The German Way of Making Better Cities
IN no other country has the art of city-planning been carried to so high a degree as in Germany to-day. This is due to several important factors. Among them are the extraordinary industrial progress in the past quarter century, the highly organized character of German institutions, the thoroughness with which the Germans attack their problems, and the strongly idealistic quality of the national temperament. The unification of Germany in 1871 made possible the development of large plans and vast enterprises, political, economic, and industrial. The great industrial movement, favored by a generation and more of uninterrupted peace, has vastly enhanced national prosperity and created an enormous volume of new wealth . The growth of urban population — the creation of new centres, the expansion of villages into cities, of small cities into large ones, and of the larger ones into complex metropolitan communities — has not been surpassed by similar movements of population in newer-settled countries like our own.
The German urban movement in a great measure is marked by elements of conscious development, of finish, of wellconsidered attainment of definite ends deliberately aimed at. The same skill, the same deliberately conscious determination, that has given Germany the industrial primacy of Continental Europe, has been applied to the development of her cities. Here the demand has induced the supply. With the creation of so many new centres of trade and industry, and with the certainty that this meant an indefinite continuance of urban expansion. it was felt that this growth should be intelligently provided for. Thereby what is practically a new art, a new science, came into being. Like architecture, it is both a fine art and a technical science. Like landscape architecture, it may be regarded as a phase of architecture. It is akin both to landscape architecture and to structural architecture, but it has qualities that carry it beyond the limits of either profession. The members of both are drawn to practice it, but to practice it successfully needs further training and the acquisition of new points of view. It means something more than planning. The planning of cities, both intelligently and unintelligently, is something very old. Were it merely city-planning, it would hardly be worth ranking as a new profession. The German name has the merit of a greater precision than English speech can impart. Städtebau, literally translated, would be “ city-building.” But the term is a shade more inclusive than that would imply; “ city-development ” more nearly expresses the comprehensively formative nature of the task.
In Germany, the new profession numbers many scholarly and able members, headed by leaders like Stübben, Baumeister,Gurlitt, Henrici, and Theodor Fischer. Their practice is by no means confined to Germany. The success of a master like Stübben, for instance, with his admirable plan for the expansion of Cologne, led to his being commissioned with a like scheme for the expansion of Antwerp — a community where a dominance of French, rather than of German. influences might naturally be looked for. The profession has a handsomely illustrated organ in the monthly magazine Der Städtebau, which finds no end of fascinating subjects in the problems involved. The planning for the new growth of hundreds of communities in all parts of Germany presents an ample field for professional activities. This German school naturally includes Austria within its scope, for the lamented Camillo Sitte of Vienna may be said to have founded it no further back than when, in 1889, the appearance of his important book, Der Städtebau nach künstlerischen Grundsätzen (City-Building according to Artistic Principles), gave definite form and correlation to ideas that had been gradually shaping themselves in the minds of architects.
Within the sphere of influence of this German school, Switzerland and the three Scandinavian countries are also to be reckoned, as well as Belgium. It is significant that its ideas are also dominant in giving shape to the remarkable “ townplanning ” movement that is now gaining headway in Great Britain. It may be noted that in probably no other part of the civilized world is there such need of its good offices. British cities, like Topsy, have “ jest growed; ” the new industrial centres of Germany, have been developing intelligently. Hence in stamina, and correspondingly in intelligence, their populations present a marked contrast with the ill-housed, ill-nourished, anæmic, and ignorant swarms that characterize the squalid manufacturing centres of Great Britain, —a factor that must more and more seriously handicap that country in the contest for commercial and industrial supremacy wherein Germany is ever becoming a closer second.
The new art, as practiced in Germany, is a gradual development away from formal and geometrical ideas embodied in the checker-board and gridiron plans that, in fact, derive themselves from a remote antiquity rather than from a Philadelphian modernity, and from the diagonal and radial systems for which the plans of Paris and Washington, as masterworks of their kind, are prototypes. Vienna, with its radical reconstruction in the middle of the nineteenth century, also furnished another master-example. Here, as in Paris, the razing of fortifications struck the keynote. It created the typical circumferential way: the boulevards of Paris, the Ringstrasse of Vienna. So the word boulevard, a French attempt to speak the German military term bollwerk (English bulwark), harking back to its ancestral home, gave rise to the Anlagen, or “ layings-out,” —the irregular rings of promenades, drives, and gardens replacing the ancient walls, so charmingly typical of nearly all the old German cities.
These first innovations agree so well with the character of the old cities that they make all the more discordant the effects produced by the second main elements in the new growth that induced an extensive cutting through of new streets to accommodate increased traffic. These streets led to the development of needed radial arteries, but their rectilinear character did violence to the picturesque aspects of many old towns. Hence there arose a keen antagonism to the ruthless procedure. The increasing value attached to such qualities made the demand for their retention a leading impulse in the development of the new art. “ Something new can be made any day, but it requires hundreds of years to produce something old,” remarks Gurlitt. And he continues: “ Although for centuries people may have had the good sense to preserve an ancient structure, the folly of a moment is sufficient to destroy it.”
