NOTES FOR THREE LECTURES ON MUNICIPAL IMPROVEMENTS
R. S. Peabody
The Architectural Quarterly of Harvard University 1 (September 1912):84-104.Robert Swain Peabody (1845-1017) was Lecturer on Architectural Design at the Harvard School of Architecture during the academic year 1911-12 and delivered three lectures in April 1912. In their title the school's journal referred to the text below as "Notes," but they read as though the author had written them to be read in full, although he doubtless departed from his text from time to time to make additional comments.I
At the time he prepared these statements Peabody was sixty-seven and enjoyed a reputation as one of the country's best and best-known architects. His qualifications and experience were impressive, beginning with his birth in Boston as the son of the minister of King's Chapel and with a mother from one of the wealthy families of Salem. Peabody graduated from Harvard in 1866 and entered the École des Beaux Arts in Paris where one of his classmates was Charles F. McKim. By 1870 he was back in Boston and joined with John G. Stearns in an architectural partnership that endured for forty-five years. Their buildings included a great many of Boston's most important, the New Hampshire State House, The Antlers Hotel at Colorado Springs, the Hall of Machinery at the Chicago World's Fair, and a large number of private homes and mansions in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere.
Peabody served several terms as a director of the American Institute of Architects and was elected its president for the years 1900-01. He was thus thoroughly familiar with and strongly supported the work of the Senate Park Commission in 1901-02 that provided the urban design plan for central Washington, D.C. He was also president of the Boston Society of Architects for several years and led that body in producing its Report...by Its Committee on Municipal Improvement. Although not a comprehensive plan for the city, it brought together a number of individual proposals for Boston and is known as one of the early city planning studies of a large American community.
In his first lecture Peabody stated three "general principles that underlie a city plan." A city needed to make itself "convenient for business;...fit for residence and healthy; and finally beautiful." In his subsequent remarks he expanded on all three and provided examples to illustrate his views. He admired German city planning, and his comments on what was then the less formal style then prevailing in Germany are of interest. In the published version of his third lecture dealing with Boston the journal reproduced several of Peabody's charming pencil sketches of some of the city's buildings and churches.
With free opportunity it would seem but rational for any community to prepare for tomorrow as well as today; to remember future generations; to practice foresight; and where could a nation's intelligence be exerted to greater profit than in moulding [sic] its cities? That combination and coordination and cooperation which make a city, also make it a model for town and village in most lines of material and intellectual advance. All this moreover is retroactive for "people are in a large way what the city makes them." How important then is a good and beautiful arrangement for a city. "It pays not only in the current coin of commerce but in the refinement, the cheerfulness, the happiness, the outlook on life of the poorest citizen."
But as a rule a city is not planned. Most cities just grow. Broadway, the most important street in the plan of the most important city in America certainly was never planned. Originally a country road extending at Wall Street beyond the city fortifications its natural course would have been, one would have said, into the Bowery and the Boston Road. Some accident turned it northwards instead, and now, not only is it a serviceable and convenient street, but this accident creates the greatest element of picturesqueness in the stupid and mechanical plan of New York City. Where it intersects the regular network of streets there is a constant succession of effective sites. One of these sites is occupied by the Herald Building and one by the Times Building and there are many others from Union Square to Columbus Circle. All this happened without intention; but now comes Mr. Marshall with a carefully studied plan for a crescent shaped street making a much needed thoroughfare between the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroad stations, avoiding the great buildings, creating great values, and adding sites of great beauty to that portion of the city. Here then is one case of accident and one of design. The latter if carried out would give equally good results with the former fortuitous combination. Many towns and villages show unexpected results which are, like Broadway, fortunate; but they can not be confidently counted upon. They should be considered rather as examples to rival when new work is to be done. There are undoubtedly many happy accidents and sometimes their accidental character gives them a special charm, but we can not be uniformly lucky.
Many a town started on the open prairie does offer opportunity for a scientific town plan, but these inviting chances are lost because of the scant resources at hand, because of the ignorance of the promoters, or from a desire to make a quick turn of capital. Hence we find so many of them laid out in uniform rectangles that stupidly disregard valleys or summits or natural contours. But at times real chances for town and city planning do occur. When Washington, with L'Enfant's help, planned and founded the city of Washington in unoccupied country, or when in our day the country capital of Baguio is created by a paternal United States government spending Filipino taxes wisely, real opportunities again occurred. Even today the rivalry of Melbourne and Sidney is bringing into the Australian world a new city seventy miles from the sea. It is to be equipped with a Parliament House and public buildings, a theater, a university, an art gallery and a library.
But a residential and governmental city like these makes possible an undivided attention to beauty and stateliness. It differs from the ordinary city where men gather primarily for trade and manufacturing and for business intercourse, and where residence merely follows this trade, and it is plain that the world very seldom offers opportunity for a new plan of a great city where trade creates riches and riches luxury. But though entirely new cities are rare, yet renewed cities are far from rare. New quarters, new boulevards on the sites of fortifications or created by ruthless cutting through ancient blocks, all these may and in fact do offer live questions daily. Most new work must arise from chance occasions. Often a town may be improved. It is but seldom that opportunity comes to a community or an individual to plan a town. Hence the town planner must with us generally be an opportunist ready to act when the chance offers.
