Planning & Environmental Law Commentary — April 2009
A Familiar Ring: A Retrospective on the First National Conference on City Planning (1909)
Stuart Meck, FAICP, and Rebecca C. Retzlaff, AICP
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.1
Congestion. Blight. Affordable housing. The impact of mass transit. The need for enabling legislation. Lessons from abroad. And, of course, zoning. If you closed your eyes while someone recited the themes of the conference to you, you would swear you were at a gathering of planning officials and professional planners in 2009. You would be wrong. Instead, these were the topics covered 100 years ago at the National Conference on City Planning, held in Washington, D.C., from May 21 to 22, 1909 — the first assembly of members and advocates of the emerging city planning movement in the United States.
The conference was the start of a new era in planning in several respects. It represented a transition from planning by laypersons and professionals in allied fields to planning by professional planners. This was a shift from planning supported by the citizen activist- and business-dominated City Beautiful movement to the view that municipal governments should assume planning functions and hire professional city planners.2 It also came at a time when cities were beginning to experiment with new methods of comprehensive planning and development regulation, such as Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett's Plan of Chicago,3 which was unveiled shortly after the conference on July 4, 1909.4
This commentary examines that conference in detail. The first part looks at the context in which the conference was held from the standpoint of the growth of American cities through industrialization and immigration and innovations in the planning field. The second part describes the conference proceedings. The third part explores the backstory — the conflict between Benjamin Clarke Marsh, the firebrand social reformer from New York City who was the conference's lead organizer, and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the landscape architect from Brookline, Massachusetts, and son of the designer of New York's Central Park. Finally, the commentary assesses the impact of the conference on the planning profession.
The early 20th century was a time of great change in the United States, with a continuing and powerful shift from a rural to an industrial economy. Industrialization had brought a new interest in natural resource exploitation, new technologies, new supplies of skilled and unskilled workers, new sources of energy and transportation, and new methods of production, all of which came together in one physical location — the city.
At the turn of the century, America's population was growing and urbanizing. From 1860 to 1910, the total U.S. population increased from 31,444,000 to 91,972,000. Of that, the urban population climbed from 6,217,000, to 41,999,000 — a jump from 19.8 percent to 45.7 percent of the total population. In 1860, the number of cities with a population of 100,000 or more stood at nine. By 1910 it was 50.5
Much of the urbanizing force in American cities was the result of increased immigration, as well as a general movement from rural to urban areas. Immigration began in large numbers around 1840 and increased until about 1910. The first wave of immigrants came from Northern and Western Europe; the second wave, which began in the 1880s, was from Central and Eastern Europe. These new immigrants primarily moved to cities — particularly New York — or used New York as a port of first entry before journeying further into the nation's interior. The rate of immigration in the United States between 1901 and 1910 was about 10.4 percent annually per 1,000 U.S. population, with the rate peaking in 1907 at 14.8 percent. Over the nine years, some 8,795,000 immigrants entered the United States.6
Internal farm-to-city migration within the United States also increased in the closing years of the 19th and early years of the 20th century, the result of the combined effects of the mechanization of agriculture and rising birth rates and declining mortality rates in rural areas. Rural residents contributed substantially to city growth as the cities represented sources of employment, educational and cultural opportunities, and excitement. As one urban historian wrote, "Rural America had a surplus of population. For the farmers and their sons and daughters, the city became the new frontier of the industrial era."7
Cities had grown so fast in such a short amount of time that city infrastructure could not keep pace with the demand for services. Infrastructure such as lighting, sewerage, water, and transportation systems was not built for the dense industrialized cities of 1900 to 1910.
At the same time, many middle- and upper-income urban dwellers moved to the suburbs. Aided by the development of streetcars and commuter lines, residents of older cities began to leave their single-family homes for suburban locations.8 Their former city homes were often demolished to make way for larger buildings or partitioned into tenement houses.
As more immigrants came to the cities looking for work and homes, property owners divided their buildings into even more rooms and built other dwellings on what had been lawns and alleys.9 By the time the first tenement house law was enacted in New York City in 1867, there were 18,000 tenements in the city, more than half of which were in "bad sanitary condition."10 The overcrowding of people in the fast-growing cities, along with inadequate city infrastructure, led to poor living and sanitation conditions, which further concentrated poverty in certain areas.
Americans never had as much affection for cities as Europeans did, but industrialization significantly worsened their fears of urban life. Cities were viewed as dangerous places, home to criminals, vice, and temptation.11 The density that characterized cities was something to be avoided rather than embraced; many of the social reformers behind the fledgling planning movement saw density as a tangible evil.12 The crime that had previously existed at low densities in a country of relatively small towns before industrialization now became concentrated and more apparent as cities began to grow.13
All of these issues were clearly on the minds of the early figures of the planning movement as they met in Washington, D.C., in 1909 to discuss city planning and the problems of congestion. However, the conference participants not only had the conditions of American cities to discuss, but also new innovations in city planning and regulation, which had greatly accelerated in the decade leading up to the conference.
New York City enacted the Tenement House Act of 1901, which outlawed "Old Law" dumbbell apartment flats and required light and air courts between units and a bathroom in every dwelling.14 The New York law influenced legislation in other states and cities.
