably be in conflict.
Logically, the first records of a City Plan Office will be surveys of the past and present conditions, topographical, social, economic and legal. It is impossible and unnecessary to make any record of the complex facts of a city absolutely complete or absolutely accurate for any given moment, and such a record begins to get out of date as soon as it is made. Therefore the City Plan Office will merely attempt to include in its survey as many of the most important facts, with as great a degree of accuracy and as nearly up to date, as the available means permit.
Improvements and changes, as they pass from the state of expectation to the state of fulfillment, will be stricken off the list of plans and appear upon the surveys. Other changes, unplanned and unexpected, will occur, and must be entered on the surveys as new facts to be reckoned with. If they disturb the harmony of the whole scheme by being inconsistent with some feature of the plans, so much the worse for the feature in question. It is the business of the City Plan Office to discover such inconsistencies and provide for their elimination, either by getting the plan altered to fit the new fact or by getting the fact altered to fit the plan.
And just as the records of projected changes will constantly be growing more fully elaborated in detail as well as growing in numbers to include new projects, so the survey record will gradually be made more and more complete and accurate at the same time that it is being kept up to date.
In its second function, as interpreter of the city plan, the Office will be charged with the duty of reporting upon every project under discussion, as to whether it is or is not harmonious with the whole aggregation of accepted and approved projects forming the general plan; and, in case it is not, pointing out the discrepancies and suggesting how to overcome them, either by abandonment of the current project, or by altering it, or by altering the previously approved plans with which it happens to conflict.
In its third function, as amender of the city plan, its main duty will be to recognize the march of unforeseen events, whether fortunate or unfortunate; to compare the hard facts and obvious tendencies of the times with the forecasts and suppositions forming the basis of every feature of the plan, and, if clearly necessary, alter the plan to square with the new conditions. One class of hard facts to be thus recognized will doubtless be the occasional disregard of the plan by the executive authorities of the city and the consequent establishment of permanent improvements interfering with the execution of some previously approved but still dormant part of the aggregate city plan.
In any live city there are certain current projects which are really taken into account by the people who settle what happens today and tomorrow and which therefore constitute the real city plan. These projects grow and change, and if the nominal and official city plan does not, with due conservatism and deliberation, adopt and keep pace with these changes, it must soon become of no more value than the paper on which it is recorded.
The enormous importance of such a City Plan Office as we have been discussing, with its elaborate, active and obviously costly human machinery for systematically recording these live ideas which form the real city plan, for interpreting them and for deliberately amending them, lies in the fact that without such machinery these functions are performed unsystematically, intermittently and very imperfectly by people whose principal interests and duties lie in other directions. Without it the actual set of ideas and purposes concerning probable future improvements and conditions which are really kept in mind in such a way as to have practical influence upon current decisions, is dependent upon the memory and personal equation of scores of different individuals, no one of whom has opportunities to be cognizant of the whole field or to keep in touch with all the other people. There is always some sort of a real city plan in every growing community; but the favored projects which for the time being compose it are apt to be vaguely defined, full of mutual contractions, and changeable with the changes of personnel and with the vagaries of individual memory and predilection. A strong personality, occupying for several years an influential position, such as that of mayor, or city engineer, or local party boss, or an unusually persistent and effective group of citizens interested in the subject, may by appropriate political activity keep a self-consistent set of projects to the fore long enough to give a considerable stability and unity to the purposes governing the city's development during the period in question; but all such purely personal efforts are spasmodic in relation to the whole history of the city itself. They will always be needed as a supplementary motive power, but for continuity of effect we must look to some such flywheel as I have described the City Plan Office to be. This office supplies a mechanical and universal memory which can insure that a project once adopted shall not be abandoned through mere oversight. It will have the defects as well as the advantages connoted by the word bureaucracy. It is apparent that one of its duties should be to exercise a strong initiative in extending and improving the plan confided to it. It should be constantly studying the future in a manner which will disclose important contingencies that have not been adequately provided for in the projects already adopted into the city plan; and as it becomes aware of these contingencies it should take the initiative in securing plans for meeting them, calling upon the appropriate city departments to devise the proper plans in consultation with the City Plan Office, and securing the advice of outside experts when needful. I conceive that it will be in respect to this matter of exercising an active initiative in looking ahead for trouble not actually forced upon it, that any permanent official City Plan Office will be weakest, and here chiefly that it must forever be supplemented by volunteer efforts, spurred on by the criticism of dissatisfied enthusiasts, and occasionally lifted from its accustomed moorings by a wave of popular interest in the subject that will put new men into office. Unofficial busybodies must be relied upon to disturb the peaceful routine of the office, and to see to it that sufficient spasmodic creative energy and imaginative power are put forth to keep the plan well ahead of the march of events.
But no amount of spasmodically applied imaginative power and sound judgment in planning will be of much avail if the resulting conclusions are not brought to bear with a monotonous regularity of routine upon all the daily and weekly municipal operations to which they are related. That is the job of "the man who does the work for which he draws the pay"--the job of the employees of the City Plan Office in collaboration with all the executive departments.