The World's Fair at Chicago awakened the American public if not to general civic improvement at least to a lively interest in effective monumental architecture. Already many Americans had traveled widely and many recognized the beauty of individual buildings; but at Chicago our whole people saw and many of them saw for the first time how splendid could be the effects gained by the intelligent grouping of noble architecture. The Chicago exhibition was followed by those at Buffalo and St. Louis and Norfolk. Now an interest in monumental architecture has seized the whole country until towns and cities on all sides are talking city plan and civic center. In Philadelphia last year was held the National Conference on City Planning. There was a vast exhibition of designs. You could count sixty American and forty foreign plans for thoroughgoing city improvements besides the designs for numberless town centers and civic groups. Recent congresses in London and Berlin were even more extensive. These exhibitions made it plain to all that the Germans have beyond any question been the pioneers and the leaders in these modern studies. Commercial cities like Dusseldorf, Mannheim, Frankfort, Cologne, Wiesbaden and Stuttgart are vying with one another to make their surroundings serviceable, orderly and beautiful, and to increase the happiness, health and well-being of their people. In Germany also more than elsewhere this city planning is done by experts. Town planning has there become a science and is treated as such.
Accepting then the fact that these studies have seized upon the public mind and are worth while we next ask what is this " City Plan" which has so captivated the popular fancy, and what meaning has it? Mr. [Arnold] Brunner very aptly answers this question by saying
"WHAT CITY PLANNING DOES NOT MEAN.
"It does not mean the creation of a civic center and grouping public buildings;
"It does not mean the arrangement of streets and boulevards, nor perfecting the system of circulation and traffic;
"It does not mean the planting, the location of fountains and statues, nor the creation of great vistas;
"It does not mean the formation of a park system with its connecting parkways and small city squares;
"It does not mean the treatment of the water-front, nor the solution of the railway problem with its arches, tunnels and terminals;
"It does not mean suburban development nor the creation of garden cities;
"It does not mean the location of school houses or playgrounds, either for children or grown-ups; " It does not mean the method of bonding the cost of the improvements--the law of excess condemnation--the legislation required:
"It means all of them considered together, the business side of city planning not being neglected, and I believe the most practical result to be attained is not the beauty of the city, but the consequent elevation of the standard of citizenship."
In fact we rapidly discover on investigation that city planning like other things has various ramifications.
It may mean little but humble municipal house cleaning and good civic housekeeping in a city already built. It may mean the designing of better opportunities for trade and commerce or for the housing of the poor; and all this in turn may lead to additions to or changes in such a city, or to the designing of a quarter of the city, or the establishment of a civic center, or finally on rare occasions to the planning of an entire town or city.
The general principles that underlie a city plan evidently depend upon what the people do and how they live. From this will grow first and foremost a plan to make the town convenient for business; secondly it must be fit for residence and healthy; and finally beautiful. To make commerce easy we must have facilities for local and foreign transportation, permitting a ready transaction of business and hence prosperity. For this the essentials are railroads, docks and delivery roads. To make the city healthy and agreeable there must be economical and healthy homes. Finally, as the ultimate flower and result of what has gone before, there should be such a disposition of the physical city as will make it a fit and beautiful background for city life; the stage setting before which the life of the city is played.
The first need then is to make commerce easy by proper railroad and steamship connections with the rest of the world by land and sea. The docks must have piers long enough for great vessels and sheds large enough for the quick shifting of cargoes. In most foreign ports the docks are excavated in low land and are provided with tidal gates. The ideal dock is one where the tide has no exaggerated rise and fall and where therefore no gates are needed to control it; where the sheds are so large that the ingoing cargoes may be laid out in proper sequence; and where the railroads and teaming road reach all parts of the dock. Moreover, it should be in close proximity to store houses and factories. Indeed, the ideal dock on our coast is of this description and can be found and examined at the Bush Terminals in Brooklyn.
At a terminal or transshipment city besides the main entering railroads some method of intercommunication between them is also essential. This is accomplished either by a circuit railroad as in some cities, or by lighters on the water as in New York, or by a combination of the two. Too often this machinery for the distribution of merchandise is in the hands of large railroads or corporations who can crowd out the competition of other roads or control whole sections of country, but in practically every modern seaboard city that is keeping up with the march of improvement the machinery of the port at any rate is in the control of the public so that all commerce by land or sea may have a fair chance for the delivery and transshipment of goods.
Connected with the railroads must be good classification yards well outside of the city for sorting the arriving cars so that they may be sent in detail to the various different quarters of the city, and good delivery yards in these various quarters for delivering the goods from the cars for distribution through the city by teams and trucks.