In 1903, the McMillan Commission (named after Sen. James McMillan, who chaired the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia) unveiled a plan to restore the Mall in Washington, D.C., to its original condition as envisioned in Pierre L'Enfant's plan for the city. The commission included architects Charles McKim and Burnham, landscape architect Olmsted, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.15 The members of the McMillan Commission "constituted the first group set up in America as experts on city planning and given the status of city planning consultants."16 Burnham went on to develop plans, in the City Beautiful model, for Cleveland's civic center in 1903 and for San Francisco in 1905, although the Cleveland plan was never implemented as proposed and the San Francisco plan was completely ignored in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.17
Hartford, Connecticut, became in 1907 the first American city with a permanent planning commission as a result of special state legislation enacted that year and an amendment to the city charter.18 That same year, the Russell Sage Foundation, which would be a sponsor of the 1909 conference, undertook the massive seven-volume Pittsburgh survey19 on housing conditions, hospitals, sanitation, and other matters "scarcely mentioned by [the] City Beautiful movement" and that ultimately "laid the foundations for the data-based American planning" of the later 20th century.20 In 1908, a group of consultants, including the planner Charles Mulford Robinson of Rochester, New York, prepared a plan for Columbus, Ohio.21
The year 1909 also saw the enactment in Wisconsin of the first statewide enabling legislation for city planning22 and the first zoning ordinance in the City of Los Angeles.23 Finally, two important land use decisions occurred during this period. In the first, Cochran v. Preston, 108 Md. 220, 70 A.113 (1908), the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld an ordinance establishing a 70-foot height limit in Baltimore for all buildings except churches, noting that the primary objective of the law was protection from fire. In the second, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Welch v. Swasey, 214 U.S. 91 (1909), where the Court sustained the City of Boston's different building height regulations for two areas: one, the business or commercial part, had a limitation of 125 feet; the other, used for residential purposes, had a permitted height of 80 to 100 feet.24
Thus, at the turn of the century, the stage was set for the organization of and more communication within the planning movement. The condition of cities needed serious attention; planners had found a new professional role through a shift in the paradigm of city planning, and several prominent figures, including Marsh and Olmsted, had emerged to formally organize a national conference on city planning and lead the movement and the city planning profession forward.
1909 Conference Proceedings
Marsh, the lead organizer for the conference and executive secretary of the Committee on Congestion of Population in New York City, came to Washington, D.C., several days early to attend to conference preliminaries, including setting up an exhibit on city planning in the Hotel Raleigh. Educated at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, Marsh had been active in advocating against congestion and for city planning.25 In March 1908, he mounted an exhibit on "Congestion of Population in New York" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In 1909 he published, through a private printing, An Introduction to City Planning,26 a monograph that, again, looked at the "causes and costs of population congestion," as well as various aspects of city planning, including a survey of city planning activity in the United States and Europe.27 Marsh would use material from this book, collected in part from trips to Europe, for speeches he gave at the forthcoming conference.
In his autobiography, Marsh recalled traveling to Washington with Henry Morgenthau, chairman of the Committee on Congestion, to meet with President William Howard Taft to attempt to persuade him to be a keynote speaker for the conference. "He [Taft] courteously expressed his great interest in the subject, but explained that Congress was very jealous of having the Chief Executive give it any advice or take any initiative in such a matter. That was only forty years ago!"28 Taft recommended Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger as an alternative, and Ballinger presided at sessions on the conference's second day.
Interviewed by the Washington Post prior to the conference, Marsh was harshly critical of housing conditions in Washington, D.C., and his remarks conveyed his caustic, aggressive style that did not dim with the years. "I have no desire to criticize Washington, but it is a fact that there are many places in this city that are shameful," he said. "You have blind alleys and interior courts not fit for human beings to live in. Why, within a stone's throw of the Peace Monument, at the foot of the Capitol, is a dirty little alley that for [u]nsanitary condition is not surpassed in any other city. Out in Georgetown I know of a small tenement that houses six families and many boarders, and in the fashionable residence district, near Massachusetts [A]venue, is a negro tenement that is in a frightfully dirty condition."29
Of course, there was always New York for comparison, and Marsh didn't pass on an opportunity to point an accusing finger. "Now in New York, conditions are different. There we mass misery vertically, while here it is horizontally scattered. You have beautiful parks, but no large areas to provide breathing room for the poor." Ever the diplomat, Marsh acerbically concluded, "But, as I have said, Washington is providing an inspiration for other cities, and we have to thank it for that."30
The two-day conference on Friday, May 21, and Saturday, May 22, was divided into three themes: Friday evening was the "official night," with presentations by conference officials that laid the groundwork for and set the tone of the conference. It was held at the Masonic Temple Auditorium. Saturday's presentations at the boardroom of the District of Columbia building were more detailed, and covered the structure of city planning in the United States and Europe, the accomplishments of city planning, and the major problems facing cities at the turn of the century. Saturday afternoon consisted of reports on the status of planning in various U.S. cities. The conference concluded on Saturday evening with a banquet and presentations at the Hotel Raleigh by the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the commissioner of the District of Columbia, and others.31
In a front-page story, the Washington Post reported that "President Taft was to have delivered the opening address, but the attack of hoarseness from which he is suffering prevented his attendance." The Post commented that the meeting was "attended by a number of widely known sociological workers from all parts of the county, men and women who believe in having this generation plan for the physical and moral welfare of the future generations who are to live in the centers of population."32
Henry B.F. Macfarland, commissioner of the District of Columbia, instead gave the opening address, briefly discussing the problems of housing and growth in Washington, D.C., and outlining their solutions. Macfarland noted that the Plan of Washington not only sought to deal with the physical attractiveness of the city, but also addressed health, comfort, and sanitary conditions. He discussed how recently enacted development regulations, such as building codes and siting requirements (including the provision that no buildings could be erected in alleys), had led to improvements in living conditions in the city. However, Macfarland declared that much work was still needed in order to improve living conditions in American cities. "We ought to learn much from this conference, which will be valuable in our future work for the betterment of all our civic conditions," he concluded.33
The next two addresses, by Morgenthau and Marsh — both representing the Committee on Congestion of Population in New York City — laid out a national program for city planning.