Considerations like this led to the observation how much easier, more sensible, economical, and convenient, as well as genuinely artistic, it was to proceed along the lines of least resistance, to respect what existed, — particularly what had existed for generations and perhaps centuries, — and make the new conform therewith in plan and character. The scientific procedure was the way indicated by nature. Many an old city has been sadly marred by the reckless slashing of new streets straight through its picturesque quarters, regardless of property lines, of treasured landmarks and having a view only to achieving the shortest cut from point to point. In the growth of cities, modern traffic-requirements and the needs of trade — often hygienic considerations as well: the necessity for reforming slum districts, and the opening up of alleys and of narrow streets to admit light and air — usually made the cutting through of new streets and the widening of old ones absolutely essential. But careful studies showed that invariably the better method was to adapt with extreme nicety the new thoroughfares to the oldtime conditions. The most direct lines often proved the most undesirable routes.
The turnpike period, that in our own country just preceded the railway era, was distinguished by a mania for straight lines. But when, in rugged New England, adherence to this principle carried the highway in a bee-line up and down the sides of steep hills, it demonstrated the truth of the proverb, “ The longest way round is often the shortest way home.” So it was discovered that, in dealing with the traffic problems of an old city with narrow, crooked streets, some sacrifice of distance in laying out a new thoroughfare found rich compensation in various advantages thus gained. For example, a somewhat circuitous route, by serving a wider district, makes one new street take the place of two or more that otherwise would be called for. This increases the area of betterment, and makes the improvement yield more profitable returns.
The reckless planner cuts and slashes at will in pursuit of his “ideals.” All this makes improvements unduly costly, and often prohibits them altogether. The modern German school, however, keeps a constant eye upon the taxpayer; it cherishes a tender regard for the “ pocketnerve ” and the city treasury. Economy in money, as well as in energy, is a cardinal principle. Hence a careful adjustment of plan to property lines, and a thorough studying of all existing conditions, is precedent to taking any given work in hand. Great savings have been effected, for instance, through observing that the cutting of new traffic routes across an old quarter with narrow streets only served to aggravate the congestion by inviting new traffic into a district. It was therefore found to be much more important to devise means for conducting traffic around such a district than across it. The observation that heavy traffic through a city between given points often follows a circuitous route rather than a direct one, simply because the grades of the longer way are easier by even a few feet, indicates how this end may best be achieved. Heavy teams will go a mile out of the way in crossing a river to gain the benefit of a low-level bridge.
The systematic study of old cities instituted by this school has served to bring out many interesting facts, which show that certain aspects, in their apparently rambling ways and planless lay-out, were the results of deliberate and very sensible taking of thought. Dr. Stübben, for instance, has pointed out some very nicely conceived features in the plan of Ghent. One is that when a street crosses another diagonally, acute intersections are avoided by diverting the lines to right angles, or something approaching them. By this simple device congestion at junctionpoints is avoided, and points of possible collision are greatly diminished.
Another important matter, in which the old-time architects thoroughly understood what they were about, was the placing of their churches and other public buildings. The nineteenth century was marked by a general disposition to “ improve ” things by opening up to view great cathedrals and other monumental edifices. The cathedrals of Cologne, of Milan, and of Notre Dame in Paris, are famous examples of the procedure. While the buildings are thereby placed in striking relations to the vistas thus developed, the results on the whole are disappointing. In fact, the impressiveness of an old-time building thus dealt with is diminished rather than enhanced. A modern building, like the Capitol at Washington and other monumental structures there, or like such stately European examples as the Opera House in Paris, carefully planned with particular reference to vistas, axes, etc., may be superbly effective in its deliberate adjustment to its environment. Cities planned in this grandiose fashion have a festal and spectacular splendor. We would not have Washington or Paris otherwise. But when such an all-pervading formality sets a fashion to be followed, the sameness that comes from set rules makes one city too suggestive of another, and becomes tiresome — just as, in a still worse way, the aping of New York and Chicago sky-scraping precedents by our minor cities, all the way from Atlanta to Oshkosh, makes for monotony. In city-development, as in landscape design, the spontaneous or unpremeditated effects in grouping and in the relations of monumental landmarks to their surroundings are what most charm and delight.
In the designing and placing of mediæval cathedrals it now appears that certain principles were intelligently followed. Symmetry in plan was avoided for the very good reason that, in actuality, symmetry of effect is never secured in that way. The harmonious balancing and proportionate adjustments of part to part thus sought are better obtained by taking intelligent thought of the relations produced from changing points of view, just as the trained architect studies his elevation, not with reference to itself, — since his structure is never seen purely in elevation, — but for the sake of the way in which it causes his edifice to reveal itself from certain points of departure thus conveniently indicated. So in those old days, the architect never located his cathedral in the very middle of an open place: he made subordinate structures, like cloisters, chapels, and arcades, grow out of it; he took no heed of the houses that might be clustered about the site, and often he even took pains to make them nestle close about the huge edifice. He knew that these would furnish scale for comparison,—his work the more majestic by contrast.