The goods having reached the delivery yards by these varied means there is next needed a set of distributary streets for convenient carting. These must be radial roads in the main with occasional encircling circuit roads and of course their use soon extends from the distribution of merchandise to the intercommunication of the inhabitants themselves.
M. Hénard of Paris has made interesting studies of the main thoroughfares or system of circulation in various cities. He points out that a tree but for disturbing causes would be perfectly regular. It would have a straight trunk and a symmetrical bouquet of boughs,--but shade or wind or lack of food often distorts it. It may have all the more character for the changes that come from such accidents. M. Hénard in making his theoretic schemes has reversed the process of nature, and from the more or less tortuous and irregular facts has extracted the ideal theory that governs the plans of the different cities that he illustrates .
He shows how Moscow centers in and radiates from the Kremlin, the citadel of political, religious and military authority in Russia.
In Berlin fourteen great roads connected by a circle radiate from the seat of this military government and lend themselves to effective and economical expansion of the city on all sides--an expansion which is in vigorous progress.
In London there are three principal civic centers: Trafalgar Square, the Bank and the Elephant and Castle. From the triangle thus bounded sixteen radial routes diverge. These, as in Berlin, lend themselves to city expansion, but London is deficient in circular boulevards, and the Parliamentary Commissions constantly endeavor to remedy this need.
Paris, on the other hand, has three circular boulevards, but is deficient in continuous radial avenues. Its great centers, the Arch of Triumph and the Place de la Nation, symbolize grandly military glory and the triumph of the Republic, but they serve no important currents of circulation. A study of these theoretic scheme-sketches shows how important it might be to a growing city to establish a large theoretic plan for its streets.
After commerce is established and prosperous by means of ports, railroad terminals and distributing thoroughfares, the next problem for consideration is found in economical and healthy housing and in that civic housekeeping which keeps all the city conveniences in the best of order. As time goes on our municipalities may concern themselves to see that the citizens of all classes are properly housed. Many see in this the chief and main end to be reached by city planning. Cities might create special quarters for residence or special quarters for different classes of residence. At present our laws are merely restrictive and relate to the height of buildings, the area of land covered by buildings, prohibition of obnoxious occupation, etc. But if the housing problem has had comparatively little attention in most of our cities yet a great deal of energy has been usefully employed in the improvement of our cities by good civic housekeeping. Most of the reports on town planning so common today and much of what was shown in recent exhibitions lay most stress on such work. It is comparatively easy and inexpensive and it can work wonders. The main test is "Look ahead." Good civic housekeeping means close attention to work under the following heads:
Parks and playgrounds are the usual and well understood means of improving the surroundings of a town.
Provisions for water, gas, electricity and sewers are almost universal. Paved streets and sidewalks perhaps are less so. Then come subjects all of which tend to make living conditions better and more wholesome. Such as-
Tree planting for shade and the care of old trees perhaps in charge of a commission.
Neater systems of electric wires and poles, perhaps by carrying on one pole street lights, street names, letter box and fire box. Still better an enforced placing underground of a certain fair distance of conduit each year and the carrying of poles and wires through alleys where possible.
Reduction of the objects on the sidewalks such as show cases, clocks, advertisements, etc.
Establishment of public comfort stations, transfer stations, drinking fountains, waste cans, control of advertisements.
Establishment of building lines, of a percentage of lot areas that can be covered without congestion, and the creation of manufacturing and residence sections.
Electricity on railroads and abatement of smoke; abolishment of grade crossings.
When business has been placed on firm foundations and in prosperous courses and when housing is healthy and comfortable, then and as the finishing touch to more material things comes in with prosperity attention to the beautiful. We all know that if the city is prosperous and convenient and healthy there is sure to be that sort of beauty that fitness inevitably produces. But the soul and the imagination demand something more, and the final object of our studies--an object that we can well have in view through all the early stages of city growth-is to produce this something. Were our cities perfect works of art one would find a pleasing picture wherever he turned, whether towards the great church, the public building, the monument, or simply down the street. On every hand would be agreeable impressions and a pleasing background for the life of the city. When the city is old and picturesque there is still an added interest, for "a beautiful old town represents an enormous artistic capital which pays ceaseless revenue in the form of grandiose or picturesque impressions." All that is old and beautiful should be, from its very rarity, a thousand times more precious to us than to dwellers in an older country. Indeed the history and social character of a town deserve every consideration. When we plan our city or its civic center and when the design can be controlled, it should continue and enforce the character which stamps the city as different from its neighbors. In making such designs, moreover, not only the relations of buildings in plan but their height relative to the width of squares and streets has artistic importance. In designing the various World's Fairs the relation of the height of the surrounding buildings to the width of the courts has been a vital feature. The Senate and House buildings at Washington, beautiful in themselves, would make a far more effective scene if nearer together. In Paris the Place de la Concorde was always large compared to the beautiful buildings that surround it, and now that the Tuileries are destroyed and the Court of the Louvre is opened up one is lost in the vast expanse and looks vainly for the enclosing frame. Boston Common is fenced with higher buildings around it than in former days, and to its great advantage so far as a general view is concerned. All is on a better scale. Then again if relations of width and height are important in individual details, how much more is it to be desired that the mass of the city itself should group with surrounding nature or culminate in its great monuments. Vistas and balance on plans are all good, but domination of leading features is a still greater item in effect. In the wonderful plans for Chicago the architects found no better way to create a startling effect than to make the whole design center upon an impossibly vast civic building. We all remember the dominating way in which St. Paul's rises above London, or in which the Government Buildings and the forts overshadow Edinburgh or Quebec. This large scaled grouping gives to those cities more of their grandeur than is obtained from their ground plans. Similar effects are obtained by the masses of the great cathedrals that tower above Amiens, Chartres, Lincoln and Ely.