Morgenthau, a New York City attorney and real estate developer who would become ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I, opened with a dramatic warning of the dark prospect of political upheaval if the problems of cities were not addressed. "There is an evil which is gnawing at the vitals of the country, to remedy which we have come together — an evil that breeds physical disease, moral depravity, discontent, and socialism — and all these must be cured and eradicated or else our great body politic will be weakened," he said. To Morgenthau, this meant that "[o]ur community can only hold its preeminence if the masses that compose it are given a chance to be healthy, moral, and self-respecting. If they are forced to live like swine, they will lose their vigor."34
The New York Times account contained quotes from Morgenthau's speech that were not included in the conference proceedings. "We now have in the ninety-one largest cities in the United States twenty-five millions of population at least. Many are dependent upon incomes of less than $500 a year," he said. "In twenty years this number will be doubled. What a great service to this Nation it would be to solve their housing problem, make healthy patriotic cities the mainstay of the Republic instead of letting them drift into a disease infected, Socialistically inclined mass, and then spending millions of dollars on hospitals to cure them, provisions to punish them, and police to repress them."35
Morgenthau identified four strategies to improve the conditions of cities: (1) better enforcement of tenement overcrowding laws; (2) zoning that separated factories from residential areas; (3) more parks and playgrounds; and (4) public transportation, to allow city residents to move out into the countryside. He also observed that subway congestion was a new problem that coexisted with these strategies. "Unfortunately we are now face to face with a new trouble, the beastly and immoral crowding of our subways during rush hours," he said. "But the people seem greatly to prefer being congested for thirty or forty minutes than to submit to the old condition in the unhealthy housings of the East Side."36
Marsh focused on national solutions to improving cities, arguing that their problems warranted attention and guidance from the federal government:
That city planning is a national problem is evidenced by the fact that there are 208 cities in the United States with a population of 50,000 or over, and 107 cities with a population of 25,000 or more. Each of these cities has a distinct problem of organization, but each has this in common: it is striving to increase its population and wealth.37
Marsh outlined three elements of a national city planning program. First, a national study was needed on the conditions of cities, including economic, industrial, housing, and land ownership conditions. He said this should be accomplished in part through a "civic census" by the federal government because "progress must be upon the basis of ascertained facts."38 Marsh suggested the formation of a national city planning committee, which would be charged with not only completing the study, but also would "call attention . . . to the need for such a plan and to put at the disposal of the community who are most interested in the subject the information and experience of other cities, to enable them to avoid mistakes and direct their work most effectively."39 Second was a campaign to publicize the national study and demonstrate the importance of city planning. Third, Marsh indicated that new legislation was needed at the state and local levels to prepare, adopt, and enforce city plans.
Surgeon General George M. Sternberg, president of Taft's Home Commission, discussed housing conditions in Washington in the final speech on Friday evening. Assessing housing conditions in the city, Sternberg's remarks on the difficulty of providing affordable housing, particularly for the very low-income, still resonate: "Under present conditions as to the price of land, of labor and materials, and in view of existing building regulations, there is no temptation to capital to invest in this class of houses."40
Saturday's events were divided into three themes. In the morning, participants heard speeches on the scope and status of city planning in cities in the United States and abroad. In the afternoon, the accomplishments of city planning in the United States were discussed. At the evening banquet, participants discussed and debated some details of city planning, including economics, legislation, and the problems of congestion.
