Richard Schermerhorn, Jr.
Brooklyn Engineers' Club, Proceedings 16 (1912):102-143.Schermerhorn (1877-1962), enjoyed a long and fruitful career as a landscape architect and engineer. A native of Brooklyn, he attended the Polytechnic Preparatory School there in preparation for his further training at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (1888-94) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York (1894-97). After working as an assistant to his father in a civil engineering practice, he joined the office of the Boston landscape architect, Guy Lowell in 1900. From 1903 to 1905 he worked for Charles W. Leavitt, a Boston landscape engineer, and--for a brief time--with Nathan F. Barrett who had planned Pullman, Illinois.As an art and science city planning is today pretty well defined. Up to ten years ago, however, the term bore little significance except in a general way, and if it had been customary, in America, at least, to give serious thought to the subject, little evidence was apparent. Previous to 1900 Washington stood practically alone, as an American city whose street and boulevard system had been properly planned for future growth. During the last decade, however, it is remarkable to note that a host of civic improvement plans have been developed following each other in rapid succession, and representing almost every important city in the United States.
In 1905 he opened his own office in New York City, practicing there until 1958. His commissions included designs for public parks, the grounds of educational institutions, real estate subdivisions, many private estates, country clubs, and cemeteries. He also prepared plans for several towns and cities. These included Newark and Princeton, New Jersey, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Great Neck, Lawrence, Kings Point, North Hempstead, and Huntington in New York State. He served as consulting landscape architect to the Hudson River Conservation Society, lectured at Columbia University during the years 1935-39, and wrote many articles on landscape design.
Schermerhorn served in the engineering section of the U.S. Army Sanitary Crops during World War I, and at the end of that conflict was attached to the American Commission to Negotiate Peace as a member of the engineering staff. During the Second World War he was landscape architect and planner for the army at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, and he was consulting architect for the defense housing projects in Bound Brook, New Jersey. His memberships include the American Society of Landscape Architects as a Fellow, the American Society of Civil Engineers, American City Planning Institute, National Conference on City Planning, National Conference on State Parks, and several historical and genealogical societies.
This paper, delivered when Schermerhorn was 35, is a valuable summary of what several cities had accomplished or attempted in their planning programs. Early in his presentation the author carefully distinguishes the differences between the "City Beautiful" approach from the goal of creating the "City Practical." He added "If the City Practical is first realized there is no doubt that the City Beautiful will follow as a matter of course. The latter will require only a perfection of detail the way for which is readily paved by the former."
To analyze the situation and determine the cause for haphazard and ragged growth of the American city is very simple. Cities were originally located according to their waterways and other transportation facilities, or their proximity to physical resources of value. The commercial instinct has naturally been a dominant factor in the cities' early struggle against the many contending elements, and it is little wonder that our early citizens gave their first thought to maintenance and left matters of appearance and often convenience to take care of themselves. So the real civic improvements were necessarily made from time to time as exigency required, and the future was left to work itself out. During the past century much wealth and large fortunes have been acquired and the cities themselves have realized that their debt limit was growing. Now the time has arrived when money expended on the appearance of things is considered worth while and even practical, and matters of art education and art development are no longer thought of passing moment. Thus the cry of "City Beautiful" has arisen. Certainly it has been, along with the actual needs of a city, a large influence in the remaking of cities. A pleasing incentive has been created. Travel in Europe, now much more general than heretofore, has shown Americans what the European cities possess that is lacking in this country. So there have been two different forces at work to further the interests of city planning.
At this moment, however, it is best carefully to recognize the relative importance of City Beautiful and City Practical. By all means should City Practical come first. Before anything else is done the main structure of the city must be correct. Of first importance is the general subdivision of streets, parks and open spaces. The street system should be developed so that free access is gained to all parts of the city. The main highways which are usually the original ones should be of suitable width and consistent direction. In fact, all streets should be of such width and material as to bear due relation to direction and amount of traffic. The small parks and open spaces should be frequent enough to offer free circulation where there are changes of direction in thoroughfares and important street intersections.