That system of thoroughfares which we have seen is essential for business convenience when considered solely as a means of communication and traffic, from the point of view of artistic effect, is also fundamental. By their varied arrangements, whether picturesque and winding or whether axial and straight, its streets give memorable character of one or another sort to the city. When Baron Haussmann, with the power of Napoleon III behind him, renovated the city of Paris, he set a model for all city planning for a long while afterwards. Broad avenues led from column to arch, from arch to opera house, from opera house to palace, and from palace to church. Sometimes they were continued for long distances without interruption, but always they were lined with buildings of the same stone and of a fixed height, and bordered with trees all of the same kind and same size. Of course, this grand style was modeled in the spirit of Le Notre's garden work at Versailles, or Gabriel's in the Place de la Concorde, or Mansart's in the Place Vendome--in the spirit, in fact, that the École des Beaux Arts nourished. But in plans of this older period, the broad schemes had been bounded and limited to spaces readily comprehended and enjoyed. Never before in cities that sought pictorial or architectural effects had streets been so continuous and vistas so long as in Baron Haussmann's Paris. It was even asserted that they were thus made that riots might the more easily be controlled. However, the city thus arranged proved so magnificent and so monumental that every French city, large and small, and many in other countries, forthwith endeavored to renovate their streets on similar lines.
But even from the artistic point of view which we are now considering these grand effects had their own troubles. The old Parisian boulevards (made by Louis XIV on the site of the ancient walls) were really interesting. They were wide and changed direction frequently; the buildings fronting on them had variety in height and alignment. But in the great renovation made by Baron Haussmann there was lack of individuality of expression in form and color, and little variety in the streets. The streets lack in surprises, and the constant repetition of the same type of house and the same trees and the same monotonous view tends to fatigue. The houses present a continuous front without irregularity or individuality and the laws prevent gables and projections and compel a fixed height and a perfect alignment. The straight line triumphs, and writers do not mean it for a compliment when they say that this absence of accidental effects or silhouettes reduces their beautiful city to an American monotony and mediocrity. It is not unnatural that the Haussmannized Paris should find critics and the criticisms thus noted were often made. It is always so. There are two kinds of minds or of moods,--one that seeks the even balanced designs where individuality is sacrificed to the general effect; and another kind which hails every expression of individualism, every picturesque and varied incident. One is the attitude of the classicist, and the other of the romanticist. They seek different modes of expression in literature, in painting, and in all other forms of art. Northern and Saxon people tend to the latter; southern and Latin folk to the former. Reflected in their buildings these moods result on the one hand in Nuremberg, Siena, Oxford, Halberstadt, and on the other hand as a culminating product of the Latin spirit we have Paris. From these causes has sprung a school that criticizes Paris, or, perhaps even more, the feeble provincial imitations of Paris.
When Germany spent her new wealth in renovating and enlarging her ancient towns, she tore down their ancient walls and converted their site into boulevards, as in the old days Louis XIV had done for Paris. But the new German school refused to accept Baron Haussmann's artists as the infallible and only guides. The analytical, patient student mind of Germany, applying itself to the artistic treatment of these subjects, looked to past history and said: "The cities of ancient time, whose beauty we cherish and study, were not thus built. The Piazza della Signoria, the market square in Verona, the public places of Nuremberg, the Duomo group at Pisa, were not even or rectangular, but, on the contrary, very accidental. Michelangelo did not choose the center of the Piazza as the site for his David, but the side of it, where it was backed against the rugged walls of the Palazzo Vecchio. Even the Acropolis at Athens was not arranged with symmetry, and the forums of Pompeii were full of accidental effects. The charming streets of Bruges were not of interminable length, nor were they straight, nor did they end on a great monument. They were winding and with frequent and unexpected incidents in the way of market places, which they passed rather than traversed. When the cathedral came into view it was not lost in the middle of a plaza, and thus dwarfed by contrast as is today the Dom at Cologne or the west front of Notre Dame at Paris, but it was framed by the opening of the street and supported by the old houses that clustered against its sides, as at Chartres and Antwerp. Even in Rome of the Renaissance, where grand places like the Piazza del Popolo and the Piazza of Saint Peter's are axial, or in the balanced courts at Nancy and Versailles, regular composition is good partly because it has limits and good perspective effects, is self- contained and makes pictures that are easily comprehended."