Olmsted, the landscape architect, gave the first presentation on Saturday morning, speaking about his experiences and observations from a recent trip to Europe to study city planning. Although he spoke at length about the design and layout of new roads in European cities, he noted that the evolving field of city planning went beyond physical design of streets and blocks:41
This speech suggests the coming of a far broader, deeper, wiser attitude than that which merely sets an arbitrary minimum of street width and establishes a mechanical method of agglomerating block after block and street after street of a standardized type. . . . It marks a recognition of the idea that the ultimate purpose of city planning is not to provide facilities for certain kinds of transportation or to obtain architectural effects, but is to direct the physical development of the city by every means of control within the power of the municipality in such a manner that the ordinary citizen will be able to live and labor under conditions as favorable to health, happiness, and productive efficiency as his means will permit.42
Olmsted was taken with the comprehensiveness of the scope of city planning in Germany. "[A] city plan in Germany includes in one unified project not only a surveyor's plat for the lay out of streets, and so forth," he commented, "but the whole code of building regulations, health ordinances, police rules, and system of taxation in so far as they have direct influence on the physical development of the city."43 He was particularly impressed with the system of district building regulations, which had the effect of separating land uses.44
Still, Olmsted maintained that "although we have an immense amount to learn from Europe, and especially from Germany, in regard to city planning, it would be very foolish for us to copy blindly what has been done there." Noting climatic, economic, social, and political differences between European countries and the United States, Olmsted observed, "There is need for some caution lest we copy the mistakes."45
Also on Saturday afternoon, Robert Anderson Pope, a New York landscape architect, spoke out passionately against the City Beautiful movement. Pope contended that planners were overly concerned with beautification, and should instead focus their efforts on solving the pressing issues that impact city residents.46 He said:
. . . We have assumed without question that the first duty of city planning is to beautify. We have made the aesthetic an objective in itself. . . .
. . . we have rushed to plan showy civic centers of gigantic cost . . . the carrying out of which too often has been brought about by civic vanity, and bears the character of external adornment, when pressing hard-by, we see the almost unbelievable congestion with its hideous brood of evil; filth, disease, degeneracy, pauperism, and crime. What external adornment can make truly beautiful such a city?47
The afternoon concluded with speakers who gave short talks on the status of planning in Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Detroit.48 While the planning activities in the cities varied widely, there was general agreement that planning had entered a new era of experimentation with different strategies to address the problems of cities (and particularly housing conditions), such as building and development regulation, comprehensive planning, and public parks.
J.Q. Adams, secretary of the Municipal Art Commission of New York, drew the attention of the New York Times with his proposal for a permanent city planning commission there.49 Adams did not mince words on the contemplated scope of its authority. Such a commission, he declared, "shall have complete control of the future developments of the city, of the location of all public buildings, of the opening up of parks and boulevards, and, in this way cleaning out the slum districts. . . . It should be a commission of wide jurisdiction and absolute power."50
In the first address at the Saturday evening banquet, Joseph Cannon, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, had cautioned that city planning should not follow other efforts to improve the conditions of the poor in the United States that had focused more on theories than on understanding issues. As Cannon said, ". . . don't follow the example of some and try to relieve conditions that you don't understand. I have no patience with the theorists who are trying to relieve what they are pleased to call the agricultural section of this country."51
Mrs. V.G. [Mary Kingsbury] Simkhovich of Greenwich House in New York gave a detailed account of the housing conditions in the city's settlement houses. Simkhovich, the only woman who spoke at the conference, advocated an educational campaign "to bring about a city plan for every city and growing community in the United States" as well as a national commission or bureau to study the entire subject of city planning.52
Finally, Benjamin Marsh held forth on the costs of congestion and diseases, such as tuberculosis, that were linked to overcrowding, while admitting there had not as yet been developed "a sufficiently careful method of statistics" to document economic impacts. He also tied "the enormous tribute of disease" to "land speculation and exploitation" that could only be checked by the government, and he favored establishment of a governmental commission whose duty would be to determine "what is a fair profit in various lines of business."53
Marsh stayed on at the conclusion of the conference and testified before a Senate committee on the District of Columbia, which published the proceedings and Marsh's testimony. In future years, conference proceedings would be published in bound volumes.54
Olmsted and Marsh: The Backstory
Like many professional conferences, this one had a backstory, and it involved a clash between Olmsted and Marsh over the future direction of the organization. The difference was one of style and substance: Olmsted's cautious and more conservative approach versus Marsh's rough and radical tactics, which always seemed to involve poking a stick in the eye of the business community. Complicating matters was Marsh's advocacy for municipal land ownership to assure, in theory, "a greater measure of control over the character and pace of its expansion, while it was assured a cheap supply of land for public improvements" and for a differential or graded tax on land, which borrowed heavily from economist Henry George and his disciples. This involved "a progressive tax upon increases in land values, of which the community received one-tenth to one-quarter, as well as the proceeds from the regular land tax."55 Taxing land at a much higher rate than buildings was designed to discourage land speculation or monopoly and also to encourage improvements. "Landowners, presumably, would find it too costly to keep land idle, waiting for it to increase in value."56
Historian Jon A. Peterson has pieced together an account of the intrigues that ultimately led to Marsh's exodus from the conference leadership. The differences were over the need for zoning, an obsession with Marsh, but more broadly over a social welfare versus a physical planning emphasis. Notes Peterson: "Behind the scenes, Frederick Law Olmsted began to maneuver against Marsh and anticongestion reform for control of the national organization that emerged from the 1909 meetings, soon to be called the National Conference on City Planning." Olmsted took leadership of the emerging organization and "acted not in defense of City Beautiful but in hope that the new body would dedicate itself to comprehensive city planning as the root principle of a new field of public endeavor." This field, writes Peterson, "would be far more conservative in purpose than Marsh favored but also more broadly conceived and technically competent than city planning thus far envisioned by the pioneer planners."57
Olmsted's strategy, as recounted by Peterson, was to create an executive committee to be responsible for planning the next conference. This committee drew on representatives from established groups like the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the League of American Municipalities, and the American Society of Landscape Architects, which Olmsted represented, but also included the Committee on Congestion of Population in New York City. This committee then appointed a four-person subcommittee to devise the program for the next conference. Olmsted sat on this subcommittee; Marsh was excluded.58
Olmsted and the subcommittee structured the program as a two- to three-day gathering focusing on only "'three distinct phases of city planning'" with papers given by the "'best qualified students,'" a tactic that would limit the amount of time devoted to congestion reform that Marsh advocated. Moreover, the subcommittee favored the delivery of " 'one general paper' " that synthesized the various topics on the conference program. Over the years, wrote Peterson, "Olmsted would preempt this role by virtue of his position as conference chairman and maker of the keynote address."59 In addition, Olmsted appointed Flavel Shurtleff, a young Harvard Law School graduate, to coordinate the next conference in Rochester, New York, and to study the legal issues related to city planning.
