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Sito di Fabrizio Bottini in italiano
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For a City of 37,000,000 (1922)
Publishing date: 21.11.2008


Shaping Future of World’s Greatest Municipal Centre Under Russel Sage Foundation – Transforming of Long New York Into Outlying Round New York. The New York Times, May 21, 1922

NEW YORK in 2000. That is the vision that has come before the mental eye of men like Herbert C. Hoover. Elihu Root and Robert W. de Forest - the fear of what it might be, and the hope of what it could be.
New York, with 37,000,000 inhabitants. Was it to be a city of swarming hordes living in soul-deadening and health-wrecking proximity, of crowded street and noisy thoroughfares, or racial slum districts and screeching factory whistles, of industrial growth and physical decay?
Or was it to be a metropolis of wide-open areas consisting of economically associated communities, each a complete unit within itself, offering to its citizens the fullest opportunity for health, recreation, education, social growth. How to prevent the former, how to encourage the latter. That is the problem facing the men directing the movement for the building of the New York of the future.
Thirty-seven million human beings in an area now taking care of about 9,000,000. Can it be done? And how? The answer to the first question is yes; the answer to the second time will show. At the present one can only indicate roughly just what changes this would imply in the outlines of the metropolitan district.

One speaks of the planning of the New York of the future. Strictly speaking, that is wrong. It is not the city, per se, with which the work is concerned: it is the metropolitan district which forms the network around ManhattanIsland. This network reaches out into three States, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, to a radius of fifty miles in most cases and in some instances ninety. Without that network the New York of the future would be no further advanced, industrially and commercially, than when Central Park was considered a wilderness. At that time the most sanguine New Yorkers looked forward to a city which would reach from the Battery to the northern end of the island. That was their hope for the future, their vision, their dream. They planned for a long city, a city in which the greatest distances would be north and south.
The long city has vanished. New York has become a round city. Its hub is at the centre, where it seems, it will always remain; its spokes reach out to towns and villages many miles beyond the centre. Railroads and high ways connect the hub with points along the spokes. The latter in turn are tied up to each other by similarly developed transportation facilities. Five thousand five hundred square miles are included in this area.
Roughly speaking, these 5,500 square miles consist of 865 miles of urban development, 1,170 square miles of suburban development and 3,993 miles of rural land. The first includes New York proper and Newark. The second towns and cities in Westchester County, in Essex County, in Nassau County and other places where the population is about 10,000 to the square mile. The last group is made up of the outlying districts where a New Yorker can retire to his hobby of building up a poultry farm and yet feel himself a member of the metropolitan community.

Where Development Must Come

Improvement work is still going on in the hub and the districts immediately surrounding it. But it will not be many years before building and new development will cease. Wise legislation already has provided for the prevention of industrial building in residential communities or neighborhoods. But progress means growth and growth means additional plants and factories to take care of additional population. It is the suburban and rural areas which will be the fields of development in the future. The 5,000 and more square miles of land in the metropolitan area just beginning to know the hum of activity of the vertical city will in the future take up the strain in a milder, less strident key but nevertheless a highly effective one.
In some quarters the fear has been expressed that New York wants to swallow up the areas surrounding it and incorporate these into the greater city. That is wrong. New York has no desire to increase its land area. New York wants to co-operate with these growing communities so that the group may work together for the growth of a better metropolitan district and citizenship. New York will profit greatly by the branching out of its industries and population, but to no greater extent than will the communities co-operating with it.
The point also has been made that one does not plan for the growth of a city, that it just grows like Topsy. It is to this hit-and-miss growth of the past that we can lay the crimes of the present slum districts, the badly built tenements, the lack of parks, proper sanitation, industrial crowding. The builders of the future have learned their lessons from the past and the groups, industrial and residential, that will arise in years to come will not be misshapen miniatures of a planless city.