To a world dominated by Baron Haussmann's views of city planning all this came like new light. It suddenly seemed clear that if straight streets are sometimes needed today, their use without artistic consideration of the ground or local circumstances is to be condemned. On the other hand if the waving line in streets is more picturesque, the straight line is more monumental. Neither one nor the other should be abused, but both should be appropriately used. Thus it happens that in recent German work like the belt which replaces the walls of Cologne the boulevard does not as designed by Professor Stübben move with extreme regularity, but from one interesting public place to another center that is quite different, giving unexpected and characteristic views of important buildings. The new-German school, in short, seeks to give individual character to the street, the square, the monument, the building, the town.
It appears then that there are two quite marked and varying views as to the subject of what is beautiful in the planning of streets and thoroughfares and of monumental or picturesque vistas and sites, and that it is a subject well worthy the attention of the best of artists, although the authorities of most American cities would not recognize the need of anything but Yankee common sense for its solution.
But after all the most striking features of a civic plan are the civic centers. They are the focal points in the plan, the high lights of the picture, the chief objects of interest, the most obvious means of gaining effect. It was inevitable that in the civic Exhibitions the visionary designs for civic centers should compel attention. Town after town has paid large sums for exquisite drawings of more or less problematic schemes involving showy architecture at a civic center.
These overshadow those dull and dry details which are the source of vitality and from which alone can come the resources for embellishment. Just as a plant must have its root and stalk and leaves before the flower graces it to which all the rest lend strength and sustenance, so the business plan is the fundamental need in a city plan. But the civic center, though but a small part of a complete city plan, is as important as the flower to the plant. It is the final culmination of the city plan. These focal points are what we remember about a town, just as the pictures of them engross us at the exhibitions.
There is, however, nothing very complicated about the designing of a civic center. It is a charming problem, but comparatively straightforward, even when vast like the Place de la Concorde and the other Parisian centers, or like the Courts of the various World's Fairs which it might easily resemble. It involves only the skill for which the whole training of a good architect prepares him. Such centers can be better or worse. They can mar or give charm to the whole prospect, but the less inviting though necessary problems of town planning are infinitely more complicated and difficult. The civic center though vitally important is only a fractional part of a good city plan and is generally a straightforward simple architectural problem.
EXAMPLES OF CIVIC IMPROVEMENTS
We have seen that the utilitarian city plan is founded on facilities for commerce. In America the most important of these facilities are the railroads and their terminals. European locomotives and trains seem like toys compared with what we see here. In 1900 the average freight train load in England was about 50 tons, a load which is sometimes here put on one car. Our locomotives sometimes weigh 125 tons and the Illinois Central Railroad has some trains of from 1000 to 1500 tons weight. American railway systems have therefore reached a much higher degree of efficiency than those of Europe and the need of railroad communication is omnipresent here and a matter of universal knowledge.
But the case is different with us as regards water carriage. What has answered for past generations has until lately been supposed to answer for today and thus New York, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia got wofully[sic] behind the rest of the world in port conveniences. Abroad the struggle for existence has built up ports like Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg; and we find that in Europe port conveniences quite as much as railroads are fundamental elements of these city plans. In cities like Bruges, Brussels, Paris and Cologne where no port exists it has been thought necessary to create them, and where ports exist they are in all countries being improved.
London, long satisfied with antiquated conveniences, is now spending vast sums to recover trade taken from it by the vigorous continental ports. Once the low countries and the continent traded with London. The development of production, cheapening of transport, abolition of duties, increase of population, spread of wealth and introduction of steam factories altered the situation. As a result, London has embarked on vast schemes of dock consolidation and enlargement in spite of the opposition of dock owners who in imagination saw their capital vanish, and lightermen who drift up and down the Thames with the tides and thought their business endangered. In 1898 seventeen million dollars were spent on the Canada docks and in 1908 twenty million dollars were set aside for a new system of docks.
The improvements at Glasgow are perhaps more astonishing. One hundred and fifty years ago the trickling Clyde was crossed by stepping stones. Now the largest steamers are launched upon its banks.
While Europe was occupied by political troubles and America was fighting the Confederacy, Liverpool advanced to the first position as a port which today represents an investment of one hundred and fifty million dollars.
Newcastle and Middleborough and Hull have in the same way been made commercial ports and Manchester, grudging the onerous charges at the port of Liverpool, built a ship canal thirty-five and one-half miles long rising sixty feet six inches and having five miles of quay frontage and one hundred and fifty-two acres of quay area.
Fifty years ago ships going to Rotterdam were partly discharged near the sea before they could reach port and ships sailing thither from the Indies took three and a half months for the voyage. On the completion of the Suez Canal the voyage was made in thirty-five days. Such ships could no longer waste a fortnight for a divided unloading and Holland built a "waterway" eighteen miles long piercing the Hook of Holland and offering free access to the Atlantic Ocean. Today new extended docks of enormous size are projected on the banks of the Maas.
