Town Planning Division, United States Housing Corporation.

U. S. Department Of Labor. Bureau Of Industrial Housing And Transportation. United States Housing Corporation, Report of the United States Housing Corporation, December 3, 1918. (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1919), Appendix Ix, dated August 26, 1918.

After the United States declared war on Germany in April, 1917 two federal agencies were created to build housing for workers near war-related industries and shipyards. The United States Housing Corporation was responsible for a large number of these projects. Although some were small and consisted of a few dozen dwellings, others were larger and some approached the dimensions of new towns. Many of the country's city planners and landscape architects were employed by USHC to prepare the site designs and were identified as "town planners."

For their guidance the suggestions below set forth recommended principles and standards. They reflect the prevailing knowledge and beliefs of American city planners, modified no doubt by studies that had been made by the American Institute of Architects of the somewhat earlier wartime housing projects constructed in Britain. They are of interest also as presumably the first time an agency of the Federal Government reviewed and adopted standards and norms for this field of endeavor. Readers will note that the "suggestions" avoid a choice of best or ideal city plans. Preseumably, all discussions of this matter would take place during an administrative and technical review of the planner's preliminary design.

This is a document, therefore, that focuses on principles of design and--most of all--on numerical standards that the designer should follow. In this, the most recent of the documents in this collection, one can see the beginnings of bureaucratic dominance of planning. That stage is reached when the administrator becomes more important that the creative designer, or at least, has the final word in reaching the ultimate decision. the creative designer.

NOTE.--Many of the preliminary points suggested herein will have been already considered by the investigators and the staff of the United States Housing Corporation (see Instructions to Investigators). Records of this consideration are available to the designers, usually in digested and tabulated form, but in most cases this consideration has been carried only far enough to determine tentatively the choice of site, the general type of development, and the amount of appropriation.

It is the duty of the designers to inform themselves further, wherever necessary, by investigation on the ground, on all matters bearing on the design, and to report the fact to the corporation at once if in any important respect the designers' conclusions, in the light of their more detailed information, differ from those of the corporation.

Maps of the property.--As a basis for town planning design the following maps will be necessary:

A. For the making of a contract for the acquisition of the property by the corporation, it will be necessary to have maps showing the boundaries of the land, and its relation to surrounding property and streets, with sufficient accuracy to identify the property.

B. For final acquisition there must be maps showing the outside boundaries of the property with accurate dimensions and angles or bearings, the total area, proper description of the bound stones or other landmarks, and designation of the abutting properties. (See Instructions to Surveyors for the Preparation of Boundary Surveys.)

C. For design in general layout and for construction work, topographic maps will be necessary. (See Instructions to Surveyors for the Preparation of Topographic Maps.)

"A" will sometimes be procured by the investigating committee before the designers begin their work. "B" and "C," and "A" if not already provided, are to be furnished by a surveyor reporting to the engineer or to the town planner, as the corporation may direct. The degree of detail, etc., will be determined by the engineer or the town planner, as the case may be, under the direction of the corporation. It is essential that these maps be begun at the earliest possible moment, and pushed with the greatest speed consistent with sufficient accuracy.

Type or types of development.--These will depend on the type of labor which must be housed in order to provide a balanced working force where now there is a labor shortage. They will depend on (1) the wages earned by each group of workers, (2) their nationality, race, and customs, (3) the local customs as to building, what kind of construction is cheapest locally to construct and maintain, what the local contractors are used to doing, and especially what kinds of houses and lots the local market will absorb, particularly what kinds will be salable after the war without producing bad living conditions. (See also Districting, later.)

Completeness of development.--The people housed must be able in some way to obtain all the necessary facilities for effective self-respecting living and work. In so far as these facilities are already provided by the community in which the new housing is being placed, and are sufficient in kind and amount and accessible from the new housing, these facilities should be accepted and the design related to them as far as may be necessary. If some of these facilities are lacking, steps must be taken to assure their provision, so that when the houses are ready for occupancy, the schools, playgrounds, amusements, stores, etc., shall also be ready in reasonably sufficient amount and reasonably accessible. How are these are to be provided by the city of other local body, how far they are to be provided by the United States Housing Corporation, and how far, if provided by the latter, their cost is to be apportioned as a capital charge against the houses and lots, so raising the purchase price or the rental required to meet the cost of each dwelling, will be ascertained or determined in each case by the corporation,

Cost of development.--The total cost of the development is fixed by the appropriation made by the corporation. Fifteen per cent of this appropriation is set aside by the corporation to cover designers' fees and expenses, bureau overhead, and contingencies. The number of houses is roughly determined at the same time, in the light of the corporation's decision as to what types of people are to be housed, and the knowledge of the corporation as to the cost of houses of the appropriate types.