As a rule, the bodies of these great structures were not intended to be externally interesting, except perhaps for ornamentation developed at certain points and so designed as to be scrutinized in detail and not to be effective at a distance. It was not the purpose to have these large buildings declare themselves to the eye all at once — auf einem Guss, in one big lump, as it were. It was abundantly sufficient to leave enough free room to see the building in its essential parts, and from a point of view satisfactorily remote. Such a treatment made the structure look much larger than it really was, and conferred upon its surroundings a quality of mystery, of intricacy. Theodor Fischer points out how, with only the tower and the big roof looming above the wreath of surrounding houses, “ the church itself, whose base is invisible, recalls the Eternal Providence whose ground and foundations we may not know! ”
An appreciation of these considerations has taught the exponents of the new school to study their problems from like points of view. For example, the Stadtkirche, the City Church, in Darmstadt, a picturesque, but not ostentatious building, needed more air and space about it. So it was “ opened up ” with a finely studied regard to keeping it in relation with its surroundings, and particularly to maintaining the seclusion demanded by its character. A most notable instance is that of the great cathedral in Ulm on the Danube — a thoughtfully modernized old city which in various respects furnishes a model for enlightened procedures in city-planning. Only a generation has passed since the cathedral’s surroundings were “ improved ” in the accepted fashion of that period, and with the inevitably lamentable consequences.
A competition for the revision of these conditions, lately held, has attracted uncommon attention throughout Germany. The innovations of 1874-1879 had swept away a group of buildings, consisting of a monastic church and cloistered connections, that occupied a corner of the Münsterplatz in front of the cathedral.
This left a featureless and desolate expanse that sadly impaired the impressiveness of the great edifice. It is significant that all three of the prize designs provided for restoring in a large measure the original character of the place, including a new group of buildings on the old site — the winners of the first prize showing a market-house and other structures disposed in a rambling, mediævallike cluster, the lofty Gothic tower of the ancient minster completing a superb composition from the most effective point of view, looming out of a saddle-shaped depression in the group. In thus undoing a costly piece of well-intentioned mischief, by practically doing over what had been so well done centuries before, Ulm has set an example which doubtless will lead to like atonements for similar offendings in other cathedral cities — possibly inducing Cologne, and perhaps even Paris, to resort to analogous procedures for remedying their own shortcomings.
The new school is particularly severe upon the “ handsome-picture plan ” method which seeks a symmetrical layout and aspects of balance that are effective mainly upon paper, the qualities aimed at seldom counting for anything in practice. It has been remarked that to practice this method the sole equipment called for consists of nothing but straight lines and some circles. This academic procedure induces peculiarly involved street relations. Gurlitt remarks that the author of such planning, one might almost believe, appears to be influenced by considerations of arabesque ornament in his endeavor to bring together many lines at one spot, in order to create crossing-points for artistically working up his lacework of streets. Invariably typical of the “ handsome-picture plan ” is the circle always created at such points of intersection. Open spaces of this sort are objected to as tending not only to monotony, but to obstructiveness — complicating, confusing, and entangling traffic, by causing several main thoroughfares to converge, thus tying up the streets into a sort of enlarged knot. These circles are monotonous; a city thus conventionally planned is dotted with them. But the proper sort of open space is developed out of local circumstances thoughtfully considered in careful planning according to topographical conditions. Each individual instance thus obtains a character of its own. It is true that the monotony of the circle may be mitigated by a diversified architectural development — just as in Washington, for instance, Scott Circle differs from Thomas Circle. On the other hand, the supersaturation of Washington with equestrian statuary intensifies this objectionable quality.
The leaders of the new school confess that it is still in its infancy, that the future is stored with things yet to be learned as they gradually feel their way to solutions, — each task a new problem to be considered according to its own peculiar circumstances: topographical, climatic, industrial, economic. The old procedure would apply some conventional formula to the case regardless of everything else: a misfit the inevitable resultant. The new methods assure individuality of treatment: an endless diversity that is the expression of a wholesome vitality. Historic examples are reverently studied, not in an antiquarian mood, but to ascertain and assimilate the spirit whereby such admirable results were achieved. Irregularity is often aimed at, not for its own sake, not because the delightful thoroughfares of the picturesque old cities were irregular, but because thereby monotony is avoided, the interest of the city scene heightened, and often most practical results, in the way of easy gradients, economy of construction, and other desirable ends, are best attained.
