James Owen

Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers 30 (December 1893):591-593.

Joseph Stübben, one of Germany's leading planners, wrote a paper for presentation at the special meeting of the American Society of Civil Engineers held in Chicago at the time of the World's Fair in 1893. Advance copies of the translated version were circulated to members, and it was this English-language version that the Society published in its Transactions. The brief statement that follows is apparently the only recorded discussion of Stübben's paper. Its author, one James Owen, addressed himself to Stübben's advocacy of radial thoroughfares. Owen pointed out that with the expansion and improvement in public transit systems that reduced time consumed by travel, there was less need for radials that provided direct routes for foot travel or by private vehicles. Owen concluded that "only such radiating streets as are necessary for the rapid transit should be constructed."
There are two points about Mr. Stübben's paper which are very forcible and striking: 1st, that the theoretic principles enunciated therein are so in accord with the ideal practices aimed at, but perhaps not adopted, in this country; and, 2d, that the writer, with the surroundings of European practices, where haphazard extension from an accidental nucleus is so much in vogue, should have been enabled to divest himself of the influence of environment and so enunciate the doctrines that he has.

In a new country, such as this is, the possibilities of ideal mural[sic] development are infinite and unfortunately seldom realized; in Europe such development is in spite of tradition and the habits and ideas of centuries.

There are, however, principles enunciated by Mr. Stübben in his paper that, with the present ideas of city transit and with its possible future development, seem open to criticism, and I wish to call particular attention to the matter, as, with the experience in large cities for the last few years for the proper service of vehicular and traction travel, a partial abandonment of old ideas seems necessary.

In the laying out of any city two main factors enter into consideration --suitable location for dwellings and buildings, and ease of access from and to these buildings for the general population. It therefore follows that, considering only the dwellings themselves, a rectilinear system is all that is required, making all blocks square, and, of necessity, all buildings the same. As against this is the desire of the traveling public to get to its destination in the most direct line, and the rectilinear system does not, on the average, allow this. As a relief to the necessity of traveling two sides of a triangle, radiating streets are introduced, and, in many of the cities of this country, are in use, and in a few eases, like the city of Washington, a series of intersecting radial avenues from different nuclei were constructed. This, while thoroughly accommodating the traveling public, sacrifices the land for building purposes, leaving many goring lots and impairing their value.

With the growth of rapid transit and the cheapness of fares the necessity for radial avenues decreases in a marked degree, in consequence of the ability of more people to ride than previously; and so, only such radiating streets as are necessary for the rapid transit should be constructed, and, by that, more of the rectilinear system preserved. In laying and constructing such main arteries, new ideas will have to be in vogue to properly subserve a general interest. As it is now, we have the riding, driving and walking public to consider. All have their rights, and all should be considered. So far the walking public has been unmolested. The driving public now, with cable and trolley roads, is driven out of the main avenues of travel. and the riding public is supreme.

An inspection of the condition of the streets of Chicago at the present time will illustrate the force of the statement; trains of cable cars careening through the main streets of the city, ruthlessly forcing aside all other travel on it, do not constitute a condition that may be considered ideal. Take the city of Boston, in its present congested condition near the Common, and vehicular travel is almost out of the question.

It may be urged that such a condition is tentative, and that a proper solution of the rapid transit problem in all such cities will remove the congestion. In answer to this, the reply is that, so far, human invention has not been able to keep up with demands of locomotion in cities, and, as long as their population keeps increasing, will probably not do so.

The ideal street in the future must therefore consider all requirements much for foot travel,so much for vehicles standing, and so much for vehicles moving, and so much for cars that are propelled. To accommodate all, more room than has as yet been considered requisite must be allowed. The extension of Beacon Street, Boston, into Brookline is an instance of about what is necessary. It is 150 ft. wide, and about fills present requirements, and in any new city development a width of main arterial street less than 150 ft. should not be considered.

There are many other points in Mr. Stübben's paper worthy of allusion, but I merely wish to call particular attention to what I consider a vital point.

1. "Practical and Aesthetic Principles for the Laying Out of Cities." By J. Stübben, Baurath and Asst. Burgomaster at Cologne, Germany. Transactions, Vol. XXIX, page 718. 

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: 
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