Before anything can be outlined in preparation for the work a survey of the metropolitan district will be made. This survey will include a study of the physical features of the area, the social features, the economic and the extent to which the law can be called in to facilitate the movement. Nelson P. Lewis, former chef engineer of the Board of Estimate and former President of the National City Planning Conference, has been giving his time to the study of the first. His interest lies in the physical possibilities of the development of the areas where future growth will centre. Not the least important feature of his work is the mapping and planning of the recreational possibilities of the district. No encouragement, he believes, should be given a community where the park and playground areas are insufficient for its needs. There is sufficient land in New YorkState, in Connecticut, in New Jersey, he says, for adequate recreational grants.
He is working on a map of the metropolitan district which will show the lakes, the rivers and the forest reserves within short distance of suburban and rural towns. It is the intention of the organization supporting the movement to ask the different States to appropriate valuable land along the shores of waterways as well as forest land for parks.

Not Enough Room for Play.

The percentage of park areas in New York is exceedingly low. Of our total area of 189,662 acres only 4 per cent is devoted to recreational parks. That includes the parks in the Bronx. Without those the figure would be considerably lower. Washington has a park area of 14 per cent. It has been explained, however, that this hardly would be practicable in New York. Federal funds conserve the wooded area of the nation’s capital; municipal treasures could not afford it.
Not the least interesting study made by Mr. Lewis is transportation. He has laid out a map showing how far on the spokes of the metropolitan wheel commutation fares will take a person. He begins with a fifteen-cent commutation fare and shows where it will take a passenger on Staten Island, Long Island and the Bronx. He has done the same thing up to the fifty-five cents fare at five-cent intervals, and in this manner has practically covered the area considered by the city-planning group.
Perhaps the most interesting results to be obtained by the survey will be the social and economic. The general objective of these is to find better places for the citizen of the future to work and live. By better places is meant communities where a man and his family can use to the best advantage their hours of leisure. Today a large number of families live in New York principally because of the educational opportunities offered to their children and the amusement open for adults. What it is proposed to do is to include in the plans for towns that will be built in the future schools and theatres to meet the needs of prospective population. Where feasible, industry will be fostered within these limits of the township.

An interesting point pertinent to this phase of development was pointed out by Mr. Lewis. “The tendency of manufacturing establishments to locate on the outskirts of cities” he said “is shown by the report of the Census Bureau. In thirteen industrial districts, each of which covers a large city and its vicinity, the increase during the ten years from l899 to 1909 in the number of workers in the cities was 40.8 per cent, while the increase in the number of workers in the surrounding zones was 07.7 per cent. There are cases where factory employes are unable to find homes in the vicinity of their work, owing to the high class of development. Such unusual conditions exist in the neighborhood of Cincinnati.
“A number of large manufacturing plants have been located in suburbs outside of the city limits. These suburbs have attractive sites and the working conditions are exceedingly favorable, but during the decade or more since they were established little has been done to provide homes for their operatives. Some houses and flats designed to be within the means of factory workers were erected, but the real estate men and builders found that there was more profit in building houses of a better class to accommodate Cincinnati business men who wish to live in the suburbs. Meanwhile, half of the employes of these plants have their homes in the tenement district of Cincinnati and travel to their work in the suburbs every morning and back every night. About 5 per cent are said to live across the Ohio River in Kentucky. We have here the anomalous condition of an industrial suburb which has become an attractive residential district for those in no way connected with the industries about which the suburb has been built”.
How to avoid a duplication of such conditions is one of the subjects to be carefully gone into by the members conducting the survey. The movement of industries from the city to suburbs or rural districts long has been considered by public-minded citizens. It has been thought by many that the moving of the clothing industry, for instances, would do much toward wiping out the slums of New York. The point made today, however, is that no move of any kind should be contemplated before assurance can be had that the man or woman affected by it will not be socially or economically hurt. Shelby M. Harrison, director of the social surveys discussed this point.
Principles of the Plan