The devising of a kind of development of land, utilities, and buildings, such that the people shall be properly accommodated at the least possible total cost per family, is the task of the committee of designers.

Test estimate of cost, based on preliminary plans.--Costs of land and development per family housed may be divided into the following classes: (1) Those costs which depend on total size of lot, e.g., cost of land, of clearing the ground, etc.; (2) costs of those facilities which, while provided only in certain locations in the development, are for the general benefit and so should be assessed in some equitable way upon every family, e.g., cost of playgrounds, sewage treatment works, water main leading to the whole development, sewage or water pumps, etc.; (3) those costs which vary largely with the total length of streets of the frontage of lots, e. g., cost of land devoted to streets, cost of water mains, sewers, and gas pipes in streets, street paving, sidewalks, etc.; (4) those costs which vary with the number of lots, and depend on the size, shape, and arrangement of the house and lot, e. g., houses, water, sewer and gas connections to houses, walks to front and back of houses, side-line fences, lot planting, etc.

It is plain that the worth of a general-layout plan can be determined intelligently only in the light of some estimate of cost.

It is suggested that, in estimating preliminary sketches of general layout, the various items of cost be figured with such accuracy as is at the time possible and advisable, grouped in the following classes: (1) Items calculated per acre of land in lots, in streets, etc. (2) Items calculated as separate units, chargeable to the whole development. (3) Items calculated per linear foot of streets (counting each intersection only once). (4) Items calculated per house lot (indicating assumed normal lot sizes).

In case of semidetached houses each half of the double house and double lot is reckoned as one house and lot, and similarly for row houses.

When this has been done, the quantities on a preliminary plan need to be estimated only to the extent of showing the total area of land, the length on center-line of streets of each kind, and the number of house lots of each kind. With the above data it is possible roughly to figure the total cost of the proposed scheme.

Such rough estimates of alternative studies should be preserved, for comparison in discussion with the scheme recommended by the designers. For the recommended scheme, the estimates should be itemized according to the General Instructions to Committee of Designers.

Reduction of costs.--The designs should be such as to cut the costs to the minimum consistent with reasonable satisfaction to the occupants and reasonable economy in use and upkeep. There are limits of size and quality in each case, both in the houses and in the lots and utilities, below which it is not economical to go. On the other hand, any work which can be postponed until after the war without too great loss in present efficiency should be omitted or postponed, e. g., expensive fences, garages, complete improvement of park areas (though park areas should be set apart at once). Often cheaper road surfaces can be used temporarily; curbs or paved gutters or both may be postponed; sidewalks on minor streets and house walks may be made of gravel or cinders instead of concrete, etc. Street planting, and where possible park planting, should be part of the immediate development. Planting on private lots should generally be minimized or postponed except for planting which entails a small initial cost and depends upon time for its effect, i. e., trees, good vines on the houses, and hedges where their use permits a net saving by the omission of otherwise necessary fences.

Relation to plan of surrounding area.--The street system, the size and shape of blocks and lots, the types of development, should be studied in relation to conditions, existing and proposed, of the community in or near which the development is constructed. Especially any officially accepted city plan is to be taken into account.

Districting.--Differentiation of various areas according to their functions is important to fit the blocks and lots in each area to their use, to tend to stabilize the use of land, to allow an organized system of thoroughfares, and to present an orderly appearance through reasonable design.

Convertibility of houses and lots.--Where permanent houses are proposed, the districts for such houses should be designed to remain in the same type of use for the probable life of the houses, at least.

When convertible houses are proposed, the districting should provide for the ultimate use of the dwellings, even at some diminution of fitness for their present temporary use.

When temporary houses are proposed, care should be taken that their lower type does not react too unfavorably on the development of the neighboring land, and that they do not tend to become in effect permanent, perhaps under a still lower type of use.

The general arrangement of the development itself, the roads, the public buildings, the relation to the general city plan, should be planned for reasonable permanence even though the uses of some of the property may change.

Residential lots.--Determine the minimum width(1)

of lot from the width of the house of the type in question plus the necessary width of side yards for light, air, and access to the back.

A two-story single or semidetached house, or the end house of a row, should have at least 16 feet clearance between it and the house beside it. A 20-foot clearance should be provided when possible, and between the ends of rows a clearance of at least 25 feet is highly desirable, as a matter of appearance as well as of air and light.

Determine the maximum width of lot by the possible expenditure for land and especially for all charges varying with the street frontage of the lots indicated on plans, e. g., pavement, gutters, sidewalks, and underground utility mains.