It is pointed out that a long arterial thoroughfare should occasionally change in direction, at least slightly, and likewise in width and in other distinctive characteristics, in order to avoid the tedium proceeding from keeping on and on in a straight line, as if interminably. A trip over a route diversified by changes in direction and in the character of the way seems much shorter and more interesting than a straight route of the same length. Capital illustrations of this principle are to be found in the new quarters of Munich, where the main streets, keeping in the same general direction, curve very slightly here and there, according to topographical circumstances; the distance is not appreciably increased and the interest of the street is very considerably enhanced. These streets are instinctive features of Henrici’s masterly plan for the extension of Munich, which is considered one of the most successful achievements among modern examples of the kind.
One feature of these new Munich streets is the way in which they break with one of the most venerated dogmas of conventional planning, — that the lines of a street must invariably be parallel. These long streets broaden out here and there in gentle curves, giving space perhaps for a cab-stand, for a group of trees, or to make some notable architectural feature more conspicuous. In this sort of planning advantage is taken of any circumstance that may lend diversity to the work. Old roads or cart-paths suggest ways to be followed; property lines likewise indicate how best to run the new streets in order to effect the most economical distribution of building sites, as well as the desirable individuality in development.
Gurlitt points out that modern cityplanning, as regarded by the German school, is distinguished by the predominance of the artistic motive. At the same time the artistic implies the practical. The architect is truly an artist only when he plans his edifice with complete adaptation to its purposes, expressing utility in terms of beauty. Likewise, artistic cityplanning ignores systematic rules and regards only the specific conditions of the case in hand. Hence, to be artistically creative, the city-planner must take all the peculiarities of his problem into consideration, emphasizing each according to its individuality; reconciling, wherever possible, every contradiction between his own operations and the natural aspects of the site. “ He should take into account irregularities of surface, existing streets and ways in their normal configuration, the property lines, and each natural feature — even if nothing but some old trees. Moreover, he should develop for traffic requirements, for circumstances of habitation, and for the utilization of individual properties, all the advantages practicable. Finally, he should supply architects with opportunities for interesting solutions of their problems, while he draws from the case in hand inspiration for achieving the most individual and diversified results imaginable. It must always be borne in mind that diversity in working up a plan encourages the architect with opportunities for developing his own ground-plan and his facades in interesting fashion, with corresponding embellishment of the city internally and externally.”
Little or none of this extraordinary activity, which for some years now has been inspiring this enthusiastic school of cityplanners with all manner of delightful problems, has to do with the creation of cities de novo, as in past centuries Carlsruhe and Mannheim were planned. But the results are practically very much the same as if such were the case. The almost marvelous growth of German cities in the course of the past generation has entailed the addition of extensive new quarters that practically mean new cities built up about a comparatively small nucleus of the old.
A good example of the characteristically German thoroughness with which these problems are dealt with, is to be found in the plans prepared a few years ago for the extension of Stuttgart. The Würtemberg capital lies in the comparatively narrow valley of the Neckar, and its expansion must largely spread up the fairly steep slopes that for the greater part have been long covered with vineyards. The original plans for the city’s extension were of the conventional old sort, involving permanent inconvenience with their execution. The new plans were intended to overcome these difficulties and turn the peculiarities of the situation to the best account. A resident architect of high standing, the Stadtbaurat Kölle, commissioned with the work, devoted more than five years to his task. The plans were then thoroughly discussed and subjected to expert criticism from various points of view. Finally, for the information of the public, the plans were published by the city authorities, together with the various criticisms and other documents relating to the case — altogether an important contribution to the literature of the subject.
First came an introduction from the Oberbürgermeister, the mayor-in-chief, — in itself an able review of the case. It was not the expression of the offhand ideas of some politician, business man, or other prominent citizen, who had chanced to be at the head of the city for the time being, but was the utterance of a man thoroughly versed in municipal affairs. In German cities all leading officials are trained specialists, or experts. Then came a detailed explanation of the plans by their author, accompanied by expert criticisms from Professor Baumeister of Carlsruhe, and from Theophil Frey, city councilor and resident architect. Each of these criticisms was accompanied by notes in reply, made by the author and inserted in the text in different type. The next thing was an elaborate critical essay considering the question from a social-economic point of view, written by Dr. Rettich, second salaried city councilor and head of the municipal statistical office. Following this was a correspondingly elaborate reply from the author. Then came two hygienic criticisms, one from the city physician, Dr. Knauss, considering both the work of the author of the plan and the counter propositions of Dr. Rettich, together with suggested modifications of his own; the second, a review of the several preceding propositions, including that of the city physician, by Professor Nussbaum, of Hanover. Finally, the æsthetic point of view was embodied in the report of a special commission of architects and other artists appointed to consider the plans. In conclusion, came a summary of the main considerations that had been brought out in all the discussions of the subject, made by another Dr. Rettich, also a member of the city council. A supplementary paper was by Dr. Erck, of Munich, devoted to a consideration of the natural ventilation of the valley of Stuttgart, as affected by the prevailing air-currents — a factor of no little moment in determining certain phases of a city’s plan. In this way the public was given the advantage of all the different points of view concerning a measure of vital concern for the city’s future.
