Christopher J. Yorath

The Western Municipal News 8 (September 1913): 298- 300.

Only a few months before this article appeared Yorath (1879-1932) arrived in Saskatoon to serve as City Commissioner. It was a position for which he was well qualified by training and experience. Educated in Cardiff, Wales schools from 1889 to 1895 and in engineering at the University of Wales to 1898, Yorath gained his practical training under an engineering contractor in Cardiff for whom he worked until 1900. During the next two years he served as assistant to the Cardiff City Engineer, activities he described in his application for associate membership in the Institution of Civil Engineers as "engaged upon works of main drainage, road making, sewerage, bridges and parliamentary plans." This work included projects of a main sewer outfall, twelve miles of tram tracks, a cooling reservoir, and a bridge.

By 1908 he was Chief Assistant Engineer & Surveyor to the Acton Urban District Council where he had worked for six years. By 1912 he had become Deputy Engineer to the Acton Borough Engineer, and his duties included work in housing and town planning projects, as well as the construction of an electricity transformer station, public baths and wash houses, and a refuse incinerator. In 1908-09 he lectured on "Municipal Engineering and Administration" at Westminster Technical Institute, London, being selected from two hundred applicants.

He thus was thoroughly experienced in every aspect of municipal engineering when in 1913 he applied for and was appointed to the position of Commissioner for the City of Saskatoon in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Under the system of local government that then prevailed, Yorath's duties encompassed many of those exercised by a city manager. In his biographical note for a Canadian publication of 1922 he describes his assignment as "in charge of all administrative work, including public utilities and direction of city finances." Yorath noted that he was a "specialist in organization and efficiency method."

Yorath arrived in Saskatoon on May 6, 1913, and slightly less than six weeks later he set forth his ideas about town planning when he addressed the real estate board of Saskatoon. One newspaper quoted him as saying "Our aim should be to make Saskatoon a `garland city'.... Our city should be beautiful and well planned, characterised by cleanliness and with a residential section assuring amenity from the turmoil and stress of public life." Another press report quoted him: "My conception is a garden city. It should be beautiful and flowery. If we allow Saskatoon to grow on the check-board system, we will come in for the contempt of the future generation. We should plan out our city so that sewerage and waterworks will be laid that it may be best used for a large city.

So far as is know, Yorath's only previous venture into city planning was the design he submitted in 1912 for the design of the Australian Federal Capital. This plan consisted of concentric rectangular ranges of buildings at whose center Parliament stood surrounded by government buildings. It was a design that made not the slightest concession to the site's varied topography. This makes it all the more remarkable that Yorath's essay contains this statement in its fourth paragraph: "Until recent years it was thought that the check-board system of planning was all that could be desired, but anyone who has studied the subject of town planning will realize at once that it is a failure.... How can a system be called a plan which does not take into consideration local characteristics such as the undulation of the ground; a winding river; thickly wooded spots and other amenities?"

In 1917 Yorath was one of the principal speakers at a conference held in Winnipeg by the Canadian Commission of Conservation. In his address, "Municipal Finance and Administration," Yorath pointed out that debts of Canadian municipalities were unreasonably high. He cited ten reasons for this. Five directly involved town planning. He listed first "lack of foresight in planning public works," followed by "haphazard development in the interests of ward politics." Yorath also faulted cities for "lack of a proper plan and scheme for the development of the town or city." He then cited "lack of proper the subdivision of land into lots and blocks," and "extension of public utilities to serve outside subdivisions when the prospective revenue would not be sufficient to meet the fixed charges"

On March 1, 1921 Yorath left Saskatoon to become City Commissioner of Edmonton in Alberta, a position he held until 1924. In his application for full membership in the Institution of Civil Engineers he summarized his professional activities as "responsible for the construction of all public works including main drainage, bridges, etc. and the operation of the electric light and power plant, street railway, telephone system and waterworks."

He brought this experience in managing urban utilities to the positions he occupied from 1924 to 1926 as President and Managing Director of both the Northwestern Utilities Limited and the Canadian Western Natural Gas, Light, Heat & Power Co. The former supplied Edmonton with natural gas while the latter company provided gas to the cities of Calgary and Lethbridge. In 1926 Yorath became President and Managing Director of the Nanaimo Electric Light, Power and Heating Co. This, he described as "supplying the city of Nanaimo, in the province of British Columbia with electricity from a hydro-electric development."

