Thomas Ward

The Surveyor: the Journal of the Institution of Surveyors, New South Wales 20 (31 December 1907):212-225

This essay and its accompanying plan and diagrams won a competition held in 1907 by the New South Wales Institution of Surveyors for the best statement on the subject identified in the title. Ward, a land surveyor from Wellington, New Zealand used the name "Spero" as the code name for his entry. His model town plan consisted of a large, square gridiron of streets with four major radial thoroughfares superimposed on it and connecting the corners of the square townsite with the center. He placed a park or sports ground in each quadrant of the city, adding a long and narrow site for a botanical garden on one side of the business center, balanced by another linear strip on the other side for museum, art galleries, university, technical schools, hospitals, lunatic asylum, and "pleasure grounds." Ward noted on his town plan that the estimated population of such a city would be 200,000 but mentioned a quarter of a million in his text. Omitted in this version of his essay are sections on standards of surveying accuracy and how to survey rural lands.
The location and subdivision of town and country lands embraces the chief work of a land surveyor, and the welfare of a community largely depends upon the work being properly performed. Most of the ills that afflict humanity arise from their improper surroundings: therefore a very high responsibility rests upon the surveyor. Indeed, it may be safely stated that no more responsible duties fall to the lot of anyone to perform, the consequences of which are of so far-reaching importance. Local authorities come into being after a town has been laid out, and often have to make the best of a bad job by passing bye-laws to remedy some of the evils due to the improper laying-out of the town; the citizens have to make good the defects by paying higher rates than they need have done for the construction and maintenance of badly-laid-out roads, and for the draining of the sections fronting them.

Whatever the Ancients have taught, or may have yet to teach mankind certainly there is nothing to be learned from them in the laying-out of a town. The chief feature studied was its ability to withstand a siege, and they were either built on hills (like Athens and Rome) or surrounded by huge walls, in some instances rising to the height of 300 feet, pierced with handsome gates and often encircled with gardens stocked with the prolific growth of Eastern climes. Their interiors, however, by no means. corresponded with their environs. Their streets were narrow and crooked, their appearance gloomy and forbidding, their surface roughly paved with cobble stones, often with no covering but mud, down the centre of which was a gutter carrying off the filth from the houses, or more frequently leaving it in festering heaps. The houses were built of mud, with small openings for light covered over with gratings, and before each door were pools of putrid water. The Inspector of Nuisances did not exist, nor the Doctor of Public Health--only the Priest, to give absolution to those dying in consequence. The streets of the towns of medieval Europe, up to quite a late period, presented similar characteristics: the streets were so narrow that the upper stories almost touched, keeping out the sun's rays from purifying the unclean thoroughfares.

To obtain ideas for the proper situation and subdivision of town lands it is necessary to study the towns of the New World, including those of the colonies.

The surveyor frequently has no choice in the choosing a site; this has frequently been determined before, by circumstances over which he has no control. For instance, an owner decides to cut up certain of his lands for sale, quite regardless whether or not the ground is suitable for such a purpose, and the surveyor has to make the best of it and is not even given a free hand in the subdivision of it into lots, which he has to lay out smaller than he would do if the matter were left in his hands. It is true that local bodies make bye-laws as to air space, minimum frontages etc., which somewhat lessens the evil of original location. Each Council however, has its own standard, and frequently it happens that different regulations are in force in contiguous districts. The time, surely, has come for the various Parliaments to seriously consider and fix a minimum size for sections in towns, likewise the frontage to streets, and not leave this to the discretion of local councillors, who are often interested parties. In this respect, however, there is no civilized country so backward as England, where property is made a fetish of--so much so that an owner who desires to subdivide has only to deposit a plan at the office of the local authority, shewing the manner in which he intends to cut up the land. The authority in question has no power to in any way interfere. The consequence is that the owner is able to do exactly as he pleases with the fixing of streets, regardless as to their capability of draining the lots to which they give access, or their position in relation to adjoining streets.