This statement of the Stuttgart case is of value, both as an example of the practical fashion in which the Germans consider a question of the sort, — all the parties to the discussion being men either trained in municipal practice or professionally competent in the special aspects involved, — and as an illustration of the numerous elements that enter into a problem of city-planning.
Indeed, the mere planning, the laying out of streets and open spaces, is but one factor, though a fundamental one. The plan has largely to be determined by the character which a given section or quarter is to possess: whether, for instance, the manner of building is to be close or open, whether a certain part of the city is to be residential, mercantile, industrial, or commercial. In Germany it is generally the custom to restrict the character of the various city quarters accordingly, and even to establish the minimum cost and specify the character of the houses that may be built in a certain district. The housing question is regarded as all important, — a chief element in determining a city plan; an immense amount of study is given as to how best to avoid the congestion that means disease and poverty, and how best to make life for the masses of the people happy, wholesome, and prosperous.
It should not be inferred, however, that the way to better things has been wholly a smooth one. The Germans have found the path beset with a due amount of obstacles. Human nature in Germany is very much the same as human nature elsewhere, and no nearer perfection. Their large measure of success has chiefly been due to the organizing capacity which has been encouraged by the development of their national institutions. This has made them open to regard such problems in a rational, logical manner. Extraordinary progress has been made. The art, considered definitely as such, dates its conscious beginnings from the appearance of the last part of Camillo Sitte’s important work, Der Städtebau nach künstlicheren Grundsätzen, previously referred to. Sitte demanded liberation from the intellectually desolate schematic methods of the day, and urged the artistic procedure that comes with freedom of treatment. Naturally, the greatest impediment has been presented by the obstacles imposed by selfish realestate interests, which, in Germany as elsewhere, look at such matters purely with regard to their own profit. Excellent as municipal government is in Germany, the landed interests tend to be unduly influential in the city councils. The extraordinary expansion of the cities has led to corresponding opportunities for land speculation. Many great fortunes have been made in this way.
It is related that in one of the Berlin suburban towns alone there are as many as forty “ peasant millionaires,” men who a few years ago were peasant proprietors, and are now made rich by the values that the growth of the great capital has given to their land. To land speculation is largely attributed the house famine that has afflicted many German cities in recent years. Both governmental authorities and city-planners have been studying how to counteract this evil. In 1901 the Prussian government issued a notable series of decrees on the housing question, recognizing the need of a persistent cooperation between the economic and social influences of the community and the legislative and administrative powers of the state, together with a comprehensive treatment of the question by the municipalities. The state recognized that all social and hygienic considerations require the abolition of the evils connected with the housing of the poorer classes, and urged the municipalities to do their utmost toward bringing about better conditions. Various practical suggestions of great value were made to this end.
In this connection it is instructive to note how, in a highly organized state, one function may be made to facilitate the operation of another; and how, when a new activity is entered upon, the powers and the resources of established functions that apparently bear no relation to it may be employed most efficiently in its behalf. A most admirable example is to be found in the great national insurance institutions of Germany, organized to protect the working classes against the suffering and destitution caused by accidents, sickness, and the infirmity of old age. The law requires employers and employees to contribute to funds established for the purpose, the national government also giving financial assistance. These funds are administered by great insurance organizations carried on coöperatively by the imperial government in association with employers and employees. These organizations, having large sums at their disposition, are important factors in the money market. Very sagaciously they give preference, where possible, to objects of a beneficent character. For example, the sick-funds insurance organizations thus assist the establishment of sanatoriums for the treatment of tuberculosis, an enlightened self-interest teaching that it is a paying investment: the more sanatoriums the less tuberculosis, consequently the lighter the draft upon their treasuries. In the same way, these insurance organizations perceive that, by issuing loans, at lower rates than could be procured from ordinary financial sources, for the building of better houses for the working classes, they are more than repaid for the difference between these and the higher rates that might be obtained in the open market, since their dwellings mean better health, and, consequently, lessened expenditures for sickness and death.
Likewise, the cause of better housing is promoted by such public institutions as the municipal savings banks, and by financial institutions organized with special reference to these ends. The arms of the public service have also contributed enormously. In thirteen years, Prussia built something like twenty-eight thousand dwellings for the small-salaried officials and the workingmen of the State railways, and of the War Department. Municipalities also very extensively build houses for the members of the civil service, both minor officials and workingmen. This makes for contentment, health, and efficiency, attracting the better grades of workers to the public service. Consequently a modest compensation goes much further than otherwise. Is this not better, both for the city employee and the public, than our American practice of paying municipal employees in excess of the market rate, and encouraging them to “ loaf on the city ” ?