Aristotle is said to have defined a City as a "place where men live a common life for a noble end" which implies an end or aim. There can be no question that although the end is not a single one there has been in the building of every City some object in view, some aim towards which those who have been responsible for its foundation and growth have consciously or unconsciously been aiming.

Unfortunately in the majority of cases the aim has been an unconscious one with the result that cities have grown up in a haphazard manner, and many a beautiful spot turned into an ugly accumulation of bricks and mortar.

Great Britain by the passing of the Town Planning Act of 1909 took the first step towards the undoing of mistakes of centuries, and hopes by planning the future growth of existing and new cities to avoid the enormous expense occasioned through the lack of planning.

Until recent years it was thought that the checkboard system of planning was all that could be desired, but anyone who has studied the subject of town planning will realize at once that it is a failure and has necessitated even in what are known as the New World Cities, large expenditure to rectify some of its many defects. How can a system be called a plan which does not take into consideration local characteristics such as the undulation of the ground; a winding river; thickly wooded spots and other amenities?

If Great Britain realizes the necessity of passing a Town Planning Act, surely such an Act would be of infinitely more use to Canada which at present has only a population of about eight millions or slightly more than that of London, while its area is three and one-half million square miles, compared to 121,115 square miles comprising Great Britain and Ireland.

A careful study of what wise town planning, the liberal provision of attractive amenities can do, and has done for some of the cities of Europe will convince the greatest anti-town- planner of the wisdom of looking well ahead.

It invariably happens that town planning is not thought of or put into operation until a certain amount of development has taken place. In Great Britain this does not interfere to any great extent with the planning for the future as the undeveloped land is not staked out into lots and held by numerous land holders, but is usually in possession of a few; whereas in Canada, owing to the checkboard system and the selling of outlying plots far in advance of the time when the land is ripe for development the proper planning of the future is rendered far-more difficult, and probably in many cases the difficulties will be so great as likely to make a scheme impracticable without special legislation.

A city attractive by its beauty, by its artistic symmetry and design and by the amenities and conveniences which it offers will gain a reputation and an individuality which not only its Council and its landowners, but also its citizens, may be proud.

What then should be the aim of every City? And to answer that question we are at once thrown back upon the question of what should be the individuality by which the City should be marked and known. Bacon says in his "Essay of Gardens," "God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures, it is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of men without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiwork." Surely then the aim should be the one implied by the term "Garden City," beautiful, well planted and finely laid out, known and characterized by the charm and amenities which it can offer to those who seek a residence or dwelling removed from the turmoil, stress and discomforts of a manufacturing district.

The various systems of planning which have been adopted in the past are rectangular, radial and circumferential; and curvilineal, but the latest schemes for town planning are generally a combination of all three, which allows for the best fulfilment of town planning ideals.

The problem then for the town planner is to consider his scheme in respect to

(a) The configuration and undulations of the site.

(b) Direction of main radial and circumferential avenues and boulevards.

(c) The layout and construction of avenues and boulevards.

(d) Open spaces, parks and recreation grounds.

(e) Tramways.

(f) Civic Centre.

(g) Buildings: the space about same; the limitation of the number of houses per acre. and the height and character of same.

(h) Restrictions of factories and works to special areas.

(a) The Configuration and Undulations of the Town Site.
The beautiful sites which the Great Architect of the Universe has provided for many of our cities have been wantonly spoilt by the worst form of vandalism and the lack of a proper system of planning instead of providing a setting and vista by which the beauty of monumental and public buildings may be shewn.

The first essential preparatory to the drawing up of a town planning scheme is to make a contour map of the site with contours shewing the rise or fall of the ground every five to ten feet. In addition the map should shew existing trees, places of historic or local interest, railways, existing public and industrial buildings, waterways, etc.

This map will enable the town planner to lay down the main avenues with the easiest possible grades, to preserve places of beauty; to establish the sites of the most important buildings so as to be in commanding positions; to design his storm and sanitary sewers so as to obtain the maximum amount of gravity flow, and to arrange his water supply in the most suitable zones so that the whole system of public utilities can be built up of units which will ultimately become parts of a completed whole.

(b) Direction of Main Radial and Circumferential Avenues and Boulevards.
In London and New York. and many other large cities, great inconvenience and expense is occasioned through not having the most direct means of transit between business, factory and residential districts. and proper connections between these centres and the different railway depots. Again, through the lack of circumferential avenues the traffic in the centre of the city becomes greatly congested.