If the plans prepared by Sir Christopher Wren for the re- building of London after the great fire had been followed, it would have been unequalled for beauty and grandeur as a city, as it is for size, and the heavy costs recently incurred by the County Council for improvements avoided. The main principles advocated by Wren have been followed in the laying out of Paris, the handsome boulevards and wide avenues of which city, converging as they mostly do, on the famous Arc de Triomphe, have been justly extolled. The same skill has also been displayed in the laying-out of the cities of Brussels and Antwerp, which is attested by its grand squares and gardens. Washington, the capital of the United States, has despatched a commission to Europe to find out the best means for developing the city, which was originally well laid-out. Conservative England is now debating the question as to whether an Act of Parliament should not be passed to remedy the admitted evils. So fixed, however, in the minds of the people is the right of the individual to do as he pleases with his own property, that it is thought by some that Compensation should be paid to him for not exercising his legal right to create slums! Special legislation had to be obtained in Cardiff to enable new streets to be connected, in some direction, with adjoining neighborhoods. The town of Leicester has followed the example thus set them. The town of Grimsby affords an object- lesson to all how towns should not be laid out. This town, to the extent of 9/10ths of its area, is owned by six different owners, each of which has laid out his estate step by step until he reached near to the boundary, when he stopped short, in order to levy a charge upon the adjoining estates for the right of access! Surely its allowing too much license to the individual when the law permits him to erect the greatest number of smallest houses upon the smallest pieces of land! Yet it is thought next to impossible to get a measure through the British House of Commons authorising local authorities to lay out or interfere with the property of other people, by the subdivision of which the owners make large fortunes! The Town Clerk of Liverpool, in a recent report, stated: "The difficulty which seemed to surround the subject was that they could scarcely expect that they would be enabled to tell the property-owner how he could best lay out his land, and make him lay it out in such a way as the Corporation thought he ought to do." An example, surely, of individualism run rampant! This principal of liassey[sic] faire is well exemplified in the extension of London, the suburbs of which are hideous and unhealthy. Dr. Snell of Coventry, in a report, says "Certainly such a chance method of allowing a town to grow up, is a long way from being the best. The provision of open spaces and recreation grounds should be made beforehand, after careful consideration of the necessary requirements, and not, as now, left entirely to chance, or to the munificence of some private person. When these two essentials for the well-being of the inhabitants are not pre-planned, their acquisition afterwards is generally thought to be impossible, on account of the high price which the land acquires when wanted for building purposes." The towns of Australia and New Zealand are fortunately free from many of the evils existent in the older countries; yet, even where the conditions are so favourable, it happens that townships grow up from small congeries of houses, without plan. In the case of many well-planned towns, no provision has been made for their future extensions These are added piecemeal, without regard to the general plan of the town. If the streets are wide and straight, they are often bald and ugly, with no regulation to adapt the height of the buildings to the widths of the streets.

The arrangements of the streets should be systematic, having in view future extensions. It should be such as to provide the most direct communication between the different parts of the city. Each street should be continuous throughout the city, in order to most conveniently accommodate the traffic.

The city of Washington, alluded to above, is an example of good original town planning. The suburbs, however, do not conform to the high standard set them, but are very irregular, and in this respect conform to the general bad practice in most of the other towns of the world. The result is greatly increased cost to the residents to provide for drainage and water supply, not to mention the formation of the streets which they, and not the owners, have to pay for! This work is much better managed in Germany. In that country all the adjacent lands of a town are surveyed by the authorities, and plans made shewing the proposed new streets; the landowners are then notified to come and inspect the same, and suggest any alterations. These in their turn are considered by the authority. Finally, an agreement is arrived at between all parties. The amended plan is then filed in the local offices, to which all future extensions must conform. This system appears to be an admirable one, as it fixes in the best positions all the new streets, so that the town is homogeneous. The subdivision into sections is, of course, left to the owner, subject to his compliance with the existing bye-laws. An attempt is now being made to introduce this method into England by a combination of the different local bodies, who are well aware of the evils of the present system. Objection may be taken that though this might be possible in a comparatively level country like England or Germany, it would not suit in the case of hilly land. Where this occurs, however, a contour map should be prepared, on similar lines to the Ordnance Survey of England, on which the extensions of the street into the suburbs could be marked. If this were generally done, it would stop the practice of laying out roads on paper, regardless of their practicability. This course was followed in laying out the town of Lyttelton, in New Zealand, which is situated on a steep hillside, the streets of which cross the, numerous gullies at places impossible of formation. Even when formed at great expense, the houses are either perched up high above the street, or far below it, and liable to be flooded.

