James Sturgis Pray

Landscape Architecture (October 1914):5-14

A native of Boston and a graduate of Harvard in 1898, Pray (1871-1929) became an apprentice and assistant in the Olmsted Brothers firm of landscape architects from 1898 to 1903. In 1904 he began his own practice, and in 1906 joined with two colleagues to form the firm of Pray, Hubbard & White that continued until 1918. During these early years, Pray also taught in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard beginning in 1902, first as an assistant, then as an instructor (1903-05) and assistant professor (1905-1915). In 1908 he succeeded Frederick Law Olmsted as Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture. Although Olmsted had included instruction in city planning in his courses, Pray in 1909 inaugurated the first course devoted entirely to this subject, and he let it be known that Harvard offered city planning as a specialization within the landscape architecture degree program. In 1915 he became the Charles Eliot Professor of Landscape Architecture in what two years earlier had become a separate graduate school.

Pray's activities beyond the Harvard walls were numerous and varied. He served as president of the American Society of Landscape Architects from 1915 to 1920, and he helped to establish a fellowship in landscape architecture at the American Academy in Rome. He had a deep interest in nature and the preservation of natural resources, edited the publication of the Massachusetts Forestry Association, became councillor of improvements of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and chaired the committee on forestry and roadside improvement of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Pray's professional memberships included the American Forestry Association, International Garden Cities and Town Planning Association, the British Town Planning Institute, American Civic Association, and the American City Planning Institute of which he was one of the 52 founding members in 1917.

A few months before this article appeared, Professor Pray delivered it as a paper in Auburn, New York at the Fifth Annual Conference of Mayors and Other City Officials of New York State.

To plan or re-plan a city, or any considerable portion of one intelligently, involves an adequate knowledge not only of the principles, the limitations, and the possibilities of good planning as applied in general to cities, but also of a greater or less number of significant local facts. These local facts, while varying with the individual city, may nevertheless all be conveniently included under the following four heads: First, facts of the natural environment, including especially those of climate and topography; second, those of the human and humanized environment, the conditions of social life in the community, including housing conditions, working or industrial conditions, educational and recreational opportunities, transportation facilities, and conditions of public health and safety, this last group clearly over-lapping somewhat the first two--housing and industrial conditions; third, the significant facts as to the existing legislation and form of government, particularly as relates to the carrying out and subsequent maintenance of any planning or re-planning project; and fourth, similarly the significant economic and financial conditions obtaining in the particular community, including its natural resources and its commercial and industrial opportunities, the uses to which its land is put, its land values, its methods and extent of taxation, and in general the sources and amount of its income and the amount and apportionment of its expenditure. The lack of adequate knowledge of these significant fundamental facts and conditions--that is, of local data--or indifference to their vital importance, is perhaps, on the whole, the most common cause of unsuccessful attempts at planning and re-planning cities. Without this knowledge, on the one hand, of the areas involved, their character, present uses, and values, and, on the other hand, of the needs and desires of the people who are to use these areas when replanned, it is clearly impossible to adapt these areas efficiently to the purposes of the people who are to use them. Yet such adaptation is absolutely essential if the city is to be as every ideal city must be--both a good working machine and a beautiful city. We shall never get away from the absurdities of mere paper planning, of artificial and unfunctional arrangements, such as the checker-board or gridiron plan, which has been carried to such extremes in this country, until we develop our city plans carefully, logically, far-seeingly, out of the fundamental local conditions of each individual city.

But it is the familiar experience of all professional men who are called in to advise as to the reorganization of the plan of a city, as it is again and again of city officials like yourselves, that when these data are needed for study in the first step toward creating better conditions, it is very generally found that they have never been collected and made available. Hence, the well-nigh universal prime need of our cities today of systematic surveys--surveys in the broad sense which I have outlined--not only engineers' land and topographic surveys, but also school surveys, recreation surveys, in fact' surveys touching all the important departments of the cities' activities.