Marsh attended the Rochester conference in 1910 and gave a paper on the causes of congestion,60 one of several on the topic, but "soon found himself all but ostracized."61 The conference, Peterson observes, ratified Olmsted's basic philosophy that it become "'a forum for discussion and study' of city planning from the vantage of all the different groups then involved with the physical shaping of cities, not a reform advocacy group."62 After the conference, the General Committee met in New York and elected Olmsted as chair; Nelson P. Lewis, the chief engineer of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment in New York, as vice chair; and Shurtleff as secretary. The General Committee went on to establish an elaborate committee structure and Marsh was not named to any of the committees. The only person of this leadership group who had any connection with the anticongestion movement was Lawrence Veiller, the New York tenement house reformer.63
The final straw came when the Executive Committee dropped the phrase "problems of congestion" from the official title of the next conference so that it was no longer the "National Conference on City Planning and the Problems of Congestion" when it met in Philadelphia in 1911.64
Back in New York, Marsh "could not budge the powerful financial interests arrayed against him and even his potential allies dropped support."65 Advocacy for single-tax schemes would eventually cause Marsh a loss in support from the New York business community, including that of Henry Morgenthau, his board member, who believed that the adoption of the single tax would hurt his investments.66 Morgenthau withdrew his financial backing from the Committee on Congestion of Population in New York City, ended the free office space he had provided, and resigned from the board.67 In 1912, writes Jon Peterson, "Marsh would depart New York with nothing but his principles intact, going to the Balkans as a war correspondent. He would never return to city planning."68
Impact of the Conference
Although the first conference on city planning was brief and the number of participants relatively few,69 it arguably had more impact than the lengthy and sprawling excesses of modern planning conferences.
The conference effectively marked the decline of the City Beautiful movement. The conference came at a time when the fault lines of the City Beautiful movement were beginning to appear, bringing with them the notion that sparkling facades were not enough to hide the problems that plagued American cities; problems such as a lack of sanitation, poor housing, poorly designed streets, and the much-criticized congested population.70 The changing paradigm was on the minds of several of the conference speakers, such as Robert Anderson Pope, who sought to use the conference as a way to define a more socially and economically responsible city planning movement. As Pope said, "Of prime importance to the growth of the town-planning movement in America is the need of bringing to all the people the realization of its true nature, its proper aim, its vast social and economic import." It is in this regard, Pope continued, that city planning had gone in the wrong direction through the City Beautiful movement:
In most of our large cities the movement has characterized itself by the expenditure of huge sums for extensive park systems, with broad boulevards and bridle paths, for far-outlying reservations; inaccessible improvements designed to protect the needs of future generation, now, however, made available to but a small portion of the community — the wealthy and leisure classes, who of all society needs these advantages the least.71
High-level federal officials participated in the conference, and conference participants saw a role for the federal government in support of city planning. The conference drew Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon; Sen. Francis G. Newlands; Rep. J. Van Vechten Olcott; Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger; and George Sternberg, the surgeon general. Newlands, Marsh, and Simkhovich all spoke of some type of positive role for the federal government in advancing city planning and serving as an educational force. Interestingly, no one suggested, on the theory of "local control" or "home rule," that the federal government did not have a role in city planning, or viewed such a role with suspicion.
The conference served to define the emerging planning profession. Participants spoke of a broader scope of city planning, moving beyond just the physical design and layout of streets and blocks, to one that included many other aspects of the growth of the city. Just as planners at the turn of the century were beginning to discover new tools and methods of planning, conference attendees noted their admiration of tools such as zoning and the separation of land uses in Germany and housing and building codes in New York City. These models would later be used to define the technical emphasis of the planning profession into the 21st century.