The public buildings and even the commercial structures should be so grouped as to promote convenience in their use. The parks and boulevards should be connected and distinctly related to each other, and natural locations for them should be reserved ahead, and not cast aside or given over to enterprises which would be just as well suited elsewhere. The main approaches to the city should be logically developed and so connected to the general plan that they may serve their purpose efficiently. The foregoing are the first principles of city planning, and without their consideration the City Beautiful cannot develop unless one is satisfied that City Beautiful represents scattering examples of decorative architecture, attractive sculpture and imposing monuments. If the City Practical is first realized there is no doubt that the City Beautiful will follow as a matter of course. The latter will require only a perfection of detail the way for which is readily paved by the former.
By assuming that one incentive for desiring improvement in American cities has arisen from the notice and appreciation of what makes European cities beautiful, it is pertinent to consider just what it is that Europe has to exhibit in this connection, and to examine the sources from which certain inspiration of American city planners has sprung. Unquestionably Paris is the most attractive of all. Parisians are naturally artistic and take great pride in their city, always watchful that no other city supersede theirs in beauty. Their civic centers and public building groups are world famous.
Paris took the most serious concerted steps in actual city planning shortly after the Revolution. They had a much more difficult problem than that of ally American city as they had tile results of ages to remedy. Shortly after the Revolution a "Commission des Artistes" was formed. There seemed to be greater opportunity then shall at any time previous, to formulate a fixed plan for improvement, and this commission gave considerable attention to the replanning of the city .
Napoleon Bonaparte also was responsible for a considerable amount of progress along these lines, but the greatest amount of work was done under Louis Napoleon, who came into power in 1848 The vital figure in the whole reorganization, however, was Baron Haussman[n], who was appointed Prefet de la Seine in 1853, and who produced a plan for remodeling the entire city. His was a distinctly formal layout, although his designs did not attempt to include a wholly architectural balancing of parts. He devised numerous diagonal boulevards, but was not averse to giving them occasional changes of direction He endeavored to provide for removing or at least opening Up the slum districts of the city, but did not necessarily destroy well developed sections of the city merely to gain symmetry of plan. He gave particular attention to open spaces at principal street intersections and thus have developed the wonderful civic centers. Traffic considerations were given prime importance and were not sacrificed for effects of beauty. Between 1850 and 1870 it is said $250000000 was e expended for a new Paris. There are still features in Haussman's plan yet to be carried out. Haussman was neither engineer nor architect, but a lawyer, endowed, however, with an artistic temperament. There has been much recent interest in town planning (as they call it) in England. There is an English magazine devoted exclusively to the subject, and courses of study on town planning have been developed in certain English universities. The English cities have badly needed attention in these matters, like the cities of America. One reason for this is, that the English people are more of a practical turn of mind than esthetic. But they are also realizing that utility and beauty often walk side by side. Almost every English city has its Town Planning Association. and much has been accomplished London has many such associations. The most remarkable achievement in England in recent years along these lines is illustrated in the new King's Highway, a new diagonal street built through the most crowded section of London which caused the destruction of an enormous amount of property. This improvement cost thirty million dollars, but it is claimed no eventual expense will be borne by taxpayers, as the authorities acquired enough adjacent property to pay for this work through the increased property values subsequently realized.
Of all European countries Germany has probably given the most study to city planning. Here it is treated almost as an exact science, and their improvements are all based upon logical deductions. The proposition is viewed first as embodying two separate divisions: (1) what is necessary in improving old sections of the city, and (2) what governs the development of new or suburban areas. The basis of all general plans is the topographical formation of the country and a very important preliminary to the new city plan is the topographical survey, which shows all existing features, natural and built-up. The survey map shows evidences of the distribution of population, size and character of buildings in different sections,sanitary conditions,and where future development will probably occur. No city plan project is further considered complete unless it is accompanied by the entire code of building laws, tax regulations, health requirements and police organization. The data also are given in evidence: (1) Traffic conditions in principal sections; (2) railroad timetables; (3) fares to other centers of traffic; (4) receipts and expenditures of tramways in comparison with mileage; (5) recent street building methods; (6) tramways and their construction (7) compilation of means of supplying city with food; (8) growth of town between certain periods; (9) industrial development according to trades; (10) harbor traffic between certain periods; (11) railroad goods traffic; (12) density of houses as compared to other large cities; (13) average rent in certain areas; (14) division of buildings according to size; (15) direction of wind, etc. Most of the above data is taken from a specific case but the same careful detail is characteristic of all German city improvement plans.