1. The nature and extent of the subsoil, upon the proper choice of which depends not only the health and happiness of the inhabitants, but also the expense to which they will be put in carrying out the various Municipal requirements.

2. Its liability to be flooded.

3. Whether it can be supplied with water.

4. And whether it can be adequately drained.

After the site has been selected, the question of its subdivision into streets and sections requires most careful consideration, and naturally towns situated on a level plain require different treatment to those on hilly ground. All towns, however, should be provided with ample reserves for,

(1) Recreation grounds equal to 1/8th of whole area of town.

(2) School sites in number proportional to the population.

(3) If near or on a railway line, a large block of land should be served for a railway station, with provision for roads round it.

(4) Sundries, such as quarry reserves, market sites, abattoir sites, museums, baths and wash houses, municipal buildings, schools and colleges, charitable institutions, libraries, cemeteries, etc.

Diagram No. 1 shews the arrangement in this case of a town to contain about 1/4 million inhabitants, the chief feature of which is the large square in the centre, around which are grouped all the buildings in which the public are accustomed to transact their business, so that it can be conducted with despatch, such as the post and telegraph offices, municipal buildings, law courts and lawyers' quarters, banks, insurance offices, public buildings, magistrates' courts, etc., etc.,--the centre being kept open and planted and used for public meetings, parts of which could be laid out in flower gardens with walks and seats. Proceeding from the centre in four directions are wide thoroughfares, extending to the four corners, which, for the sake of distinction, are here called avenues, by means of which traffic to and from the centre is greatly facilitated. They should be made to intersect main lines of roads leading to other towns. For this purpose their direction may be a little different to that shewn. Along these routes, in addition to tram lines, provision should be made for motor and cycle tracks; they should be made attractive by having the centre reserved for plantations, flowers, grass, and seats.

Diagram No. 2[omitted here]shews a section of an avenue, with the spaces set apart for the different items described. Situated along these avenues are the parks and reserves for sports, such as cricket and football, etc. The business part of the town is shewn with the streets placed closer together and situated all round the central square and extending to the railway station and railway reserve, by which ample provision is made for warehouses close to the station. In the residential part of the town the streets running east and west are placed further apart than those in the business portion. Both in the business part and in the residential part the sections fronting streets running north and south are divided by back rights–of–way 30 feet in width, the advantages of which are as follows:–

1. To keep the dustman's carts from standing on the main streets when collecting rubbish from the houses.

2 To avoid continually disturbing the surface of the main streets for making connections with sewer pipes, gas and water pipes, these services being all placed down these back rights–of–way. Under this system the only pipes that need be laid down the main streets are water pipes, kept exclusively for the supply of water in the case of fire. By so doing there will always be a full head of pressure in them.

3. To enable fires to be better kept in control, by giving more space to the Brigade to work in and more hoses to handle, for hydrants could be placed on the domestic service pipes in the back ways, so that fires could be attacked from the front and rear of a building at the same time.

4. To avoid laying sewer pipes under buildings fronting main streets, the connections being made with the sewers at the back. Diagram No. 3[omitted] shews a block plan of this arrangement, and Diagram No. 4[omitted] a cross section of these back ways, sloping towards the centre, down which a water channel is laid for the carrying off of rain water. Possibly these ways could be made of a less width than 30 feet. It must be remembered, however, that room should be provided for opening up trenches for connections and allowing for traffic at the same time.

Diagrams Nos. 5 and 6 [omitted] are cross sections of streets in the business and residential part of the town. The difference between them is that trees and seats are placed along the latter between the footpath and the channelling. This arrangement allows the trees room for growth; also the roadway is less wide.

Situated to the north of the business part of the town, and extending to the town boundary on the north side, are the University and Technical Schools, hospital, lunatic asylum and charitable institutions, museum and art galleries. The reserve for these purposes is 1/4 of a mile wide and 1 3/4 of a mile in length, and should be laid out and planted. A similar reserve lying to the south of the business part is laid out as a park, within which are the botanical gardens, riding, driving and motor tracks. Trees should be planted along these, forming avenues.