The conference became a vehicle to create a permanent institution to support planning.The National Conference on City Planning (the Conference) formalized itself and its conferences became an annual event, serving as an educational and promotional organization. By 1915, it employed Shurtleff as executive director. Ultimately the Conference led to the creation of the American City Planning Institute in 1917 (renamed the American Institute of Planners in 1938), which then merged with the American Society of Planning Officials to form the American Planning Association in 1978.72 Several Conference members, including Olmsted, Nelson P. Lewis, and Edward M. Bassett, a New York City attorney who helped formulate that city's first zoning ordinance, served on the U.S. Department of Commerce's advisory committees that drafted the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act and the Standard City Planning Enabling Act in the 1920s. These two influential documents served as the models for most states' planning and zoning legislation.
In addition, the Conference was one of the amici that signed onto the influential brief that Alfred Bettman would submit to the United State Supreme Court in Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty, 272 U.S. 365 (1926), the case that would uphold the constitutionality of zoning.73 Bettman was the Cincinnati attorney who was also a member of the Conference and of the advisory committee for the model planning and zoning acts.
The issues that were discussed at the conference, and the divergent views on how to deal with them, persist. Although much has changed in America since 1909, many of the problems discussed at the conference, such as providing affordable housing and modernizing urban infrastructure, are issues that planners still deal with today.
Perhaps most indicative of the split of philosophies between the conference participants were the unvarnished remarks of Andrew Wright Crawford, assistant city solicitor in Philadelphia, who spoke after Olmsted and the architect George Ford. Crawford's comments about the ecology of the city starkly reveal his perspective on who was living there. "Philadelphia's bad housing conditions came about this way," he said. "Certain sections were the fashion. Excellent houses were put up. Fashion moved. The region decayed. Foreigners came in." (Emphasis supplied). With regard to housing conditions, he cautioned, "[L]et us beware of thinking that New York is typical or of believing that the remedy applied to New York should be applied elsewhere." Crawford went on to argue that linking city planning to housing conditions would cause planning to consider too expansive a spectrum of issues. "City planning and housing conditions have a relation to each other, but it is not that of interdependence. . . . If we are to consider the title of city planning as broad enough to cover housing conditions," he contended, "then we should consider it broad enough to cover paving, sewage, lighting, control of traffic, in fact all the physical aspects of the framework of the city. . . . For the sake of clear thinking, let us by all means keep apart the distinct, though allied subjects of city planning and the housing problem."74
The question of whether city planning should have a social as well as a physical focus — the underlying theme at the gathering in Washington, D.C., in 1909 — and more critically, what to do about it, will — if history repeats itself — be a topic of debate at the National Planning Conference of 2109.
Stuart Meck is a faculty fellow and director of the Center for Government Services in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, New Brunswick, New Jersey. He is also an adjunct assistant professor in the Master of Historic Preservation Program at Goucher College and a reporter for Planning & Environmental Law.
Rebecca C. Retzlaff is an assistant professor in the Community Planning Program at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.
The names of the authors appear in alphabetical order, indicating their equal contribution to this research.
1. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
2. Historian William H. Wilson notes that the American Civic Association (ACA), a chief citizen-led proponent of the City Beautiful movement, began to lose its planning role with the formation of more specialized professional associations and the first city planning conference. "Initially, the ACA worked a wide field. The formation of the National Playground Association of America in 1906, the creation of the National Conference on City Planning in 1909 and the vitality of the National Municipal League and the American Society of Landscape Architects all diverted specialized professional interests away from the ACA. . . . Most ominous of all was the establishment of the first city planning commission at Hartford, Connecticut in 1907. The commission forecast a new reality: City governments would assume planning responsibilities and retain professional planners, usurping the catalytic role of the citizen activists who formed the backbone of the ACA." William H. Wilson, J. Horace McFarland and the City Beautiful Movement, 7 J. of Urb. Hist. 3, 315–334, at 326–327 (1981).
3. Daniel H. Burnham and Edward Bennett, Plan of Chicago (1909).
4. Carl Smith, The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American city 85 (2006).
5. Raymond A. Mohl, The New City: Urban America and The Industrial Age, 1860-1920, 8 (1986), Table 1, Urbanization in the United States, 1860–1920, citing U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970, Vol. 1, 11–12 (1975).
6. U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States 15 (2003), Table HS-8, Immigration — Number and Rate: 1900–2001.
7. See supra note 5, 19–20.
8. See, e.g., Sam Bass Warner, Jr., The Urban Wilderness: A History of the American City 108–112 (1995) (discussion of Chicago suburbanization).
9. Roy Lubove, The Progressives and the Slums 3 (1962).
10. Id. at 25.
11. Roger Lane comments that one of the most direct fears that Americans had of cities came from their physical appearance and density: "Observers of varying sophistication have pointed out that dark streets hide dark deeds, and that the anonymity and freedom of urban society, its temptations and frenzied pace, all contribute to encourage criminal behavior. From this it is easy to conclude that with metropolitan growth and the multiplication of all these conditions, the rate of violent crime is inexorably multiplied also" (at 129). Although increases in crime did not always coincide with increases in urbanization, the perception that cities were dangerous was more important than actual crime statistics. Lane continues, " . . . constant repetition of a myth is no substitute for proof" (Id.). Roger Lane, Urbanization and Criminal Violence in the Nineteenth Century in American Urban History 129–140 (Alexander B. Callow, ed. 1982).