Germany pays strict attention to the practical end of the improvements. Great care is also used in preserving the individuality of the city. Formal design is by no means given full sway. Streets and sections under improvement are allowed as much latitude as possible in retaining their original features. Places of historic interest are preserved as far as possible. Straight diagonal boulevards are not conceded to be of vital importance. Main highways, though maintaining a logical course, are often curved, as is much of the street layout, or at least given occasional changes in direction. It is claimed that public buildings or groups are often rendered more attractive when off at one side of main boulevards, instead of at the end of a long vista, the element of surprise and the view from varying angles and distances when encountering them being considered a particularly agreeable feature. The round points at street intersections, so evident in Paris and similarly in Washington, are not regarded as being wholly satisfactory for traffic requirements, especially when central features obstruct a direct course of travel. Greater picturesqueness is claimed for the rambling streets, and these streets certainly lend many opportunities for the display of attractive structures.
These are the general principles of German city planning, and if one considers them carefully he may agree they are well worthy of notice. Practical results are derived from them and beauty follows. Germany has progressed rapidly in this movement. The Emperor is keenly interested in it, and this alone signifies the practicality of it all. Perhaps it may have something to do with Germany's wonderful rise in power during recent years Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Mannheim, Hamburg and many other German cities have furnished much inspiration to American city Planners. They are well worth studying
Very likely it is the civic centers, boulevards and delightful water fronts of European cities which furnish the center of attraction. Vienna, Rome, Budapest, Florence, Bruges, Palermo and St. Petersburg are but a few cities containing such features, which Americans must do well not to envy. Most of these cities, at some time or other, have undergone lavish expenditures for welfare and beauty. It is to be hoped that the wealth of America is at last to be put to a similar purpose. Very few of the old American cities which are in the metropolitan class today were laid out to, a plan which provided for future growth. In the pioneer days, the center of inhabited communities was the stockade, consisting usually of a rectangular space enclosed by a palisade or rudely constructed log fortress. Within this, economy of space being necessary, the streets, dwellings and outbuildings were laid out with some definite regularity of spacing, for convenience, and to these enclosures the occupants of outlying farms would retreat in times of danger. Many of our largest cities have arisen from such conditions. there were a few of the early cities, however, that were laid out with some forethought. Among these were Philadelphia, Buffalo and Savannah, as well as Washington. Philadelphia was designed by William Penn, according to the now stereotyped gridiron system. Some say he looked with disdain upon Manhattan's rambling lanes and Boston's improved cow-paths, and resolved to get something different, and what he though better. Buffalo was laid out in anticipation of a large city by a Holland land company, which employed Joseph Ellicott, an engineer who assisted General Washington and L'Enfant on the Capitol plan. After Detroit was burned in 1805, an entire new plan was made which provided for future growth.
Savannah was planned at an early date with streets running parallel to the river, some of them being of considerable width, thus facilitating the later development of parkways and open spaces. Several industrial cities have been laid out in entirety during the past ten years, some well designed and others not. In Gary Ind., the famous steel city, it was a matter of hustle and bustle and minimum first cost, and though they got regularity, they got little else. In Zion City, Dowie's dominion, however. a different result was reached. Much careful study and forethought was given to the plan, and certainly a worthy outcome resulted. As time progresses the improvement in plan of these new industrial cities, many of which are springing up, is certainly becoming evident.
The first real move in civic improvement in this country was made in 1901, when a commission consisting of F. L. Olmsted, Jr., D. H. Burnham and Augustus St. Gaudens was appointed to make a thorough study of the city of Washington and submit .suggestions for the improvement of the city plan. The original plan of the city, prepared by Major Pierre L'Enfant, a French engineer, under the direction of George Washington, had not been properly adhered to; in fact, certain sections of the city had developed more or less in opposition to tile intent of L'Enfant. After lengthy study and travel in Europe, tile commission finally turned in a report, advising strict adherence to the original layout, changes being in detail only. When this plan was made, the entire population of the United States was about four and one-half millions, but George Washington's and L'Enfant's foresight rendered it entirely feasible for the present population of the country, which is now about twenty-five times as large.