Amsterdam once served by the Zuyder Zee built a canal fifteen miles long with a depth of thirty feet with tidal gates closing out the Atlantic at one side and the Zuyder Zee at the other side. The river thus barred forms a practically tideless basin at Amsterdam, convenient for commerce as the water level is almost constant.
Although Antwerp lives by ships and shipping, they are almost universally foreign ships. Like the United States she has practically no merchant ocean marine of her own, yet she has an apparently endless chain of docks; large as they are, however, they do not meet the ambitions of Antwerp. That town meditates a vast extension of docks somewhat lower down on the river Scheldt, one plan involving the cutting of a new bed for the river.
The most complete and finished modern port must be, however, Hamburg. The river has been deepened; enormous docks have been dug out of the solid fields that have bordered the river; they hold a tremendous inland commerce from the Elbe and the country waterways and the shipping that brings and carries merchandise to the ends of the earth. The docks are continuous, systematic, well ordered, completely fitted with machinery and filled with vessels from every clime.
One does not think of Berlin and Paris as sea ports, but the traffic by water at those places is large. Napoleon III had many projects to make Paris a seaport. In fact the Seine has a ten and a half foot channel, floats a thousand ton barge to Paris and carries several million tons of merchandise annually.
Like the Seine, the Rhine has been improved and it has ceased to be a river for pleasure travel. It has become a mercantile waterway and ocean steamers sail from Cologne.
Here in America we have not until lately thought of harbor development as a subject intimately connected with town planning, possibly because the United States Government here undertakes the improvement of channels and ports. Although the development of interior waterways has been slow in America, yet necessities of commerce have aroused many old ports to activity. Montreal has spent large sums on docks and sheds and elevated tracks and drydocks. Galveston, Newport News, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Savannah and the Gulf ports all are giving active attention to this subject. New York is by degrees claiming a city ownership of the whole water front and contemplates great changes in the way of railroad distribution along the whole of the North River frontage. The recent reports of the dock commission outlined schemes for reclaiming large areas between Eighty-first and One Hundred and Twenty-ninth streets extending tracks over the reclaimed surfaces. Over the tracks roofs will extend which will form riverside parks, all resembling similar work at Antwerp. Further schemes contemplate the abolition of the New York Central tracks along the west side of commercial New York. Instead there would be substituted either nine immense car float stations on the water front, whence by switch backs the cars from the Jersey and other railroads can rise and cross West Street to the second story of buildings on the west of that street; or, as an alternative, it is proposed to run an elevated freight railway for the whole length of the waterfront with connections to these car float landings on one side and to the second story of houses and factories on the other side.
Thus it is seen that both at home and abroad terminal facilities by sea and land are at the foundation of a city's progress and prosperity and development.
After terminal facilities both for railroad and water carriage have been established, the next consideration in developing a city by making commerce easy is communication across and around the city. Foreign cities have had an advantage in the building of new streets which belongs to no city in America. A moment came in most of these cities when the encircling fortifications were no longer useful. By taking them down place was furnished for encircling boulevards. It was in this manner that Vienna obtained the Ring strasse and that Paris gained the three rings of boulevards that connect her radial roads. Antwerp, too, thus obtained a circle of boulevards. Here, too, a new circle of fortifications was built beyond the others and the intervening space is now occupied by a new and splendid city. Now there is talk of taking those down and Professor Stübben has been engaged to design a plan for the prospective new suburb. Cologne has extended its boundaries in very much the same way and under the guidance of Professor Stübben the surrounding belt of city has varied and interesting features. There is an agreeable variety in the streets. The old monuments are beautifully framed. Hamburg has received the same improvement, and not only is its convenience increased but also where it borders the Alster basin it is very charming. The shores are treated with foliage and coves and overhanging trees, and at the head of the basin are the hotels and the terraced landing where all day long and far into the night little steamers carry excursionists bound for more remote borders of the basin Tree-bordered roads encircle the water and on the inner side are many of the best residences having a view through and over the trees but protected by them from glare. London one thinks of as bound by traditions and conventions beyond the possibility of radical improvements, but this is actually far from the fact. The question of communication across the crowded city has been a very pressing one, and there have been vast improvements in the streets within the last few years. Northumberland Avenue opened Charing Cross to the Thames, and then followed Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road and Gray's Inn Road and the Holborn Viaduct; and three and one-half miles of a superb Thames embankment, partly reclaimed from the river, made the way clear from the Houses of Parliament to the Mansion House. Incidentally it gave a site for a low level sewer and made one of the most beautiful thoroughfares in the world. Lately, the King's Way has opened up the Strand to Holborn, and a superb mall has been built from Charing Cross to Buckingham Palace with radial avenues from the Monument in front of the palace conducting to Hyde Park Corner and other Park entrances.