Determine the minimum depth of lot by adding the desirable setback between the house and the front lot line, the depth of the house, and the required depth of back yard. Five feet is about a minimum setback from lot line to porch, even in very densely built developments; 10 feet is better; 15 feet is not too much when it can be afforded. In any event, the space between house fronts should be at least 60 feet(2)

and between the rears of houses at least 50 feet. Where a garage is allowed in the back yard it must be 15 feet from the house, and therefore 35 feet is about the minimum distance from house to back lot line, and 40 to 50 feet is preferable. When a garden is to be provided this dimension will normally be increased.

The maximum depth of lots is controlled either by land cost or by the improbability that a large garden space will be efficiently utilized. A total lot depth of more than 130 feet is seldom likely to be efficiently used in an industrial community.

A density of less than six or seven families per gross acre, including streets but excluding parks and playfields, even in single-family houses, is seldom economical or necessary for proper living. By the use of semidetached one-family houses or (usually less desirable) detached two-family houses (two-flatters) the density may normally be increased to about 12 families to the gross acre. High land values may in special cases require a higher density of families per gross acre, obtained by the use of row houses, semidetached two-family houses (four flats under one roof), or even rows of two-family houses and apartments.

Residential blocks.--The normal block width being twice the normal lot depth (in some cases plus an alley or other interior development), irregular blocks which are much greater in width than this are uneconomical unless some special use is found for the land in the interior, or unless there is a saving in construction cost which more than offsets the waste of land. Blocks or portions of blocks having a width of less than two normal lot depths, especially narrow pointed block ends, are still more uneconomical, because costly street construction as well as land area is thus inefficiently used.

The normal block length is determined by traffic and topographic considerations. Six hundred feet is a reasonable average.

Any block over 800 feet long is likely to be inconvenient, but in local residential neighborhoods, where topography makes adherence to this rule difficult, such as on steep hillsides, as footpath through the block may serve the cross traffic well enough, thus allowing the block under exceptional circumstances to become 1,200 feet long. Blocks should not normally be less than 400 feet in length.

Aspect and orientation of blocks should, so far as possible, be such that both front and back of the houses shall receive some sunlight, and that the summer fair-weather breeze shall blow through the houses and not along the street only.

In the case of row houses, the length of the rows should therefore not run east and west if it can be avoided, and yet should be as nearly as possible transverse to the summer wind. If both these relations are not possible at the same time, the relation to the sunlight is likely to be the more important in northern climates, the relation to the summer night wind in southern climates. These same considerations are true, to a less degree, of semidetached or free-standing houses in lines with minimum side clearance.

Community facilities.--Besides the dwellings, each community should in most instances have access to locations for approximately the following facilities, or some substitute therefor, either already existing and accessible or to be provided in connection with the development:

1. Stores, post office, etc.

2. Elementary schools, high school, playground for little children, playgrounds for boys and girls, playfields for young men, open areas for rest and recreation.

3. Buildings for community activities and recreation, including theaters, moving pictures, dancing, and other indoor amusements; buildings or rooms for Y.M.C.A., Y.W.C.A., K. of C., or other societies and organizations; buildings providing for meetings, lectures, entertainments, etc., including special provisions, such as gymnasiums, swimming pools, reading rooms, etc.

4. Hospitals, churches, transient hotels, restaurants.

5. Accommodations in buildings and work yards for various necessary community services: policing, fire protection, public-health service, cleaning, maintenance, and repair of streets and sewers, and of other public works and public grounds; removal of ashes, garbage, and rubbish; general administrative offices.

Note as to outdoor recreation facilities: Parks and playgrounds.--Some playgrounds for little children may be provided in the interiors of blocks, preferably with sufficient accessibility from the streets to allow of supervision by the regular police of the community. It will be necessary, however, in playgrounds of any size, to provide also some responsible person to oversee the children. There should be a little children's playground next the grade and primary school, where there is such a combined school. Within the square mile tributary to this school, if so much populated area is tributary, there should be about three more playgrounds, or four in all, presumably each in connection with a primary school, as it is found that little children will not go much over a quarter of a mile to school or play. Larger children may go a half mile.

Assuming 4 per cent of the population to be little children, a (maximum) density of population of 50,000 people per square mile gives 500 children per playground. On this basis two-thirds of an acre is a sufficient minimum for each playground.

For the population of any community of 1,000 people or over there should be a playfield of at least 6 acres on reasonably flat land for baseball, football, etc. This area need not, perhaps, be fully developed at once, but it should be acquired and set aside at once, since its need will be greater and its cost higher with the future growth of population.