HARRISBURG.--Harrisburg was the next city to take up radical steps for comprehensive improvement. In November, 1901, money was raised to employ experts for parks, sewers and pavements. Warren H. Manning was the landscape architect employed for the park work, and his plan took in many improvement features for the city in general In 1909 the city's debt limit was increased $1 190000, to procure the necessary improvements, and later loans of $l, 143 000 were negotiated for continuing the work. Since then work has progressed along the lines originally planned. No entire city plan was adopted, but the park system was developed from 45 acres in 1901 to 749 at present. A river front improvement is in progress and well paved streets and satisfactory sanitary conditions have also been procured.
CLEVELAND--In the early 1900s Cleveland was confronted with the necessity of providing several new public buildings. A commission was appointed, consisting of D. H. Burnham, A. W. Brunner and J. M. Carrere, all architects, to plan a civic center to include the new buildings. On August 17, 1903, this commission turned in its report and plans. The buildings concerned were the post office, county court house, library and city hall, authorization for the first three having been granted. The existing railway terminal was included in the design. The post office and library were placed at the end of a great mall, the railway station at the north and on the east and west, the court house and city hall. Future public buildings will also be placed on either side of the mall. On the south end of the mall fountains and monuments were planned, a monumental colonnade screening the railroad yard below. This Cleveland plan is known throughout the world and it is particularly noteworthy because results have really been obtained. The total cost is to be. twenty-five million dollars. The city has purchased 80 per cent. of the land, the federal building and the county court house are completed and the city hall under way.
SAN FRANCISCO--San Francisco's plan of improvement was conceived in 1904, two years before the fire, and D. H. Burnham was employed to revise the city's layout. In his plan the old streets were used in most cases, although widened, and a few diagonals and winding roadways planned. Three great Thoroughfares
were to meet at one point in the central part of the city. Three concentric circular boulevards traversed the outer circumference of the city, the outer enclosing the city, the intermediate connecting the parks, and the inner about the civic center. A new boulevard was proposed to take in the entire water front, and the hill section of the city was made more easily accessible by parkways leading to it. Little was ever done on this very interesting plan. The fire gave opportunity for the immediate planning of the civic center and a few of the diagonal roadways, but only a small section covered by the plan of improvement had been burned, and need of immediate action in the direction of the least resistance seemed to offer only one solution--to build again on old lines instead of new.
DETROIT.--In 1904, experts were employed by Detroit to give attention to various street and boulevard changes and to recommend proper procedure for improving the water front. F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and C. M. Robinson reported on this question. I have no report at present showing what has been accomplished.
MANILA.--In June, 1905, D. H. Burnham submitted to the Secretary of War a report on the improvement of Manila. Since American possession the town had developed rapidly and living and sanitary conditions had never been good. A wide boulevard (250 ft.), with parking spaces, was planned extending along the entire border of the water front. The "Luneta" (a tract of land projecting into the bay) then occupied by the Government group, is shown on the plan replaced by an entirely new Luneta of the same size and shape, moved 100 ft. further out in the bay, thus giving it a more commanding outlook and also helping to form a new park near the center of the town. Parks were located in convenient sections and, connected by boulevards were made accessible to all city centers. The street district of the old city was unchanged, but in the outskirts plans were made to suit topographical conditions and to develop the greatest amount of picturesqueness. Diagonal streets were laid out to allow ready access between different sections of the city, but except for these the rectangular block system prevailed. The Government buildings were all grouped in a single mass, thus lending additional dignity to their appearance and greater convenience to their use. There is much detail in the report, and the subject was evidently gone into with the greatest care. Since this report was presented, a new Manila has sprung up. Vast improvements have been undergone,; and while not in all cases adhering strictly to Burnham's plan, his intent has been generally followed. The harbors have been greatly improved and the extension of the Luneta was completed in June, 1907.