German procedure in the encouragement of better housing is remarkably flexible. Methods vary according to circumstance. There is no cut-and-dried formula. In some instances, the municipality builds the houses directly; again, it encourages in various ways, by loans or otherwise, building societies organized for the purpose; and it even offers extraordinary inducements to regular builders to supply the demand. Frankfort-onthe-Main has pursued all three courses with signal success in relieving an acute famine in dwellings. Mutual building societies (gemeinnützige Bauvereine) have long been a popular institution in Germany. Upon these were modeled the “ copartnership tenants ” societies that in recent years have come into favor in England. Societies of this sort, whose resources would be slender when unaided, are often powerfully supported by municipalities or other public institutions, in ways that vastly increase their efficiency, and at the same time amply secure the parties advancing the funds against possible loss. Occasionally a municipality will aid such a society with land for building, and perhaps with financial assistance as well.
A striking instance of coöperative activity is that whereby the imperial government recently bought a tract of land in a Dresden suburb for about $60,000, and leased it on a ground-rent of about $1340 a year for eighty years to a local savings and building society, which has covered it with model dwellings for nearly one thousand people. Upon the security of the lease the National Insurance Institution of Saxony advanced something like $250,000 at three and four-fifths per cent, — a rate that covers sinking-fund charges. A second loan of about $50,000 at four per cent was advanced by the Interior Department of the empire. The controlling motive of the imperial government in this procedure was to provide minor officials of the postal service with suitable homes, a condition being that at least a third of the dwellings should be let to post-office employees. In a similar way, through loans to building societies, the Prussian government, in the last seven years of the nineteenth century, built twelve hundred workingmen’s dwellings in rural places for employees of the Department of Agriculture, State Lands and Forests.
Several states have recently enacted elaborate laws in relation to city-planning and the housing question. The conditions imposed by the old Prussian law were too inflexible. Residential streets had to be needlessly wide, and uniformly so, regardless of varying circumstances of site. In fact, the procedure was such as to encourage the erection of high, barracklike blocks of dwellings, while the spaces between the streets were so great as to promote the occupation of the back land by blocks with sunless courts. New legislation has aimed to remedy such evils.
The building law enacted by Saxony in 1900 is a model of enlightened legislation. It provides in the outset that no land can be built upon until it has been made to conform with the city plan in regard to streets and building-lines. With the health, convenience, and good looks of the community in view, the new parts of a city must be divided into building districts, in which the closeness of building and the consequent density of population are regulated, respectively, according to distance from the urban centre.
In planning for a new quarter of a city it is often found impossible to reconcile the interests of land-owners with a plan that otherwise would best meet the requirements of the site. The land-owners very naturally want to cut up their properties into lots, in a way to bring them the greatest profit. But the interests of individual owners often conflict with one another, as well as with those of the public. Unsuitable plans are likely to result. The law of Saxony meets this difficulty by requiring that, in cases where individual properties cannot be subdivided into suitable lots in accordance with a proper plan, such lands shall be expropriated as a preliminary to an equitable redistribution among the owners after the plan has been determined upon. The law lays down very carefully many requirements that must be observed in behalf of such demands as fire-protection, the needs of traffic, sanitation, water-supply, drainage, to meet the need for dwellings according to local conditions, and even to protect streets and open spaces against disfigurement. Street lines, building lines, and the location of buildings, must be adapted both to the configuration of the land and to giving all rooms an adequate supply of sunshine. The width of streets and footways must be governed by the traffic requirements of the locality, according to whether a street is to be a main thoroughfare, a by-street, or one used only for dwellings. A street of detached or semi-detached buildings, without through traffic, may have a roadway about twenty-seven feet wide. But where through traffic, particularly a tramway line, is eventually expected, adequate space between such a roadway and the building lines on both sides must be allowed for, such space to be occupied as front yards until a widening may be needed. All streets with open building and a moderate through traffic, or with close building, must be at least thirty-nine feet wide, while all main streets must be at least fifty-five feet wide.
So far as possible, gradients must be evenly distributed : heavy gradients, deep cuttings and embankments, and inordinately long straight streets, must be avoided. There must be short and convenient connections between streets and the centres of traffic. Due provision must be made for open spaces, playgrounds, recreation grounds, and sites for schools and churches. In determining the character of building to be permitted in a given locality, and whether factories and workshops shall be allowed, the existing character of the district, or part of a district, must be considered. An undesirable development of a high-class neighborhood, either by manufacturing establishments or by an inferior class of dwellings, is thus guarded against. Front yards must have a depth of at least fifteen feet. The height of buildings is regulated according to the character of a given locality and the width of the street. In rural regions and in suburban districts, with detached houses, three stories is the limit; elsewhere, as a rule, it is four; only for unusually wide streets or open spaces may there be five. As a rule, dwellings are permitted on back land only on condition that sunlight at an angle of at least fortyfive degrees enters all the windows of the house; moreover, the space between the front and back buildings must have a garden-like character. Back buildings must also be either detached or semidetached.
These features are sufficient to show the thorough character of a law that was framed in accordance with the views of the foremost experts in city-planning, building, hygiene, and other fields relating to enlightened municipal development, consulted for this purpose. That the law shall be complied with in all planning done by local authorities is assured by requiring that all such plans must be approved by the state authority having jurisdiction in the matter before they can become effective.