Though access to large out-of-town parks, present or future, must be considered, it is no part of the contemplated development to provide such parks, but rather a function of the whole local community.

There should be provided, however, in so far as they do not already exist, smaller parks and open spaces usually aggregating at least 8 per cent of the total gross area of the land developed.

These "parks," "squares," and other open spaces should take advantage, in their location, of topographic opportunities, such as stream banks, and of land not better available for other purposes, such as cliffs and broken ground, but they should in any case preferably be so disposed as not to leave any compact building areas of more than 50 acres without some such provision, large or small.

When these open spaces exist in greater amount than is required, either through previous provisions or for topographic reasons, it may sometimes be possible to diminish the amount of other open spaces, but open space not suitable for play does not replace playground space.

The town planner should investigate and should see that the committee of designers reports to the corporation, in connection with the preliminary plan for a development, the conditions as to general facilities of the sorts indicated, just what and how extensive and satisfactory facilities exist of each kind, what facilities are lacking, which of those that are lacking can probably be supplied best by existing local agencies, municipal or otherwise, and what steps should be taken to assure the necessary action. No negotiations looking toward the establishment of any kind of contractual relations with a municipality or public utility corporation of other local agency for furnishing any community facilities may be conducted except under the direction of the legal division of the corporation.

Grouping of community facilities.--Certain recreational and other public facilities may be suitably centralized and grouped for greater economy of construction, maintenance, and operation, and to give a dominant point of definite effect. The combination of various community activities in a few buildings gives larger architectural masses, more economical, and more important.

Thoroughfares.--Determine or predict what lines of through traffic, if any, there are to be considered, related to the present and future development of the surrounding areas, to the various centers of adjacent towns, railroad stations, industrial plants, etc.

Tentatively lay out these and such specialized thoroughfares as are necessary (e. g., street railroad routes, commercial traffic thoroughfares, automobile roads, parkways) which shall carry traffic through or past the property as efficiently as possible. Avoid cutting the property into unusable or ill-related parts.

Similarly locate secondary thoroughfares, particularly with regard to the industrial plant served by the property, but without unnecessarily opening residential areas to through traffic, especially commercial traffic.

Street-car tracks.--These should usually be confined to thoroughfares. A single track line with turnouts, and with car traffic in both directions, is seldom desirable except in suburban districts, since its capacity is very limited. Single lines in loops, returning on adjacent parallel streets, all traffic one way, are commonly better, and are used when unavoidable on narrow streets. Single line loops returning by a distant route are not desirable.

Two tracks on one wide street are usually the best arrangement. (See typical cross sections of streets.)

Width of roadways for thoroughfares.--Eight and one-half feet width of roadway per line of traffic in often used in determination of thoroughfares widths, giving 25 1/2 feet, 34 feet, and 51 feet as desirable widths of usable pavement. Five lines of traffic is seldom a good arrangement, as the central line can not efficiently be used. A roadway width of beyond six lines is hardly likely to be needed. A surface street car requires 10 feet of street width, including clearance for passing. A two-track line requires, including the clearance between the two cars as well as between them and vehicles, a total of 20 feet. (See typical cross sections of streets.)

Width.--Determine width of usable paved roadway by predictable traffic, commonly making the roadways as narrow as this traffic will allow (8 feet, or even about 7 1/2 feet, is often used as the width of a line of traffic on local streets, giving 16 feet and 22 or 24 feet as desirable widths of roadway).

There must be considered also the desirability of turning automobiles at street corners without crossing the street and so interfering with all lines of traffic, and the possibility of using private entrance drives without splaying the mouths of these drives unduly. A 20-foot paved way with 15-foot radius curves is about the minimum to meet these conditions. Where no private entrances occur, however, a 16-foot way is enough if the traffic frequency demands no more, but street intersections on such a road should be made sufficiently large for the turning of automobiles.

Determine the total width between property lines by necessary clearance between house-fronts, and summation of necessary widths of roadways, sidewalks, planting strips, and setbacks. Fifty feet between two-story house fronts is a minimum; 60 feet is better. Since part of this distance may be taken up by setbacks of the houses, the street width may be less than 50 feet, but less than 40 feet is seldom advisable.

Planting strips.--These are usually best placed between a sidewalk and the street for the following reasons: they give a more spacious appearance to the street; future widening of the road may be done cheaply at the expense of the planting strip; private entrances may splay in the planting strip without unduly interrupting the sidewalk; differences of elevation of sidewalk and street may be taken up; sometimes curbs may be eliminated, using a sod edge or even a sod gutter; a space for piling snow is thus provided; and mud spatter of pedestrians by automobiles is reduced. Water and sewer pipes may be laid in the main planting strip, between the trees and the street. (See Instructions to Engineers.)