BALTIMORE.--Baltimore has undergone many changes during the past ten years. In 1902 Olmsted Bros. were employed to prepare a plan for anew park system, and their plan has been since then adhered to. On Jan. 20, 1906, J. M. Carrere, F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and A. W. Brunner were employed to prepare a plan for improvements to the city in general, which plan was presented several years later. The principal feature of this plan consisted of a civic center and boulevard treatment at Jones' Falls. This includes a public building group around a large mall, similar to that of Cleveland, with the railway station forming a component part of the group, thus bringing the main approach to the city exactly at what might be called the city's front door. This work is under way. Since the fire, many other improvements were naturally instituted. Many streets were widened and the water front given particular attention, the narrow streets facing the harbor being widened to 120 ft. The estimated cost of improvements, proposed and executed, as outlined several years ago, was as follows: Parks, $3,000,000; docks, $5,000,000; sewers, $10,000,000; pavements and schools, $5,000,000.
DENVER.--In 1905, C. M. Robinson made a report on the improvement of Denver, in which a grand esplanade was projected, to cost $3,000,000, to open up to view the State Capitol, putting it in definite relation with the neighboring street system, the existing streets being at right angles to the main axis of the Capitol Building. It is understood much of this work has been under way for some time.
KANSAS CITY.--For many years Kansas City has been at work on its park system, which really comprises an extensive city improvement as well. There are now 2,000 ares of parks and 79 miles of boulevards. This system is said to be one of the finest in the country. A total expenditure of $10,000,000 was involved, but no city bonds were issued for this improvement, the entire cost of the work being assessed upon owners of bordering property, which increased in value 325 per cent. George A. Kessler, landscape architect, was the principal figure in the planning and carrying out of this work.
ST. LOUIS.--In January, 1907, St. Louis came forward with a very elaborate plan for general civic improvement. A public building group was the important feature of the plan. These buildings consisted of a court house, jail, police headquarters, health department building and library, all immediately needed. Other structures, such as a law library, executive building, fire department and engine house, which were included in the plan, were prospective only. The present city hall is also included in the scheme. Boulevards were planned connecting all of the existing parks, and several new parks proposed. A broad plaza was suggested along the river front, with railway tracks and stations underneath and a warehouse fronting it. No particular change in the street layout was recommended. one of the principal new boulevards proposed is the King's Highway, the construction of which is at present progressing very rapidly, much of it having already been completed. Several of the proposed small parks and playgrounds have been completed and four of the civic centers have been developed. Nothing has been done on the larger projects. The estimated cost of the entire improvement is about $25,000,000.
BOSTON.--Boston's beautiful series of parks and parkways is well known, but the city has been growing up wrong in other ways, and the people have been realizing it. In December, 19806, the Boston Society of Architects prepared a report accompanied by many plans for general improvement. It called attention to the vast areas of unused space in the heart of the city, and cutting off different sections from each other. The report advised improvements to remedy this situation and several plans were suggested. An inner and outer boulevard were also proposed, consisting in part of existing streets, connected by new streets to supply the missing links. The development of the Charles River was suggested, the scheme to include the building of an island, this intended to shorten the spans of two proposed bridges to Cambridge and offer sites for imposing buildings. Great emphasis was laid upon the need of a thorough system of canals and inland waterways about Boston and also the improvement of the harbor and dock system. As a matter of fact, a new harbor line was established in 1909 and $3,000,000 was appropriated for dredging and improving the East Boston water front. New piers have been built costing $400,000 and work begun to increase the harbor facilities to such an extent that Boston can easily hold its own as second ocean port in the country.
PHILADELPHIA.--Philadelphia has few parks and open spaces in the main part of the city. Penn's original plan provided for occasional squares and small parks, but these were ignored when the city was laid out. One of the most far-reaching of recently contemplated improvements is a wide parkway to extend from the city hall to Fairmount Park through a very thickly built-up section of the city. The city hall has suffered from lack of proper setting, and there have been no diagonal thoroughfares. The parkway will be 160 ft. wide and perfectly straight throughout. Where it connects with Fairmount Park will be a square 700 x 500 ft., which is to be surrounded by art educational buildings. A considerable amount of property was purchased by the city along the original route, but the latter has been changed, and thus whatever progress was anticipated has been practically blocked.