Outside the limits of the town proper, and all round it, is a reserve of a mile in width for future town extension; in the meantime it should be planted and used by the citizens as a pleasure resort. Within this reserve is placed the cemetery. The advantage of adopting a plan of this kind for a town is that it can be laid out gradually, commencing with the central portion and some of the business part and a few residential streets. As the town progresses, additional streets can always be added; the other part can in the meantime be let. Planting, however, should be begun at once on the reserves within the town limits.

In this case the chief point to be considered is the position of the streets and their connections with each other. A careful survey of them must be made before any attempt is made to make a plan of the town. It is always best to avoid much cutting or filling by following, as far as practicable, the contour of the ground. If the site is situated on uniformly sloping ground, the streets can be laid off nearly level and connected with each other by streets of workable gradients. If it is placed on both sides of a hill, the streets can be carried round it and similarly connected with each other. The top of the hill can be laid off as a park and recreation ground, connected with the central part of the town by means of the streets crossing those above-mentioned. If the slope of the hill is too great for them to cross at right angles to the main streets, at such a gradient that carts can use it, the traffic must follow round the junction streets above-mentioned, which are laid out for this purpose. Rights-of way, however, should be reserved at frequent intervals between the main horizontal streets for foot passengers. These can also be used for laying down drains, by means of which the drainage from the high parts of the town can be brought down to the lower, and thence to the outfall. In most case of towns thus situated, cable trams will be found most useful, as they can be made to cross the horizontal streets at right angles and extend up to the park at the top of the hill. The business part will naturally be situated on the flatter land at the foot of the hill. Here should be placed the central square and all the chief buildings, as fully described for a town on the level. Several junction streets with easy gradients should join this square with the other streets. These towns make better residential sites than those on level ground, and if properly laid out in the first instance are very attractive in appearance. Rights-of-way for back access should always be laid off.

After the streets have been carefully located, the position of the side lines of the sections must be determined. If the ground is level, they must be at right angles to the street lines without question. Even when the ground is hilly this course should as a general principle be adhered to. It frequently happens that the road lines make an angle with the boundary lines of the land. In this case the temptation is strong to make the section lines parallel to such boundaries, for the sake of having a uniform plan. They are consequently not square to the road lines, and so a frontage of 40 feet does not mean a breadth of 40 feet--often much less. As the general public knows nothing of angles, it naturally concludes that a frontage of 40 feet means a breadth to the same amount. The public, therefore, is victimized just as much in this case as if the boundary line measurement on the plan was the length as measured on the slope and not reduced to the correct horizontal length. The buyer of such an obtuse angled frontage, for all practical purposes, only has the use of the projection of the purchased length upon a line square to the section lines--this varying in length, being shorter as the angle of obtuseness increases. This is, as a rule, only discovered when the architect or the builder gets out plans for a house to go on the section and finds it too big for it!

When the road has many angles, it requires a good deal of judgment and experience to properly place the side lines. There is no doubt, however, but that the side lines can be made more often at right angles to the street lines than has been done in the past. Very often, at all events, the majority of the sections can be laid off square to the street lines, the odd measurements being thrown into the end sections. On separate page are given three diagrams illustrating these remarks.

Diagram No. 1.[omitted]--This shows the advantage to the buyer of the square section lines. The frontages in each case are mostly 40 feet; the total frontages are, of course, the same in both, but in sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 the buyer gets a width of 40 feet with the square subdivision, and only about 38 in the other case. Section 6 is about the same in both, and the only objection that can be raised to the square method of laying out is that section 1 ends in a point; it has, however, a frontage of 62 feet 6 inches. The owner insisted on cutting it up to the firm lines, whereas the surveyor wished the dotted lines followed. Of course, the owner won!

Diagram No. 2 [omitted]--This is an example shewing a road being forced to be put in the position shewn, on account of the nature of the site. It cannot be run parallel to the boundary line. In this case it is decidedly better to make the sections square to the boundary and not to the road.

Diagram No. 3 [omitted]--This is shewn to illustrate the remarks made as to the advisability of making the majority of sections square to the street, the uneven ones being at the ends....