Other German states have since enacted laws of similar character. The law framed by Oberbürgermeister Adickes of Frankfort-on-the-Main, and enacted by Prussia with special reference to that city, goes still further than the Saxon statute in certain respects. One aim of the “ Lex Adickes,” as it is called, is to increase the supply of building land around the city. The method pursued is to expropriate the holdings of a tract for which a city-extension plan is needed, divide it up into building plots according to the plan adopted, and then restore it to the owners with due regard to the part retained by the city for streets and open spaces. The method employed takes not only the land immediately covered by the plan, but all land in the neighborhood affected by the increased values thus conferred. In redistribution, an amount of land proportionate to the value of the respective plots is deducted from all plots, in order to reimburse the city for constructing the streets and open spaces planned for.
The provisions for the inspection of small dwellings are a notable element in the German system. To make sure that satisfactory conditions of comfort and sanitation are maintained, frequent inspections of the dwellings of working-people are required. The lines followed resemble those that characterize the famous Elberfeld system of poor relief. A city is divided into districts, and the work of inspection is delegated to competent persons carefully selected by the authorities. These serve without pay, as a matter of public duty; they would be fined if they refused their appointments. Hamburg has one hundred and sixty-two inspectors, serving under nine superintendents with as many districts; both superintendents and deputies are unpaid. Stuttgart has one hundred and twenty small inspection districts, in charge of as many unpaid visitors, aided by a staff of paid officials. Here the inspection covers, not only small dwellings, but all large houses with rooms occupied by servants or apprentices. The city has a dwellings-office, which twice a week publishes a list of dwellings to be let, and gives information to persons seeking them. In Saxony the inspection system has been extended to villages. The Saxon law defines the qualities requisite in inspectors: “common sense, insight, public spirit, and the enjoyment of public confidence.”
Düsseldorf has done some most admirable work in dealing with the housing problem. The city’s rapid growth had resulted in a house famine. A municipal mortgage bank was founded to promote credit for house-building. Something like $250,000 was appropriated as a reserve fund; a loan of about $5,000,000 at four per cent was authorized to be issued in twenty installments of $250,000 each, its payment, including sinking-fund charges, covering a term of fifty-seven years. From this fund loans arc granted for the building of houses on the security of first mortgages. This system was complemented by the adoption of a land policy whereby the city acquired large holdings to provide for its proper expansion. It was felt that the community would thus duly share in the increased values created by its growth. A department, called the “ Land Fund.” was instituted to administer such publicly held lands as were not immediately needed for municipal purposes. A loan of about $1,250,000 was negotiated to furnish capital for the fund, its operations duly limited by requiring the interest on the loan to be covered by the income of the fund and by the proceeds of sales.
Besides establishing a mortgage bank, the city itself undertook the building of houses. The policy followed was not to include builders’ profits in charges for rents, and on the other hand not to burden the treasury by reason of these building operations. The rents were therefore governed by the actual outlay; tenants were thus assured that rents would not be raised, much to the encouragement of a contented spirit. In addition, a group of new houses, nearly finished, was purchased, to be let by the poor-law authorities to people who, while not poor in the legal sense, had not been able to find suitable homes, either because of too many children or because the house famine had raised rents beyond their means.
To encourage other building activities, the city let a local society for savings and building have some of its land as sites for workingmen’s homes, at about twentyfive per cent less than its real value, beside giving credit for part of the purchase money at four per cent. For the cost of street-building, the society was charged only the expense of macadamizing. Finally, the city guaranteed ninety per cent of the society’s debt, amounting to more than $50,000. Another important aid in providing houses was the “ Aders Fund ” of about $250,000, bequeathed in trust for the erection of workingmen’s dwellings, the rents accumulating and used to erect additional dwellings.
Ulm, a city of about fifty thousand inhabitants, furnishes a remarkable example of enlightened activity in dealing with the housing question. Under the lead of its progressive chief magistrate, the Oberbürgermeister Wagner, the city has developed a most comprehensive policy of municipal land-owning and building. More than three-fifths of all the building land within the city limits belongs to the city and its public institutions. The public holdings amount to nearly seven hundred acres. Moreover, to provide for its proper expansion, as early as 1891 the city had acquired two thousand, nine hundred and twenty-six acres beyond its boundaries. The city government felt that to carry out on a large scale the provision of dwellings for working people a public holding of the largest possible amount of land was essential. Besides giving a control of housing conditions, it is represented that this policy enables the city to establish parks, playgrounds, and other open spaces, and gives it a commanding position for influencing the social, hygienic, and architectural development of the community. As Oberbürgermeister Wagner puts it, in a most interesting book on the activities of his city, it also enables the municipality “ to attract sound industrial undertakings, which are likely to develop and add to the welfare of the place, to discourage the establishment of unsound undertakings, to restrict unwholesome speculation in land and buildings by exercising a moderating influence on the price of the land, and to secure for the community the increase in the value of land.”