CINCINNATI.--Four or five years ago, Cincinnati appropriated $15,000 for preparing a plan for new parks and boulevards, and engaged George A. Kessler. The resulting plan showed a treatment covering much of the city in general. The business district of the city is on a much lower level than the residential section, and the avenues of communication between them has been insufficient. The first step was the improvement of the Miami and Erie Canal, which passes through the city. Land was to be acquired adjacent to this for a parkway, 150 ft. wide, to traverse this section. The improvement of the barren and unattractive hillsides surrounding the city was next in importance and plans were rendered for this. In the centre of the city a mall 425 x 2,500 ft. was projected, to provide for the proper future development of the business district, and a public building group was located thereon. Practically all attention was given to the problems within the built-up section of the city, although park problems were given prime importance. In January, 1911, the park area being 590 acres, a bond issue of $1,000,000 was voted, of which $750,000 was expended in adding about 1,000 acres. The balance will be spent during the present year to improve this property. In the Fall it is expected an additional bond issue of $2,500,000 will be voted upon. This summer it is expected that work will be commenced on the 2 1/2-mile parkway, the first one to be owned by the city.
ST. PAUL.--In February, 1906, a committee was appointed to prepare a plan for suitable approaches to the very beautiful Capitol building of St. Paul, then of recent construction. The distinctive features of this report consisted of a plaza and three wide boulevards approaching the Capitol on diagonal lines and opening up the intervening section of the city. The approaches or malls were of widths 300, 180 and 100 ft., and of lengths 1,500, 3,800, and 3,200 ft. It was estimated the property to be acquired for these improvements would cost $2,000,000. In 1907 the Legislature passed a law authorizing the city to issue $1,000,000 in bonds to carry out this work. At the same time the Legislature appropriated $150,000 and two years later an additional $150,000 for the same purpose and with these funds, property has been purchased adjacent to the Capitol; this with the idea of carrying out the plaza scheme. This is as far as the work has gone up to the present. A year ago, however, John Nolen, landscape architect, was employed to report on conditions governing improvements in the general city plan. This report has been presented, but it is not known further just what has been done.
COLUMBUS.--In 1904 the mayor of Columbus appointed a committee to investigate the project of an improved park system. The commission of experts engaged also took up the study of streets and boulevards. The principal task seemed to be to combine the particular needs of the city, which were very divergent, Columbus being a manufacturing as well as a Capitol city. The state house was chosen for a civic center, from which diagonal boulevards were planned leading to the outer limits, there connecting with the park system. A wide approach or mall extending from the river to the Capitol was planned, the McKinley statue being the predominant feature, and on each side of the Capitol a square surrounded with public buildings. A wide parkway encircling the city at a radius of three miles from the civic center was planned. Four large parks were also provided within the three-mile radius, all linked together by parkways. The commission consisted of A. W. Lord, architect; C. N. Lowrie, landscape architect; Albert Kelsey, architect; H. A. McNeil, sculptor, and C. M. Robinson, civic advisor. It is not reported what has been accomplished as a result of these plans.
CHICAGO.--The Chicago plan was been much talked of recently. This was presented to the public several years ago and its author was D. H. Burnham. There is much detail in this plan, and for brevity, it will be merely outlined. In the first place a broad civic center was laid out in the heart of the business district. An immense municipal building is the predominating feature. Wide parkways and boulevards extend, as shown, from this civic center to the suburbs. Out in Lake Michigan, some distance from the shore, other parkways were laid out, formed by the filling in of those places with the city's refuse. Between these parkways and the shore, lagoons will be developed, principally to be used for recreation purposes. A circular harbor, of imposing dimensions, was planned at a point about midway in the course of the water boulevard, which will constitute the actual gateway of the city. Burnham's plan for Chicago is certainly one of the most ideal that has been created. The cost will be huge, but Chicago people are taking it seriously and maybe results will come.