To be sure, some exceedingly good work has already been done in certain cities in gathering and making available for convenient reference information within these special parts of the city-planning field. Among American cities which have already made substantial and worthy beginnings along one line or another of municipal surveys, are to be noted New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Lowell, Mass., Jersey City, and Newark, N. J. This, after all, is only a beginning, and we shall indeed be short-sighted if we do not face squarely the inevitable necessity not only of adequate surveys now for present uses, but the need--infinitely more costly to meet--of hereafter keeping these records reasonably up-to-date in all important respects. In most communities, organized public spirit and good team-play will bring to bear much capable voluntary service in a way to reduce greatly the first cost; but, in any case, so costly are such surveys found to be, not only in the first instance, but vastly more in the cumulative price of annual maintenance, that the making and maintaining of a proper municipal survey offers a particularly fruitful field for the development of modern scientific method--in short, the intelligent organization characteristic of modern business wherever conducted on a scale comparable to the administration of a municipal corporation, but, as you know, unhappily by no means yet universally characteristic of the conduct of municipal administration. The most striking and illuminating investigation yet made known of this question of method is that recently made by Mr. E. P. Goodrich and Mr. George B. Ford for the City of Jersey City, N. J. For the details of this method and its advantages, I refer you to a report entitled "Report of Suggested Plan of Procedure, with Addenda Memoranda," submitted for use of the City Plan Commission, issued May 1, 1913 Though, in such a matter, a report of this sort, however thoroughly and effectively it deals with the problem, can never fairly be regarded as the last word on the subject, and though much has been done since this report was published, it would nevertheless seem a wasteful use of your time for me here and now, in the short space of such a paper as this, to discuss details of the best method or methods for making surveys, when this has already been so exceedingly well done and the results published and made available to you all in the above report.

I will therefore, instead, first call attention to specific ways in which local facts under each of the four groups I have spoken of are needed for intelligent planning and, second, speak of certain specific kinds of municipal surveys which have already been or should be made. I will not attempt, under the first, to do more than cite sufficient examples to make clear the vital relation between the local data and the rational plan, and it will of course be understood that in no case are the facts which are actually cited the only facts necessary in the given case; or, in the second, to do more than to show the most important groups of facts brought out by the different kinds of surveys, and indicate in a general way the progress thus far made in such surveys in this country, and in some cases suggest important lines for further extensions of this work.

In the first group of local facts, then, with which municipal surveys are concerned, namely, those of the natural environment, we are familiar in many ways with the importance of the topographic facts. Thus, a reasonably accurate knowledge of the actual topography is frequently required, to avoid undesirable, if not indeed impracticable, gradients in traffic streets,(1) and, again, in order to relate the plans of districts to the topography in such a way as to leave it possible to dispose efficiently and economically of storm water and water-borne wastes from these districts. Indeed, speaking in a general way, the organization of the whole city plan into districts by their dominant functions as manufacturing districts, warehouse and shipping districts, residential districts--involves a knowledge of the larger facts of the topography sufficient for adjusting economically to the topographic units the main highways and railroad lines necessary to be laid out to serve such districts.

In the second group of local facts, including sociological data of all kinds, the facts of the human and the humanized environment, the necessity for abundant knowledge of local conditions can be shown now in an almost endless number of ways. 1 will cite only three. First, we need facts as to what is reasonable both with respect to demand and with respect to supply of air and sunlight in tenement districts and in office districts, as a basis for placing restrictions upon building heights and, in some cases, as a basis for street widening even beyond what is required for adequate traffic roadways. Second, in planning or extending industrial districts, we need some knowledge of the requirements of operation of industrial establishments, particularly knowledge of the needs of the employees with respect to low-cost homes and low-cost transportation facilities. Third, we need adequate figures showing the distribution and character of the population of a city, as a basis for the intelligent locating and designing of any system of public recreation facilities for that city.