It is here that we see the third division of the subject conspicuously in progress--the translation of plans into facts. From the point of view of city planning this means primarily that things discordant with the plan shall not be permitted to happen by indirection, that every project shall be made to fit into the general plan before it can become a fact. Initiative in execution must come from outside the City Plan Office, whether originating with the executive officials, the city council or private citizens.
Here, then, we look forward fifty years, on the one hand to a well-organized staff of city employees devoted permanently and exclusively to the job of recording, indexing and interpreting the multifarious fragments of the city survey and the city plan; to the job of scrutinizing and comparing with that plan all sorts of projects arising from all sorts of sources, and of calling attention to conflicts and inconsistencies requiring adjustment; to the job of watching for and calling attention to defects in the city plan and to contingencies for which it does not provide; and to the job of making such amendments in the plan as may be authorized by the deliberate authority in control of the office. On the other hand, we look forward to an indefinite continuance of somewhat spasmodic, unofficial activity on the part of interested private citizens and organizations directed to some or all of the following ends, with a relative intensity depending entirely on temporary and local circumstances:
(1) Inducing a proper activity in systematic farsighted planning on the part of the appropriate administrative officers of the city, by persuasion, education, stimulation or otherwise;
(2) Getting the needful legislative authority and appropriations to permit these activities;
(3) Bringing the pressure of public opinion to bear toward either or both of the above ends by the innumerable devices for informing and arousing the public mind.
It is obvious that our program of action in this city planning movement is bound to lack the inspiring, dramatic quality of advancing in orderly succession, one complete step following another, to a definite climax of accomplishment. There is no particular place of beginning, and certainly no end in sight, for we are concerned with a continuous vital process of the social organism which we call a city. The same ground must be traversed again and again. But the line of movement is not a circle. It is a hopefully rising spiral.
So long as you are headed the right way and don't stand still, it doesn't make much difference where you begin to push first. After you have gone a few laps around the course in any given locality, you will begin to see where the greatest resistance lies and where the available forces can be most effectively applied toward getting things moving with you.
Now, in order to give you something that will at least look like the program I was asked to put before you, I will attempt to summarize in logical order the principal classes of work that must be done in the advancement of a city plan, disregarding for the present the manner in which that work is shared between volunteer and official bodies, and also disregarding the campaign devices by which the activity can best be brought about. Of the latter I shall say merely a few words in closing, to pave the way for the detailed discussion of these practical first steps at a later session.
A knowledge of the facts is the first requirement, and the basis for a city plan must be a city survey covering information as to four classes of fact: the first of these are the facts of the physical environment of the people of the city; second are the social facts concerning the people themselves and the reactions between them and their physical environment; third are the economic and financial facts as to the resources of the community and the possible means of bringing those resources to bear upon public improvements; and fourth are the facts as to the legal and administrative conditions which must be reckoned with in any attempt to control the physical environment.
The most important form of records as to the past and present physical environment are graphic records, mainly in the form of maps and plans. The first step is to compile the available existing records in possession of various official bodies, municipal, state and national; the most fruitful sources usually being the engineering bureau or bureaus of the city and of the county, the assessors, the registry of deeds, the U. S. Geological Survey, and the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Other important sources for such data are the public service corporations, especially the railway, electric light and telephone companies, which not infrequently prepare for their own use better maps of a city than the public officials have at their command. Insurance maps are often useful and much more closely up to date in some respects than the public records. Occasionally private surveyors or map publishers as a matter of commercial enterprise have compiled maps of considerable value. In most American cities it will be found that the best of the existing maps and plans are very defective, both as to the accuracy of the general map framework (technically known as the horizontal and vertical control) and also as to the completeness and reliability of the detail. It is necessary to make the best of what there is at the start and arrange for systematically improving the records in both of these respects as fast as practicable.
The group of data roughly covered by the term Social Survey begins with the records of population, obtainable from census returns, national, state and municipal, including the distribution of the population by local subdivisions so far as shown by the records, and the changes which have taken place from period to period. Where the distribution by local subdivisions has not been systematically regarded in the general census returns of successive periods, an approximate distribution can sometimes be made by comparison with local voting lists, tax lists and school census lists; and further analysis of the population by nationality and otherwise is often very enlightening. A study of the relation of the people to their environment involves a series of special investigations. These vary in their relative importance according to local conditions, and many of them have usually been considerably advanced before any systematic grouping of the results into a City Survey is undertaken. One of the most important deals with the housing situation, a fit subject for an entire paper in itself. In regard to this the publications of the National Housing Association are most helpful. Intimately allied to this in character and importance is a survey of the physical conditions under which the principal industries of the community are pursued, dealing with the distribution and character of factories and industrial plants. Different in character technically, but closely related to the housing and industrial surveys, is a survey of the transportation conditions. This includes not only the street railways and other local means of passenger transit, together with the passenger terminals for long distance travel, but also the freight facilities. Other special surveys relate to the social efficiency of the fixed physical equipment for water supply, for the disposal of wastes, for storm-water discharge including provision for flood dangers if any, for public recreation through parks and playgrounds and otherwise, for public education and for other municipal functions.