PITTSBURG.--Pittsburg has one of the most recent of city plan reports. This was adopted by the Pittsburg civic commission in December, 1910, and was prepared by F. L. Olmsted, Jr. The city is of wedge-like form, enclosed between the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, and the business district is at the apex of the wedge, thus of narrow dimension. The surrounding hills are too steep for convenient transportation, thus forming a barrier between the business district and the principal sections suitable for residence purposes, the only outlets to the latter being over bridges and through gaps in the hills, of which there are three.
The business section, called the Point District, is practically the heart of the city, and the first problem consisted in the enlargement of the eastward course of travel out of the district, to those sections of most active growth. The city streets were unusually narrow. Olmsted provided for widening and improving many of these, selecting those where bordering property is not yet extensively developed. Probably the most interesting feature of the whole improvement is the civic center. In casting about for a site for this, Olmsted found a location which had never occurred to anyone else. He proposed to roof over the space covered by the Wabash railway yard, now an objectionable feature, extending the roof until it cut directly into the bluff adjoining it. The square is to be laid out with gardens and parking spaces, and along the east side of the square, in a formation of gradually rising terraces, is planned the approach to the South Hills Bridge. This bridge would provide a highway for general traffic out of the business district, connecting with a tunnel through the large bluff on this side of the city, then leading to the suburban district, which is now susceptible to much greater development, but is held back because general traffic conditions, except trolley service, are very poor.
On the east side of the square, the principal municipal building may be located, terraced into the hillside and forming a commanding feature in the whole town. The square would also include the existing county jail and court house, and two other new buildings, one on the north and the other on the south. An important water front improvement was also proposed, consisting of a wide avenue, with an outer sidewalk and tree-shaded promenade. The whole subject of this Pittsburg improvement seems to have been carefully studied. It is too early for any of the work to have obtained much of a start.
The city plans thus discussed are by no means all which have been brought forward within the past decade, nor do they include all the important ones. Milwaukee has been working on the problem since 1907 (with F. L. Olmsted, Jr., and John Nolen as experts), and has planned large park improvements, a civic center and diagonal boulevards.
Memphis has nearly completed what is quoted as being one of the best park systems in the country. The city has at present 1,200 acres of parks, which cost in purchase price and improvement $750,000. George E. Kessler was the landscape architect in charge of this work.
Rochester has done much in recent years to improve its park system and river front. In ten years it has increased in population 34 per cent. to its rival Buffalo's 20 per cent. (and Rochester has twice as much park area as Buffalo), though some years ago the reverse could be said.
Grand Rapids has expended great efforts for a new city plan and general improvements. J. M. Carrere was employed to prepare this plan. The report treats principally for a civic center, a river front improvement and parks. Grand Rapids' plan to interest people in these improvements is interesting. In the first place, a committee of 100 was formed, which was divided into thirty-five sub-committees, each representing a business or profession. When civic issues came up, each sub-committee met and apportioned men in their respective trades or professions among themselves. Circulars were prepared stating the situation and the one hundred went to every business house and every employer and secured a pledge to vote for the improvements and ask each employee to do likewise.
Des Moines also has distinctive plans for improvements. Three beautiful bridges across the river have been planned and it is proposed to line the bank on both sides with public buildings. A library and post office have already been built and located according to the accepted plan. A belt boulevard is also being built around the outer limits of the city to connect a chain of parks.
Colorado Springs has also had plans prepared for civic improvement.
Wilkes-Barre not only had plans in 1906-7 for parks, parkways and improvement of the River Common, but considerable work has been done, especially in adding to its park areas and enlarging the river bank.
Seattle probably undertook the most unique improvement of all. It was a city built on many hills and the city's growth seemed to demand that a more consistent development be provided for. It was thus planned to level 34,000,000 cu. yd. or earth composing these hills and bring the city to a common level. Most of this work has been actually accomplished. Instead of using shovel and scraper, which would have brought the cost to about #34,000,000 a plan was developed to wash the hills away, by water sucked out of the bay, so applied to the hillsides as to carry the earth away hydraulically, depositing it on the mud flats in the southern section of the city, where new land would be created and new streets laid out. In July, 1910, half of this work had been completed at a cost of $6,000,000.