England has never been able to accept unreservedly the classic influence. Even when she tries to be Parisian and lines the Kingsway with ill understood Parisian architecture, her old time topography defends her and the result is an agreeable crescent. But in another part of London we find a plan of the free and picturesque sort carried out, in a grandiose way. See the Thames Embankment sweeping by the busy river from where St. Paul's dome looms gray in the sea mist to where the Victoria Tower raises its noble bulk against a sunset sky. It is one of the finest views in Europe, quite the equal of Paris. Thanks to the winding ways and the unexpected surprises they present, it is full of local color and dependent on local conditions. It is therefore thoroughly in the spirit of the new German school, although created before the school existed.
With the endeavors of American cities to improve their thoroughfares and incidentally their city plans you are doubtless familiar. The plan of Washington is well known to us all. It is in great part a return to the original design by L'Enfant; although the Government has not adopted the plan it has adopted the principle that governs it and has thus set the example of monumental planning for her sister cities in the United States.
Philadelphia has made very complete studies for work in that city and has made good progress with actual work; so have St. Louis and San Francisco.
Buffalo, Chicago and Cleveland all owe their commercial importance to the opportunities they possess and have improved for land and water transportation and transshipment. In the development which prosperity has brought with it perhaps Cleveland has been the most successful for she is well advanced in the actual construction of a civic center. The city has occupied a district of dead property close to the main center of the town. On this land are either building or to be built the United States Government building, the Library, the City Hall and the Courts and the railway station. The latter will thus form a veritable municipal gateway by which the stranger will enter at once into the heart of the city. Chicago has lately surpassed all American cities in dreaming of a splendid future.
In the beautiful drawings that suggest improvements, the north and south parks are joined by a key built outside of a water front lagoon. One recognizes here a charming detail, worthy of all praise, quite possible of execution, and full of individual local character. On the other hand the immense radials which would necessarily cut through the finished city with little regard to obstacles, though they offer long vistas and form a perfectly geometrical plan and will doubtless be most useful, yet will be vastly expensive and suggest no local or individual character whatever. They would be equally suited to Chicago or to Buenos Ayres. These charming lagoons on the one hand and these long formal straight radials on the other hand, show well the two different schools of city planning.
BOSTON AND THE QUESTION OF MUNICIPAL IMPROVEMENT
But if an example is sought close at hand of a city where commerce long held to old ways, but which saw the need of progress and studied with care the remedies; which, ancient and crowded, has grown beyond its early borders; where civic loyalty is strong and where with respect for the past there is also some thought for the future, such an example can be found here in this old city of Boston.
In 1909 the Metropolitan Improvement Commission made a laborious report as to the possible development of the metropolitan district. With unusual self restraint they denied themselves the pleasure of presenting beautiful pictures of an imaginary future city and confined themselves almost entirely to studies for the city's material development. I hey felt sure that with prosperity, attention to beauty would come without urging.
Those who are not rebuffed by the dry looks of a state report will find in the Report of this Commission almost a text book on the general subject of city planning. the Commission found the port antiquated and the railroad terminals unrelated. With the assistance of skilful engineers they recommended consolidation of all terminal interests in one authority, the gradual building of docks where the railroads could reach them, and a ready interchange between the railroads by a renovation of the circuit railroad and the establishment of float ferries. A fair beginning towards these improvements has been made by the appointment of a dock commission who control a large sum of money. Less success has attended the recommendations as to intercommunicating roads. Suburban jealousies stand in the way, but Mr. Shurtleff's study of the subject is an exhaustive and authoritative treatise and later when they cost more the suggested improvements will become necessary and be carried out.
Boston is an old seaboard port. Its buildings are some ancient and quaint, some new and worthy rather than magnificent, for magnificence has never been in this town a passport to business or social success. An unequalled cordon of parks encircles it and on its shores the great salt ocean rises and falls with its health-bearing tides. Tourists flock through it, and though gently scoffing at its folk, really love and admire the town. The ancient narrow and winding streets climb and wander over its steep and frequent hills and the modern houses lie in long straight avenues on the plain beneath. Picturesque suburbs surround it, which some day will make a city like that on the hill, but with broader streets. Here then in one most attractive example are the wandering and individual type of city plan, and the other type that depends on orderly coordination and systematic cooperation; and this charming contrast of plan is the chief asset the city possesses in the way of beauty, the chief reason why it is so attractive and pleasing to stranger and to resident.
Boston is nigh on three hundred years old. Accordingly we are accustomed to thinking of it as a finished product, a completed city. Nothing is farther from the truth. It has a metropolitan population of a million people. It has a superb harbor, and is the terminal of many railroads. It has nothing but a range of hills separating it from all the western railroads, and not even selfish blunders on its own part can prevent its growth and prosperity, and with prosperity Boston will expand as never before. Cologne and many another German city, Antwerp , even Paris itself, were old when they razed their fortifications and built a new city between their old and new lines of defence. These innovations have really made them newer cities than Boston. But a like fate awaits Boston. The problem then is not with an old Boston, but with a Boston that is growing that has not even reached adolescence.