12. See, e.g., the conference remarks of Mrs. V.G. Simkhovich on housing, infra, note 52, 102–104.
13. As Historian Eric Monkkonen notes, the idea that cities cause crime in unfounded, although very clearly in the minds of early 20th century Americans. "The city does not necessarily cause the problems, even though it provides the location for them. Strikingly, the empirical evidence, though imperfect, suggests that the social consequences of urbanization do not in themselves cause crime. Growing cities turned neither their inhabitants nor their newcomers into criminals, but they did make painfully visible social problems that up to then had been seen only on a small scale in a world of scattered villages and towns." Eric H. Monkkonen, America Becomes Urban: The Development of U.S. Cities and Towns, 1780–1980, 96 (1988).
14. The Tenement House Law and the Lodging House Law of the City of New York (1902, William Fryer, ed.). See also The Tenement House Problem Including the Report of the New York State Tenement House Commission of 1900 (Robert W. DeForest and Lawrence Veiller, eds., 1908, 2 vols.).
15. William H. Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement 67–70 (1989).
16. Laurence C. Gerckens, Shaping the American City B-4 (2003, course manual for Goucher College).
17. Jon A. Peterson, The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840–1917, 157–158, 185–190 (2003).
18. Theodora Kimball Hubbard and Henry Vincent Hubbard, Our Cities Today and Tomorrow: A Survey of Planning and Zoning Progress in the United States 358 (1929).
19. See Pittsburgh Surveyed: Social Science and Social Reform in the Early Twentieth Century (Maurine W. Greenwald and Margo Anderson, eds., 1996).
20. Gerckens, supra at B-9.
21. Austin W. Lord, Albert Kelsey, Charles N. Lowrie, Charles Mulford Robinson, and h.a. Mcneil, Report of the Plan Commission for the City of Columbus, Ohio (1908).
22. Wisconsin, ch. 162 (1909), cited in 9 National Civic Review 676 (1920). See also Frank Backus Williams, The Law of City Planning and Zoning 638 (1922).
23. John Delafons, Land-use Controls in the United States 20 (1969, 2d ed.) (discussing Los Angeles ordinance). See also Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394 (1915) (finding constitutional an ordinance prohibiting the manufacture of bricks within a specified section of the City of Los Angeles).
24. Kenneth A. Stahl, The Suburb as a Legal Concept: The Problem of Organization and the Fate of Municipalities in American Law, 29 Cardozo L. Rev. 1193 (2008). Comments Stahl:
. . . Welch implicitly approved the Progressive repudiation of the architectural and ideological premises of the City Beautiful and effectively rubber-stamped the Progressive effort to destroy the strongholds of urban organization. Finally, while affirming the legislation's validity based on a very tenuous relationship to fire prevention, Welch stood firmly in a long line of cases holding that the police power could not permissibly be exercised in furtherance of a purely aesthetic objective. The plain implication of Welch was that zoning could be freely employed to destroy the high-density structures that both symbolized and nourished urban community, but could never be employed for the City Beautiful's "aesthetic" goal of enriching urban life.
Welch completely altered the direction of the urban planning movement. The inaugural Conference on City Planning, held just days after the decision in Welch, marked the official hijacking of the planning movement by the Progressives and its re-direction from the realization of the City Beautiful toward the alleviation of the urban pathology. Financier Henry Morgenthau opened the conference with a speech in which he opined that planning's first aim should be to eradicate the city's "disease, moral depravity, discontent and socialism." (footnotes omitted). Id., at 1233.
25. Harvey A. Kantor, Benjamin C. Marsh and the Fight Over Population Congestion, 40 J. of the Am. Plng. Assoc. 6, 422–429 (1974).
26. Benjamin C. Marsh, An Introduction to City Planning (1974, reprint of 1909 edition).
27. Comments Kantor:
Marsh's little book provides an interesting glimpse not only of his own thinking but of the state of city planning in general in 1909. The first manual on the subject came from a social worker, a supporter of reform causes. The technical aspects of the field were only touched upon briefly in a separate chapter by Marsh's architect friend George B. Ford. The primary examples of good planning drew on European, particularly German, models. Reflecting Marsh's own proclivities, the work emphasized zoning, land taxes, and municipal control of undeveloped property. An Introduction to City Planning, activist in overtone, strongly carried the message of the city's responsibilities in land development, and Marsh clearly challenged the dominant urban trend of unrestricted growth. Kantor, supra, at 429.
28. Benjamin C. Marsh, Lobbyist for the People: A Record of Fifty Years 27 (1953).
29. Chats of Visitors to the Capital, Washington Post, May 21, 1909, at 6.
31. The banquet included the following program: Toastmaster, Mr. Allen D. Albert, Jr.; Legislation and City Planning, Joseph Cannon, the speaker of the House of Representatives; Mr. Henry B.F. Macfarland, commissioner of the District of Columbia; Congestion in American Cities, Mrs. V.G. Simkhovitch, New York; The Economic Aspects of City Planning, Mr. Benjamin C. Marsh, New York.