In the third group of local facts, those concerning existing legislation and form of government, not only is it important to be informed as to present limiting or permissive legislation with respect to such matters as building heights and set-backs before determining the sizes and shapes of blocks and lots or fixing widths of streets, but such knowledge is often also important as a basis for recommending and seeking to secure improved legislation. Again, a knowledge of the general organization of the government of the particular city is exceedingly important in fixing upon the best agencies for carrying out any planning or re-planning project for that city.

In the fourth group of local facts, those having to do with the economic and financial conditions, it may be pointed out that a knowledge of assessors' valuations of specific areas is often necessary to the reasonable selection of areas to be devoted to particular purposes, and to a just determination of the type of development fitting under all the circumstances; and also that, in financing park projects, a knowledge of the types of occupancy of areas outside the park, but within the range of its influence, is necessary to an equitable apportionment of any betterment assessments which it may be reasonable to levy.

These few examples of the value of local data under these four groups must serve to illustrate their vital necessity in any serious attempt to adapt the area of a city efficiently and beautifully to its highly complex use. I will only add that, though it is the fundamental duty of everyone in responsible relations to the city's plan to lose no opportunity for increasing the city's beauty, and though it is particularly incumbent on my own profession, Landscape Architecture, to do so, I have purposely not included any special group of facts as to existing or possible elements of beauty in the outward aspect of the city (though there are many such facts and they are of immense importance); and, further, I have not even cited a single instance of the importance of such facts; because it cannot be too clearly recognized that, in general, the sort of civic beauty which does not grow out of organization for practical efficiency cannot usually be permanent, and that, on the contrary, a city planned perfectly for its practical purposes, like a sailing vessel so designed, will of necessity possess the highest type of organic beauty, without which all other beauty in the city plan is of little value. With this organic beauty, there is possible an additional beauty deliberately sought of itself, and based on local facts of esthetic importance, which is of incalculable value.

The specific kinds of municipal surveys which have been thus far developed, and, so far as I know, all other kinds that have been or are likely to be urged, are but the means of collecting and making available the above four groups of facts.

Under the first group, the most important surveys are the topographic ones. On these we must primarily depend, not only for our knowledge of the locations, sizes, and shapes of the natural features, but the positions and outlines in plan, and their elevations, at least at the ground surface, with respect to some adopted base, of all important existing man-made structures, including chiefly ways (highways, railroad rights-of-way, etc.), buildings, and minor architectural and engineering structures. It is of the first importance, with these surveys, that we should be able to depend upon a reasonable degree of exactness and completeness. So rapidly and so without guidance have our American cities developed that our records of their ground-plan are still, except in the cases of the largest and most important cities, extraordinarily scant, and even where a plat exists of the street-plan, records of exact gradients are generally lacking. Among the best modern comprehensive topographic surveys of cities, those of New York City and Philadelphia may be noted.

Somewhat closely associated with the ordinary topographic surveys are certain special surveys, important though rarely yet deliberately undertaken, such as surveys showing the number, kinds, and locations of the city's street trees, and surveys to show the locations and extents of areas of special landscape or historic interest calling for careful preservation.

Under the second group fall such surveys as population censuses, and sanitary, housing, school, public-recreation, delinquency and vice, and charity surveys.

The population censuses, sometimes given the ambiguous name of statistical surveys, constitute the commonest type. They should bring out the distribution, including density, the character, including facts of race and age, and the occupations of the population. A good example of one specially prepared for city-planning purposes is that for the City of New Haven, Conn., published as an appendix to the Report of its Civic Improvement Commission, in 1910.