To carry out such a programme successfully, a city must represent a highly advanced civilization. This appears to be the case with Ulm, judging by the results. Its land-policy, for instance, is economically justified by the fact that in the reselling of not quite one-sixth of the land acquired since 1891, the city has recovered about nine-tenths of the total outlay. Moreover, in making these sales, the city has imposed conditions that have prevented speculation, and have also safeguarded the interests of the community, by duly restricting the character of the buildings to be erected, both houses and factories. The city builds houses for workingmen as soon as they are ready with ten per cent of the cost. This ten per cent is treated as a loan until the house is ready for occupancy; four per cent interest is paid upon it. The city’s policy is made still more liberal by its proposition to provide, as soon as the demands of these applicants are met, houses for all who show themselves willing to save money until they can pay the ten per cent installment. The city agrees to repurchase a house should its owner for any reason wish to sell. In this event, the price paid allows for the land the same valuation at which it was originally sold. The municipality is thus assured any benefit from increased values which its operations have given the property. Should the owner of a house, by reason of misfortune, be temporarily in need of money, he can borrow back the ten per cent of the purchase price originally paid.
In building these homes for working people, Ulm has adopted the democratic policy of not separating socially the various classes of the community. The quarter is therefore planned with particular reference to the erection by the city of numerous new houses designed especially for middle-class occupants. Since the workingmen’s houses are tastefully built, there is nothing about the neighborhood to repel the other class. It is notable that in Berlin the proposed establishment of a village colony near the city was objected to, on the part of the workingmen, for the reason that it tended to separate and isolate the classes and correspondingly weaken their sense of mutual interest. This policy of bringing the classes together in the same neighborhood is one of the distinctive features of the garden-city movement in England. In countries wdih practically homogeneous populations, like Germany and England, such measures are attended with less difficulty than would be the case under our American conditions, where the existence of so many unassimilated foreign elements in the working-classes, with habits and standards of living so radically different from that of the native population, tends to make their neighborhood undesirable for a better-circumstanced class. An important result of the policy adopted by Ulm has been the attraction of a higher class of working people, and, consequently, the development of improved industrial advantages, which encourage manufacturing and promote local prosperity, by a body of skilled workingmen, contented, and identified with the community by the possession of homes which, under the economical system adopted, cost less than otherwise would have to be paid out in rent.
The example of Frankfort-on-theMain is important as showing the various measures taken by a large and enterprising industrial city to relieve an acute house famine. The population of Frankfort is increasing at the rate of about eight thousand a year. Besides making up the deficiency of past years in housebuilding, the annual erection of about sixteen hundred new dwellings, at a cost of something like $1,500,000, was required. But before normal conditions could be established, the city had to encourage building which would provide thirty-seven hundred new dwellings at a cost of about $3,500,000. Besides building about two hundred and fifty houses for municipal employees, at a cost of more than $250,000, Frankfort has encouraged both mutual building societies and commercial building companies by providing sites on ground-rent and by advancing funds in addition. A permanent Building and Loan Department was organized. With the land thus obtained, it was easy for the builders to secure fifty per cent of the building cost on first mortgage. Then, with the city advancing forty per cent on second mortgage, it was necessary for the builders to find only ten per cent of the net cost. One of the mutual companies thus aided — in which, besides, the city has taken shares to the extent of about $50,000 — has built dwellings for five thousand persons.
This society, in its choice of tenants, gives preference to families that have been living in congested districts. Besides, since families with many children find it difficult to obtain proper dwellings, it reserves half its accommodations for them. Tenants are given the use, in turn, of bathrooms and laundries in the basement of its blocks. The society buys for its tenants at wholesale prices such supplies as coal and potatoes. Tenants who subscribe five cents a month can have the services of housekeepers at twelve cents a day. Each block has small libraries. In the courts are gardens with flowers, and playgrounds. There is also a day-nursery, and there are pleasant rooms reserved for resting and reading.
One of the commercial building companies aided by the city builds on lands of its own. The city has taken stock in the company to the extent of $25,000; it guarantees the principal and interest of the company’s obligations; it regulates the rate of rental; all the plans for building have to meet the approval of the authorities; and the city devotes all profits from the enterprise to the gradual purchase of all the other shares; so that eventually it will own all the houses built.
The examples cited above are typical of what many German cities are doing,both in the way of broad general improvements and in directly bettering the conditions of life for their people. The movement has manifold aspects, economic, social, and artistic. Its influence, already great outside of Germany, has been particularly strong in Great Britain, where in organizing movements for garden cities and model villages, and in shaping legislation dealing with town-planning and the housing question, many leaves have been taken from German experience. Present-day English sentiment seems to be particularly open to such innovations, even though they may involve radical departures from customs and traditions deeply rooted in conservative institutions. Here in America we can at present hardly hope to go beyond the stage of admiration for successful and humane achievement that eventually may make our public opinion receptive as to possibilities of commensurate results under a quite different environment.