It is imperative therefore in the planning of a city to exercise the greatest care and judgment in fixing the position and direction of main avenues. If possible, they should radiate from the centre towards the principal outlying districts north, south, east and west of the city, and be connected and linked up with inner and outer circumferential avenues. By this means traffic desirous of crossing from one side of the City to the other can avoid the centre and more heavily trafficked streets, and in so doing prevent the congestion which so often occurs in the centre of old cities. London is at present contemplating the construction of circumferential avenues in order to relieve the congestion which occurs in the centre.

In Vienna the Girdle Linie or Outer Boulevard is about eight miles in length; the total width between buildings is 248 feet. A separate strip of the road is set apart for the tramways and fast traffic; a continuous recreation ground or playing space is included in the scheme, well planted with trees to provide shade during the hot season.

Another circumferential avenue in Vienna is the Ring Street or Hub 178 feet wide. It has a central carriageway 41 1/2 feet wide which is principally used by fast and through traffic vehicles. On either side are the tramways on the electric conduit system. A riding track and a promenade for foot passengers occupy the spaces between the trees, and slow and stopping vehicles find accommodation on the two outer roads.

These circumferential routes which connect up the various parks and open spaces are largely used by residents, motorists and cyclists as circular drives.

(c) The Layout and Construction of Avenues and Boulevards.
It must be borne in mind that all objects in the street, utilitarian or otherwise are things to be seen, part of an organic whole, each having its respective part and place.

Athens and Rome were each crowded with such objects arranged for the most part in picturesque association. Although it will be impossible for young cities to expend much money, if any, upon beautification, beyond the planting of trees, a town planning scheme should allow for such improvements at some future date at a minimum of expense.

Long straight avenues, with buildings of approximately the same height and no object to break the horizon should be avoided. If natural scenic effect cannot be obtained, then provision should be made for some architectural feature to break the skyline. By careful planning it can generally be arranged to place a church, a public building, or artistically designed residence to break the monotony of long streets.

In Germany, this branch of town planning is given careful consideration, and long avenues are usually broken by means of "Squares" so that the line of sight will be met by a building, the architecture of which has been previously approved by the local authority.

In planning out the widths of main roads it is difficult to estimate what the future will demand, but in any case it will be better to err on the wide side rather than the narrow.

The various types of streets usually required in a city are:

(a) Main business avenues with provision for tramways and boulevards. Width from 100 to 200 feet.

(b) Secondary business avenues without provision for tramways. Width from 80 feet to 150 ft.

(c) Semi-residential avenues with provision for tramways, side and centre boulevards. Width from 80 ft. to 120 ft.

(d) Semi-residential avenues without provision for tramways, but with side and centre boulevards. Width from 80 ft to 100 ft.

(e) Residential avenues without provision for tramways but with side and centre boulevards. Width from 60ft. to 80 ft.

(f ) Secondary residential avenues with carriageways to take local traffic only, with side boulevards and an established building line of 30 feet. Width from 40 ft. to 60 ft.

The main avenues should be laid out with 12 feet sidewalks, slow traffic carriageways next sidewalks and boulevards on either side of a centre carriageway for fast traffic and tramways.

The secondary business avenues should have sidewalks of a minimum width of 10 feet with a centre boulevard with wide grass margins, so that the actual paved carriageway can be widened as the business of the city extends.

In main and secondary business thoroughfares provision should be made for laying all sewer, water electric and other mains in underground conduits of sufficient size to allow of proper inspection at all times. The advantages of this method are:

(1) The pipes being open to inspection at all times, leaks can be more easily located and repaired.

(2) The traffic is not inconvenienced by openings for repairs.

(3) The enormous annual expense of opening trenches is saved.

4) The surface of the carriageway which soon becomes uneven if many trenches are made, retains an even contour.

The Residential Avenues can be so formed that the sidewalks have a boulevard on either side, which will provide space for pedestrians in the hot weather.

Railways, usually an ugly feature of every city should be made less objectionable by boulevarding.

(d) Open Spaces, Parks and Recreation Grounds
In locating open spaces, and parks, special consideration should be given to the preservation of places of natural beauty, such as woods, waterways, etc.