The sanitary or public health surveys should show the extent and character of the supply and the consumption of food (including milk) and water, as well as the supply of good air and sunlight, and the provision of open spaces, in order that these may be adequate; need and opportunities for public baths, and facilities for exercise and recreation; the methods and degree of efficiency of the disposal of wastes; the extent of the dust nuisance, and smoke nuisance, and noise nuisance, and, in special cases, locations and extents of areas infected by special diseases, as tuberculosis and typhoid. A recent example of a sanitary survey is that of Austin, Texas, in 1913

Closely allied to the sanitary is the so-called housing survey. In a single list recently published of housing surveys in the United States, those of twenty-five cities are given, ranging all over the country. A good recent instance is that of the housing survey of Newark, N. J., made by my colleague, Prof. James Ford, which formed one of several special reports to be used as a basis for a comprehensive city plan.

There are already a considerable number of school surveys, notably that of New York City. These, as yet, have dealt mostly with courses of study and administrative aspects. They should, and doubtless soon will, note outdoor opportunities for exercise, for school gardens, and so on, and we are still greatly in need of data on which to base a distribution of schools which shall be on a scientific basis rather than on a fortuitous political one.

Closely related on the playground side to school surveys are public recreation surveys, which, however, embrace the whole field of existing opportunities for both indoor and outdoor recreation, and commercial as well as municipal provisions for such recreation. Among American cities which have already made such surveys are Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Providence, Kansas City, Mo., and Scranton, Pa.

The delinquency and vice surveys have, thus far in this country, been partial rather than comprehensive in character, dealing as a matter of fact most largely, as in the case of that made by the Chicago Vice Commission, with the one subject of the social evil. Among the other subjects dealt with, but needing more universal consideration than it has yet had, is the relation of delinquency to playgrounds and public-recreation facilities in general; and the facts already brought out by some delinquency surveys are most significant in the light they throw on this question.

Charity surveys have not yet gone far, but they are greatly needed, because both the concentration and distribution of charitable institutions and agencies have a bearing upon the functional plan of the city, and their intelligent ordering means a vast direct saving to the community. An example of such a charity survey is that for Newburgh, N. Y., furthered by the Sage Foundation.

Under the third group of municipal surveys fall, so far as there may be any, surveys of legislation according to municipal areas. So far as I know, however, surveys of legislation directly affecting city planning have been topical rather than areal.

Under this group also come surveys of the municipal administration--the city's business methods. The New York City Bureau of Municipal Research has been conducting researches in this special field in many other cities besides New York City, for example, in Atlanta, Ga.

Under the fourth group of municipal surveys, the surveys of economic and financial conditions, as in the case of those under the third group, the work has not yet gone far, at least in American cities. Thus, we have not yet for any American city a wealth and poverty survey (such as is partially included in General Booth's poverty survey of London). Such a survey will be useful, among other ways, in the determination of the reasonable distribution of physical improvements calculated to increase the burden of taxation of those persons affected by the improvements.

Again, industrial and commercial surveys have not yet been fully developed, although many of our cities are urging or beginning them, and chiefly through their Chambers of Commerce, which are admirably fitted in many cases to carry on this work. In the March, 1913 number of The American City it is pointed out that surveys of existing franchises, such as those to public service corporations, are desirable.

It is clear that, as regards this process of systematically accumulating data with regard to the city's activities, we have but made a beginning, though a most worthy beginning, and we are already coming to appreciate that this process of gathering data and arranging such material for convenient reference, an exceedingly costly procedure, is not only necessary for properly informing those persons having to do directly with the development, improvement, or upkeep of the city's plan, but also is of exceeding value to a much greater number of citizens and visitors seeking information for other purposes about particular phases of the city's life; and that to have such information readily obtainable by anyone is of immense benefit directly and indirectly to the community as a whole, and therefore itself goes far to justify the cost of maintenance. Surveys kept up-to-date form a record of a city's history, but particularly they make possible prompt and therefore more efficient and economical action toward the relief or prevention, by reasonably permanent means, of difficult situations; and consequently, as time passes, their possession will distinguish the efficient city from the inefficient city.

1. Mr. Arthur C. Comey, in a recent report for Dover, Delaware, shows how the gridiron plan there has been blindly superposed across a valley in such a fashion as to make the gradients of many of the Streets impracticable for vehicles. 

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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