Many of us regret the old unchanged Boston which was so delightful, but to speak the truth there was very little of it. The quiet English town that some of us recall with such pleasure closely encircled the State House and Park Street Church and ran a little way down Summer and Franklin Streets. Beyond this very restricted center there was really but little which possessed interest. I well remember Summer Street when the houses stood back from the road and were approached by avenues, their gardens stretching nearly to the Bulfinch crescent of houses in Franklin Street, and it is true that Church Green at the end of the street with its old London spire had some picturesque advantages over that part of Summer Street of today. Beacon Hill was a more quiet and dignified place of abode then than in these days of crowding shops and hooting motors. The old, the past Boston was most pleasing; but look about you. Is not Boston beautiful today? Is it not blessed with all the fundamental elements that go to the making of a picturesque and a beautiful city?
Is not he fortunate whose morning walk carries him today either down the green mall of Commonwealth Avenue, or along the Esplanade where the breeze comes fresh from the harbor and the gulls wheel and cry, and from where across the water the great bridge shines pearl gray against the morning sky? The shaded paths of the Common lead us to Tremont Street, and we may well ask whether even when Colonnade Row existed that street was as picturesque as it is today. As we enter the dim canyons beneath the steeple of Park Street Church, does not Park Street itself and the State House on the hill and King's Chapel set amid the graves of long ago seem worth cherishing? Pleasing as Franklin Street and Summer Street were, did they offer the citizen a better walk than this to his morning work on State street? Was King street itself, when lined with Georgian taverns, any more picturesque than it is today when the Georgian State House and the Greek banks, the subway stations and office buildings lend a busy variety to a most picturesque composition? Was the North End more entertaining when Cotton Mather or Paul Revere trod its winding lanes than it is today brightened by the earrings and crimson scarves of Genoa and Naples? State street, Congress street, Post Office square, Franklin street, the neighborhood of Quincy Market, the west side of Beacon Hill, and Copps Hill, thanks to an immensely pictorial plan, still continue interesting; and though our water front is archaic from a business point of view, do you really think it is less picturesque than when Boston shipping went to every sea? If you do, I think you cannot have frequented the fishing fleet at T Wharf. You cannot have seen the liners come in to our tangled wharves bearing in one hold the cargoes of a fleet of the old time sailing vessels.
If the old town can hardly be spoiled as long as we can guard substantially its present topography, the new city on the Back Bay with Commonwealth Avenue as its backbone offers every opportunity that a formal plan can afford. There are many raw spots in both portions, many voids, many needs, but even our dearest friends are variable and by no means always at their best. There are days when the ocean is sullen, flat, uninteresting; until we live with it and see storm and sunshine, wind and weather transform it. Even Venice at times is a town of dilapidated buildings and ill smelling canals. In like manner we may at times find Boston unfinished, dirty, neglectful of her opportunities; in fact, Boston folk too often feel in this mood towards their surroundings; but should we prefer Chicago? Can the most enthusiastic resident of that vigorous city find anything in its tideless waters, its checquerboard streets, its lack of touch with the past, to create a real affection for the place itself? We envy Chicago its civic spirit, which even now is leading them to make it beautiful with those new lagoons on the lakeside that are finally to give it not only beauty but a character all its own. But Boston is different. If it lacks the civic spirit of Chicago, the future may remedy that deficiency, but the past cannot be taken from it. The city has beauty and character and charm that touch responsive chords within us. We think of Boston as a dearly loved personality and are tenderly fond of the old town. Chicago may spend its millions and make the most of such opportunities as it has; but how much more fortunate we are, for we start with old traditions, old monuments, old streets and hill and valley and salt sea wave and ocean shore.
Possibly these lectures should have dealt more strictly with such relations as architecture has with a civic plan. The exhibitions of city planning may be counted on to do that and to illustrate the subject with showy drawings. Hence it seemed worth while to give more attention to the utilitarian scheme on which a good civic plan must be founded and from which appropriate beauty must grow. At a school of art students are all too likely to think only of the artistic side of things. This is well enough for a painter or a sculptor. They are held by few material bonds. The architect is held by many. It is sometimes a burden to him that he must be guided by business considerations. I t is his glory that he can see visions. But be he a prophet and a seer he is of no good as an architect unless all the while that he dreams he keeps his feet on the solid earth of common sense and utility. If this is so with an architect, it is far more so with a town planner, and that is why these lectures have to a large degree dealt with material things.
There is a sort of beauty wherever there is active, vigorous, manly life and where steam and electricity do the work of mammoths amid the hum of machinery and the bustle of commerce. Such centers of industry are often most picturesque. That sort of beauty we can expect without much forcing. It is true also that many picturesque and beautiful effects are the result of accident. It is true also that by care and vigilance we can expect to get good civic house-keeping and civic conveniences. But besides this a city is wise that has planned for the future with forethought, preparing opportunities not only for economical, practical and healthful conditions, but also for the long hoped for and much to be desired civic center and the handsome street and the picturesque square.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org To Top of Page