With the check board system of planning, a large amount of valuable ground is often wasted in the unnecessary provision of paved streets and passages. By carefully planning the main and secondary avenues, through traffic can be avoided and residential districts can be laid out in a far less costly manner, part of the space occupied by paved streets being utilized for open spaces, tennis courts, and children's playgrounds.

Where individual gardens are not wanted, part of the land between the houses might be laid out as allotment gardens, or as gravel playgrounds, or as paved playgrounds, to prevent a lot of derelict gardens being attached to the houses.

People's Parks are universally provided on the continent within or close to the city's gates, namely a large woodland garden or forest intersected by drives and walks and interspersed with spinnies and glades typical as far as possible of rural country.

It is the duty of every city to provide as early as possible, and before development makes the price of land prohibitive, suitable parks within easy access of the public.

Country life is acknowledged to be more healthful, more restful, more natural and less wearing than that of town. It should therefore be the aim of town planners to introduce into the home life of the worker conditions as far as possible which are common to the country, viz: quiet, the absence of distracting sights, sounds and influences and the introduction of works of nature.

It has become a very general rule in making arrangements for the development of land on modern lines in Great Britain to stipulate that one acre in ten shall be set aside as public. or semi-public open spaces, this in addition to limiting the number of houses per acre.

(e) Tramways.
The tramway system should follow the main avenues and as far as possible each route should be linked up one with the other to form easy and suitable means of transit for the public to and from every part of the City. It should be arranged so that new lines could be constructed as the development of the town in a particular district required, yet be part of what would ultimately become a completed scheme.

The tramway system of Vienna is an admirable one. It has been described as follows: "The trams circle around the Ringstrasse and the outgoing routes branch off like the spokes of a wheel, it soon becomes an easy matter to know where to leave the hub and take the necessary spoke."

(f) Civic Centre
The creation of a fitting civic centre is one of the most important matters which should be considered.

It should be dignified, impressive, whilst at the same time in harmony with the characteristics of the town itself and in keeping with the resources of the public.

Its situation should be as near the centre of the City as is possible, so planned that its architectural features and beauty can be seen from many points of vantage.

The buildings usually comprised in such a centre are the town and public halls, offices, session courts, museum and art galleries, which, suitably designed and arranged in relation to each other, can and should form a civic centre worthy of the community.

(g) Buildings: the space about same; the limitation of the number of buildings per acre; their height and character.
The regulations with respect to buildings will be one of the most important parts of a town planning scheme and will need very careful thought on the part of local authorities.

In order to obviate overcrowding it is essential that a maximum number of houses per acre should be adopted for different grades of property.

In limiting the number per acre it should be sufficient, in the case of land that is not planned out in detail, if it be stated that the rule should be so many houses to the acre but that the requirements of the local authority would be satisfied if the average number was obtained over a certain area with due safeguards for the space about each house not being too small. There should also be a maximum number of houses stated more than which should not be erected on any one acre.

Thus, if the number limited was 12 to the acre the local authority might be satisfied if on any ten acres no more than 120 houses were built.

In residential areas the height should also be limited. Houses should not be built more than three storeys, or more than a maximum height to be defined.

It would seem desirable in planning an area, that certain centres should be fixed where shops, schools, churches, institutions and such like buildings should be grouped together.

The grading of districts and the planning out of the constituent parts which build up a City is an important consideration. The higher buildings should be fronting on the main arteries gradually grading back to the residential property. Stores and offices will, of course, be placed along the main thoroughfares, and workmen's dwellings as close as possible to the factories in which the work people are employed.

(h) Restrictions of Factories and Works to Special Areas
It is very desirable in a Town Plan that the position of these should be fixed and the people should not be allowed to place them where they like.

There will nearly always be natural places in a district which will be suitable for factories and workshops. Contiguity to the railway, easy gradients to same, and the position of the rivers, canals and streams should govern this in most cases.

It is usually accepted as an established fact that factories are unsightly, with untidy and dirty surroundings, but in many places, particularly in Bourneville [sic] in England, the head quarters of Cadburys' Factory, the reverse is the case. The whole of the surroundings of the factory, and the workers' homes adjoining are laid out on garden city lines and is a model of what can be done to make a factory district more amenable than is generally the case.

The writer who has previously been engaged upon Town Planning schemes in England, is at present engaged upon a Town Plan for Saskatoon, in the drawing up of which, consideration will be given to all the points enumerated in this paper. 

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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