Every one of these lines of investigation, but especially those dealing with transportation and housing, will throw light upon the qualities and defects of the street plan, and in connection with every one of them it is important to consider what English town planners embrace under the convenient word amenity embraces all those qualities in the physical environment which tend to make it pleasant and agreeable.
Some sort of economic and financial survey of a community's present and prospective resources is essential as a basis for a useful city plan, even if it does not go beyond a rough consideration of the extent and rate of possible expenditure for public improvements. But really it ought to be much more searching. It ought among other things to analyze the basis of the community's prosperity with a view to shaping the city plan toward the enhancement of its natural opportunities.
The devising and the gradual execution of any city plan must be done under complicated limitations and administrative conditions imposed by law. Some of these either cannot be or ought not to be altered and must be closely regarded, while others stand needlessly in the way of progress and call for alteration. The legal and administrative survey therefore forms the fourth essential branch of this preliminary work.
Upon the basis of as good a survey of the whole situation as the circumstances permit, the next step is to forecast the probable future growth and to define the more important problems to be met in planning its control, and the third step is to seek out tentative solutions of these problems. Both in recognizing the existence of the problems and in devising plans for meeting them an enormous amount of work will have been done in every city in a more or less fragmentary way, and the chief function of city planning in this connection is to compile the results of this work, to search out and define important problems that have been overlooked through lack of system and to get the proper people at work devising tentative solutions for each of these problems. The fourth step is to collate and compare all the serious projects, to pass judgment upon them, and by a process of selection, elimination and mutual adjustment, to weld them into a self-consistent and sensible general plan of procedure to be put into execution as opportunity permits.
The realization of a city plan must come about through three distinct methods, each complementary to the others. Much can be accomplished through the voluntary action of individuals, inspired by the ideals of the plan and impelled by the force of public sentiment. Indeed many of the aims of city planning are attainable only if such a spirit of idealism is widely felt as a moving force in the community. The second method is compulsion, by means of the police power, a force which is of the utmost value in dealing with recalcitrant citizens, but which can under no circumstances do more than fix a minimum standard already outstripped by the ideals of the community. The third and most conspicuous method is through the expenditure of public funds raised by taxation, for the acquirement of lands and rights in land and for the construction of public improvements. Even in this hasty summary I ought to emphasize two important divisions of this third method, namely, on the one hand expenditures covered by the regular annual tax levy, with or without the intervention of bond issues for the convenient distribution of an irregular rate of expenditure over a period of years, and on the other hand expenditures met by transferring to the public coffers some or all of the increment in land values resulting specifically from the expenditures in question, either by means of special assessments or by means of the so-called excess condemnation method, both of which will be discussed at our coming sessions.
I have said that opportunity must control the procedure in putting a plan into execution. Even more so must it control a plan of campaign for the winning of public support at any stage in the development of the city planning movement. Like all such movements it will begin with a small group of people sufficiently interested to work for results. Upon the relations of these people to the municipal government will largely turn the question of whether the business of city planning develops from the start as a normal and integral branch of the official tree, more or less stimulated and fostered by friendly gardeners, or whether it is started as an independent growth in wholly different soil. In the latter case it must, sooner or later, be grafted on to the official tree; and although the word "graft" here may not be symbolic of corruption, the process is bound to involve serious difficulties. Since the problem is not merely to make a plan but to cultivate the habit of planning and of following a plan, the people who most need the training and enthusiasm that come with propagandist effort are the permanent officials themselves. If they can be stirred up to take a leading part in the movement, it is an immense gain. But whether the action is official or unofficial the early activities are mainly educational, and among the most effective educational devices are the preparation and publication of what may be called a study for a city plan, something which indicates what city planning means by presenting, however sketchily, all the principal aspects of a city plan, a survey of conditions, a statement of problems, a presentation of solutions and an explanation of their adjustment to each other so as to form a consistent whole.
Such a study for a city plan may be as elaborate as the great "Plan for Chicago" or it may be the first tentative leaflet of an impecunious small town committee: in every case the purpose to be kept in view in its preparation is twofold--partly to contribute to the perfecting of the plan itself and partly to produce an educative impression in the quarters where it will do the most good. The character of the study, the nature of the matter which is to be published and the manner of putting it forth must be decided partly by the available means, partly by the actual needs, of the city in respect to organized planning, and largely by a decision as to whom it is best to begin by educating and what ideas it is best to bring home to them. With clear views upon these points the problem becomes largely one of using wisely the universal channels for the transmission of ideas, the newspapers, books, pamphlets, lectures and the personal influence of man on man....