BROOKLYN.--Brooklyn has never had any plans for civic improvement that were worth much. There have been several disjointed schemes for betterment, arising from time to time and from various sources, but they have not been worked out on a proper basis. Too much is generally taken for granted, and the vital facts and figures, such as present and future property values, distribution of population and traffic, the law governing the case, a reasonable estimate of cost, the effect of this improvement on other parts of the city, the future of the city itself, are only given scant attention. The study has been too superficial and individual. Brooklyn has one of the most contorted street systems in the country, and the improvement of an individual section of such a city should necessarily be referred to its effect on a carefully studied plan of the whole. This plan for the whole of Brooklyn is now about to be realized. Certainly the wisest thing to do now is to strike out all these various older schemes and begin all over again. Perhaps some of the ideas may prove good and be fitted into the final plan, but for the present it is undoubtedly best to suspect action on anything which calls for a radical change in Brooklyn's plan until it is known how these proposed changes are going to affect the plan as a whole.
Two years ago at the annual banquet of the Brooklyn Engineers' Club, the Honorable Alfred T. White took the first stand for a new city plan. Developments have been slow, and it is only recently a real start was made. It is now well known that D. H. Burnham, of Chicago, has been employed by a citizens' committee to formulate this plan.
The vital requirements of the new city plan are very evident. The complex system of streets so formed by the joining together of many small towns and villages, has always been a drawback. Practicality in improvement then is the first issue, and each step should be considered with due reference to all related conditions. The gates of the city should be one of the early considerations. These are in some cases the bridges, in others the highways to suburban Long Island, and in others the present and future subway terminals. Connect these properly to the general city plan. Then provide for the executive center--the public buildings. The present Borough Hall Square will undoubtedly be selected. There seems to be sufficient general evidence to confirm this as the best location for the principal public buildings of the future. But the general development of this section should not be fully decided upon until it can be fitted into the new city plan.
Next to consider is the main skeleton of the street system. This naturally should compose the old much-traveled thoroughfares which join sections of greatest importance. These should be properly developed and connected. Then comes the street system in detail. There should be enough diagonal or irregular highways to give access to all districts. The new streets and the old ones should be made wide enough and they should be so constructed as to be fit for present and future traffic conditions. If the building of these diagonal streets in the crowded sections must be delayed on account of heavy expense, it may at least be planned to build parts of them in the suburban districts where property values are less. It certainly is also desirable to preserve as many of the old landmarks as possible. These should not be ruthlessly destroyed merely to create some possible architectural symmetry of plan.
There should be many parks, play grounds and open spaces, and they should be freely connected. Parks, and parkways increase property values and help raise the standard of proper living. Few citizens at present derive any benefit from the water front. This should be made generally accessible by convenient approaches, and parkways and recreation grounds established along the shore. Plans should also be made for a decent development of the pleasure resorts, and the present seaside slums entirely wiped out. If all these matters are properly attended to then, come what will, there will follow enough beauty and civic art for all.
The oldest citizen of Brooklyn may find parts of the map of Brooklyn unfamiliar to him. No individual is competent to grasp the entire needs of such a city as Brooklyn.
It will thus be particularly difficult for one who has resided elsewhere to arrive at the best results in the city plan without concerted aid from Brooklynites as a whole. They alone know the pulse of the city and are the judges of the practical necessities at least. The different communities of Brooklyn should combine in the interests of this work, particularly in matters of procuring proper legislation for the authority to bring accomplishments to pass. Grand Rapids has furnished a good example of how this can be done. Study Germany's methods also and then realize how much of the practical enters into this city planning. Try at the same time to grasp the spirit of George Washington and Pierre L'Enfant and appreciate their foresight in anticipating the Capitol's future; this will be conducive to big ideas. Brooklyn wants big ideas, but it does not want to suffer for years because the ideal has been beyond reach. Those American cities that have made actual progress in civic improvement are those whose ideas, large or limited, have been confined to possibilities. The possibilities of what can be done in Brooklyn's case, then, has much to do with what the plan should be, and this is where the main problem will lie.
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 To Homepage