32. 'Look-Ahead' Move; City, in Planning Conference, Works for Posterity, Washington Post, May 22, 1909, 1.
33. U.S. Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, City Planning, at 59, 61 Cong. 2d Session, S. Doc. 422 (1910). The 1909 proceedings appeared as an appendix at 59–105 (cited hereinafter as "City Planning").
34. Id., 60.
35. Cities Must Guard Health of Workers; Henry Morgenthau Outlines in Washington a Plan to Obtain Model Homes for the Poor, New York Times, May 22, 1909, at 3.
36. City Planning, 60.
37. Id., 61.
40. Id., 62.
41. Frederick L. Ford, city engineer of Hartford, Connecticut, and secretary of the Permanent Commission on the City Plan, who followed Olmsted, also spoke of the scope of city planning, indicating that city planning has moved beyond focusing solely on issues such as traffic congestion toward a more comprehensive view of the city.
42. City Planning, 65–66.
43. Id., 66.
44. Olmsted noted that district building regulations served several purposes. " . . . to give every lot owner in each district in the city a fair degree of assurance as to the kind of thing which may be done and which may not be done in the way of building and of commercial and industrial occupations in the vicinity of his lot. . . . Another purpose of the system of district building regulations has been to prevent the spread to outlying districts of certain classes of congested urban development which are recognized as undesirable. . . " Id., 69.
45. Id., 70.
46. Pope, like Olmsted, was impressed with German city planning. "The example of European countries, especially that of Germany, demonstrates that wise city planning, with proper regulations, can alleviate and ultimately eradicate undue congestion — the undeniable source of most of our disease and pauperism, of our crime and degeneracy." Id., 75–76.
47. Id., 75.
48. Munson A. Hayes, Secretary of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce (speaking about city planning in Cleveland); Arthur A. Shurtleff, a landscape architect (Boston); Andrew Wright Crawford, assistant city solicitor in Philadelphia (Philadelphia); Charles Mumford Robinson, a planning consultant from Rochester, New York (Denver and Los Angeles); Allen T. Burns, Secretary of the Pittsburgh Civic Commission (Pittsburgh); Josias Pennington, of the Municipal Art Society in Baltimore (Baltimore); George E. Hooker, from the City Club of Chicago (Chicago); Richard B. Watrous, Secretary of the American Civic Association (Milwaukee); and Frank C. Baldwin, an architect (Detroit). There was also a statement, with no author attribution, about city planning in St. Louis. Senator Francis G. Newlands of Nevada spoke about the need for comprehensive planning (Newlands was one of the developers of Chevy Chase, Maryland). Id., 82–100.
49. To Plan All Our Buildings: Dr. Adams Declares New York Needs Commission with Authority, New York Times, May 23, 1909, at 2.
50. City Planning, 88.
51. Id., 100.
52. Id., 104. See also Susan Marie Wirka, The City Social Movement: Progressive Women Reformers and Early Social Planning in Planning the Twentieth Century City 54–75, 70–72 (Mary Corbin Sies and Christopher Silver, eds. 1996) (describing Simkhovich's address at the conference).
53. Id., 104–105.
54. Kantor, supra, 427.
55. Lubove, supra, 235.
56. Id., 235–236.
57. Peterson, Birth of City Planning, supra, 244–245 (2003). See also Jon A. Peterson, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.: The Visionary and the Professional in Planning the Twentieth Century City 37–54 (Mary Corbin Sies and Christopher Silver, eds., 1996).
58. Peterson, Birth of City Planning, 249–250.
59. Id., 250.
60. Benjamin C. Marsh, Causes of Congestion of Population, in Proceedings of the Second National Conference on City Planning and the Problems of Congestion, Rochester, N.Y., May 3–4, 1910, 35–39 (1912).
61. Peterson, Birth of City Planning, supra, 251.
62. Id., quoting, at note 19, from Report of the Committee on Future Organization, in Proceedings of the Second National Conference on City Planning and the Problems of Congestion, Rochester, N.Y., May 3–4, 1910, 6–9, at 8 (1912).
65. Kantor, 427.
67. Peterson, Birth of City Planning, supra, 251.
68. Id., 251.
69. Kantor, supra, at 427, placed the number of participants in the conference at 43.
70. As Mel Scott commented, "The City Beautiful, once a vision of the New Jerusalem to those in the vanguard of the city planning movement, no longer loomed as the goal of the national pilgrimage. Believers returning from the scared precincts reported the discovery of slums similar to those Haussmann hid behind the uniform facades of the replanned Paris, and the alley dwellings like those Henry B.F. Macfarland, Commissioner of the District of Columbia, described as a disgrace to the national capital." Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890, 96 (1995).
71. City Planning, 75–76.
72. See generally, Eugenie Ladner Birch, Advancing the Art and Science of Planning: Planners and their Organizations: 1909-1980, 46 J. of the Am. Plng. Assoc. 1, 22–49, esp. 23–25 (1980).
73. Village of Euclid, et al. v. Ambler Realty Company, Brief, Amici Curiae, in the Supreme Court of the United States, in Alfred Bettman, City and Regional Planning Papers 157–193 (Arthur C. Comey, ed., 1946).
74. Id., 82.