“This is in its social and other respects an educational project” he said. “It is proposed that the communities in this great New York region together look into and learn about their mutual problems. When the facts as to conditions affecting the region as a place in which to work and live satisfactorily are brought together by the several surveying groups, then interested citizens can familiarize themselves with tasks that lie ahead, can analyze and visualize the common problems of the region”.
Edward M. Basset, former Chairman of the Zoning Commission of New York and present counsel of the Zoning Committee, said that it would be well for New York not to expect too much for the way of changes in the near future.
“The mistake is made” he said “in believing that this is a ‘city beautiful’ movement. It is not. It is a movement to harmonize the development work of every village, town and city in the metropolitan district that will be affected by the future growth of the city. It is a movement to have them all build on so high a level of public improvement that they will compare favourably with each other. It is not that we want to dictate to them what and how they shall build, but that we want them to come to us, to meet us half-way and ask how we can co-operate with them in such way as to induce New York enterprises to locate there. New York through experience of years has worked out a series of health, sanitation, housing and social standards. The communities just growing up can begin where we are today and carry on to greater development from that point”.
It seems that the fact this is not a “city beautiful plan” cannot be too greatly emphasized. The writer was asked to quote the words of Robert W. De Forest, president of the Sage Foundation, in relation to this.
“To most people a city plan suggests nothing more than streets, open spaces and buildings, and is perhaps limited to what may be called the ‘ city beautiful’” he said. “While the project of the Sage Foundation unquestionably includes streets, open spaces and buildings, and would not ignore the element of beauty, its emphasis will be laid, according to the Foundation’s charter, on ‘the improvement of social and living conditions.’ It is that plan which makes the city a better place to live and a better place to work in that most interests the Sage Foundation.”
In a consideration of the problem by the Foundation the following facts were brought out:
Lessons From the Past

“The present street plan of Manhattan Island was designed by Commissioners Gouverneur Morris, Simeon De Witt and John Rutherford in 1811, when New York had a population of less than 90,000.
“In the report of the 1811 commission we find the following:
It may be a subject of merriment that the commissioners have provided space for a greater population than it is collected on this side of China. It is most improbable that considerable numbers may be collected at Haarlem before the high hills to the southward of it shall be built upon as a city, and it is improbable that (for centuries to come) the grounds north of Haarlem flat will be covered with houses.
It may be matter of surprise that so few vacant spaces have been left and those so small, for the benefit of fresh air and consequent preservation of health. Certainly if the City of New York were destined to stand on the side of a small stream such as the Seine or the Thames, a great number of ample spaces might be needful; but those large arms of the sea which embrace Manhattan Island render its situation, in regard to health and pleasure, as well as to convenience of commerce, peculiarly felicitous; when therefore, from the same causes, the price of land is so uncommonly great, it seemed proper to admit the principles of economy to greater influence than might under circumstances of a different kind, have consisted with the dictates of prudence and the sense of duty.

“These ‘principles of economy’ applied to ManhattanIsland in 1811 have yielded their logical and disastrous harvest of congestion and confusion in 1922. Embraced by ‘those large arms of the sea,’ rigidly bound to a street scheme designed in 1811, Manhattan has leaped into the air; it has tunnelled and bridged the rivers; it has thrust out its transportation arms until men and women travel fifty miles to their daily labor in the city; until the great arena of which Manhattan is the centre is in 1922 the home of no less than nine million of people. Deep-seated structural defects leave masses of this population in an environment ill suited for human happiness and welfare. Traffic in existing streets is congested to the point where it places intolerable burdens upon commerce and endangers human life. Although the public, the liberal press, the engineering and artistic professions have repeatedly voiced the need, there exists no comprehensive regional Plan of New York and its wide environs. Many admirable local plans have been developed, but no inspiriting vision of the far future guides us in our present expenditures of money and of civic effort. Without a guiding plan, what of New York 100 years hence? Momentous decisions are being constantly made, decisions that are local, piecemeal and unrelated to the larger trends. The time has come for unified planning in the interest of the whole people.

“Unhampered by the fears of the commissioners of 1811, lest their plans become ‘ subject of merriment’ if too large an area were included, all of the communities in which people make their houses who gain their livelihood in New York, from the New Jersey shore, through Princeton, to West Point, and Bridgeport, and including all of Long Island, will recognize their common interest in comprehensive planning; will share a common wish to make of New York and its environs a better place in which to work and to live. Precisely as a family rejoices in the development and embellishment of its home, so our citizens and their children’s children will watch with deepest satisfaction the gradual development of their fair estate, of New York and its environs, in accordance with some cherished plan.
“City planning requires imagination, it requires vision; it requires a long continuing study of facts and it costs a substantial sum of money. There is no public treasury which can be drawn upon to create such a plan, for no one governmental agency has jurisdiction over all of that area which includes portions of three States and many municipalities”.


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