A strip from 1 foot to 3 feet wide may be left between the sidewalk and the property line to allow for future widening of sidewalk and for spreading of boundary hedges, etc., without interfering with pedestrians.

Trees and turf are usually all the vegetation that will be decently maintained in planting strips. The trees should be, when possible, 6 feet from the curb line of the pavement, to allow of pipe laying and future street widening, if the design is such that this widening may later be required. This makes a minimum desirable width of planting strip under these circumstances of 7 feet, and a better width, 9 feet.

Sidewalks.--These should usually have a smooth waterproof quickly drying surface, e. g. cement-concrete, asphalt or tar-concrete, brick, stone slab. Three and one-half feet may be taken as a minimum width, thus giving room for two pedestrians, or room for one pedestrian and a baby carriage to pass. A width of 4 1/2 feet is usually enough on local residential streets, being room for one pedestrian to pass two, or for two baby carriages to pass.

Gutters, curbs, and drain inlets.--Drain inlets should not be placed directly where pedestrians cross the streets. If they make a break in the gutter gradient, they should preferably not be on corners where wheeled traffic will strike them. They should not be unduly conspicuous through excessive size. (See standard details.) Gutters should not carry past the sidewalk crossing such an amount of water, in an ordinary rain, as to be difficult to step across. The gutter gradient should normally parallel the gradient of the road, but should only exceptionally be less than 0.5 per cent even with a smooth concrete surface; 0.7 per cent is better if obtainable. The curb reveal may vary from 4 to 9 inches or more in exceptional cases. Six inches is sufficient where the volume of the flow does not require more.

Alleys.--Alleys should be used behind row houses, stores, etc., which must be served from behind, but otherwise only where local custom very strongly demands them. When used, they should be public ways, lighted, paved over a width of at least 7 feet, with at least 12 feet between boundaries; 16 feet is better. If fenced, fences should be of metal or similar open material only. When possible, alleys should be laid out so as to have no portion entirely concealed from some point on a street. Alleys running in a straight line from street to street are preferable.

Street furniture.--The appearance of street signs and of mail, police, and fire-alarm boxes should be considered by the town planner, and although stock forms should almost always be used, he should suggest to the committee of designers which of the available types seem to him most desirable.

Notes on utilities.--(See also, especially, Instructions to Engineering Designers.)

Water supply and fire protection.--Since fire hydrants should be accessible from the street, the water-pipes are usually most economically laid under the planting strip or under the roadway, and not behind the houses. Hydrants are well located close behind the street curb. Hydrants should be simple in design.

Sanitary sewers.--These may be laid under the roadway or under the planting strip or along the back lines of the lots. Considerations determining the choice of these locations are the lot depth, street width, house setback, and house plan, which determine whether the plumbing stacks in the house are nearer the backline of the lot or the center line of the street; and the use of the back yard, which determines how much of a hardship it will be upon owners to keep sufficiently unencumbered the necessary right of way, 6 feet wide or more, for the pipes. Very wide streets are sometimes more economically sewered with one sewer on each side. Steep slopes may best have one sewer in the street, and another on the back line of the lots. Where the gradient of a sewer slopes in the same direction with the center line of street, sewer gradient to outfall must be considered in determining street gradient, and therefore street locations, to minimize depth of cut for sewers.

Storm sewers and combined sewers.--Since these take water from the street gutters, they must usually run either under the roadways or under the planting strips. The second is the better location when sufficient clearance of the trees may be obtained, since it minimizes the cutting up of the roadways for sewer repairs.

Gas.--These pipes are usually laid under the streets, but in some cases may be better laid between the sidewalks and the property line if streets are very broad, or along the back lot line, to minimize danger to tree roots, especially when the gas mains must be laid rapidly or in recently filled ground.

Electric light and telephone.--Normally one pole line for street lighting, house lighting, and telephone would best be located on the rear lot line, the overhead wires crossing as few and as unimportant streets as possible. It is not desirable, on account of maintenance difficulties, to install a wire system partly overhead and partly underground. If in an exceptional case the development warrants the expense of light standards, the town planner should suggest to the committee of designers which of the available stock forms seem to him best. If the development warrants underground wires for street lighting, these wires should form an independent system laid from standard to standard, and the lighting wires and telephone wires for the houses may be on another circuit carried on poles on the back lines of the lots, so minimizing the number of poles in the streets.

1. See Standards Recommended for Permanent Industrial Housing Developments, p. 6 [p. 506, as here reprinted.]

2. A revision in the light of further experience over an earlier standard of 50 feet. . 

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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