A good deal of what has been said on the subject of towns situated on hilly ground is applicable to the laying-out of suburban land. Frequently the suburbs are on more elevated places than the town itself, which has been so located because of the level land round it. As the chief object of the suburbs is for residences, there is no need to lay them out with a central square for the object of concentrating the business part and affording means for the traffic to quickly reach there. The sections should be made larger than is necessary, or even desirable, in a town, having greater frontages to the streets, as well as greater depths back. The streets should be located as described for those on the hilly land belonging to a town. It is not desirable to make their widths much less than the streets of the residential portions of a town, for the reason that suburbs often merge insensibly into becoming a part of the town itself. It is then a very costly matter to acquire land for their widening. Moreover, trams are required to take the residents into town, and the streets require to be made attractive by planting trees along the sidewalks. The roadway need not be constructed as wide as is necessary in a town, the upkeep of which is expensive; but between the gutter and the edge of the pavement a good wide strip can be reserved for plantation purposes and seats. In future, if it is required for traffic, it can then be taken as part of the roadway

Suburban land should be laid out in a more comprehensive manner than it is at present--that is, with the end in view all the time of making it fit in with the general scheme of the town itself. To effect this object, the proper course is to adopt the plan followed in Germany, and already alluded to in this essay as being now attempted to be introduced into England, viz., to have the lands surrounding the town, if on hilly ground, contoured so that the roads can be fixed upon a plan to which all owners who cut up for sale must conform. If this plan were adopted, it would be greatly to the advantage both of the local authorities and private owners, not to mention ratepayers. The local councils could lay off the roads, with the view of possible tram extension, from the towns into the suburbs, also of drainage, etc., and would not be compelled to make the best of badly- situated roads and to put up with needlessly heavy grades, or have to buy at heavy cost lands for the purposes mentioned. On the other hand, the owner would first of all have a right of objecting to the positions chosen and of suggesting others in their places, so that an amicable arrangement could be made between all parties. The owner would have the advantage of knowing where the roads would be when he chose to cut up the land for sale, so that he would not either build upon the lands so set apart, or improve them. The standard survey of the town should be extended into the suburbs and permanently marked with concrete blocks, so that all surveys for title purposes could be connected with it....

The proper widths of streets and roads is a subject upon which there is a good deal to say. This matter has recently been discussed by the Surveyors' Institution of New South Wales and the practice adopted in other parts noted. As far as the towns are concerned, the main streets should be from 80 feet to 200, according to the size and importance of the place as shewn on the sketch plan attached to this essay, and all the others l chain in width. So far there is little difference of opinion, but in suburban and country districts it has been urged that 20 feet formation is quite sufficient, and that it is a great mistake to lay off any roads, other than the main ones, to a width of 1 chain. The great expense entailed upon local bodies for the maintenance is put forward as a reason for this.

This objection can be met be the authorities allowing the owners to make use of, say, 20 feet of the road width until it is required, provided it is kept free from noxious weeds. Whatever the width of formation should be depends on the amount of traffic going over the road For single vehicle traffic a formation width of 12 feet of metal will be probably quite sufficient, making the actual formation 30 feet. The roads, however, should always be surveyed 1 chain wide. In the new countries of New Zealand and Australia it is impossible to predict where the main lines of communication will eventually be, or where townships or even cities may be situated. Likewise it is difficult to tell what the future motive power will be, and whether or not motors will be cheapened to such an extent that most people will possess them. If this is likely to happen, a particular part of the road reserve will have to be set aside for them, and another part for the heavy traffic, which will travel on rails or on a specially prepared surface. It appears, therefore, to be a suicidal policy to lay off in the first instance narrow road lines and thereby commit our descendants to pay dearly for their widening. The remarks of Judge Murray on roads in steep slopes, as quoted in The Surveyor are an illustration of the uselessness of theory which will not conform to practice. If excavations could be made to stand perpendicular without lateral support, and banks be hung in mid air without any toe to them, it might be economical to double the number of roads and halve their widths. In practice, however, the carrying out of this suggestion would mean increasing the width of the road reserves considerably on steep hill sides, or making them narrow lanes with no footpaths, and with no compensating advantages as far as the houses are concerned. 

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: 
To Top of Page
To Homepage