The Third Dimension in Land-Tenure
THE history of land-tenure is one long record of conflict between public rights and private interests. Every policy has been tried, from the extreme of common ownership with no exclusive possession to the extreme in this country of private ownership, so exclusive that the right of eminent domain—that is, the transcendent title of the public — amounts to little more than a standing invitation to the state to offer itself as the victim of a hold-up, or — what amounts to the same thing — to become an enforced purchaser at a voluntary auction. And yet, even in America, the theory that the public is the holder of the ultimate title is never lost sight of. Everywhere, land-tenure is a little less than that absolute ownership by which personal property is held, and this means that the possessor is only a tenant while the public is the real owner. That, perhaps, is why in legal parlance landed property is called real estate, because one’s title to it is not so real as one’s title to personal property.
No economic question has been more persistent, or occasioned more dispute, than this one of the degree to which the earth’s surface shall be subject to private proprietorship, that is, the degree to which the public shall abstain from exercising its own proprietorship. The manner in which the individual may acquire possession; the security with which he may hold it as against the public’s superior claim; the degree to which he may exercise control while in possession, and the extent to which he may project that control beyond the period of his actual possession; the freedom with which he may transfer it to others, —all these have been determined in divers ways in divers ages and in div ers countries; and history shows that these varied solutions of the problem have had a profound influence upon the development of civilization at those various times and in those various climes.
Thus the difference in social conditions between France and the British Isles is presumed to be due in some part to their differing policies, of equal inheritance which makes for small proprietorship on the one hand, and of primogeniture which makes for large estates and landlordism on the other. This is only one illustration — and there are many — of the general principle that the limitations under which land is held for private use have a vital relation to human welfare. This being the case, it seems to follow that those limitations need to be determined in accordance with the social effects which experience has shown to follow upon a more or less restricted tenure.
The struggle between private interest and public interest is a constant one, surging now to this side and now to that. It may aptly be called an Herculean one, and, if Hercules may represent the public, Antæeus may equally well represent vested interests. You remember how Hercules discovered that when Antæus touched Mother Earth his strength was multiplied tenfold, and that the only way to overcome him was to hold him clear of the ground. So vested interests, when based upon land, seem to expand with a power wellnigh irresistible, and every now and then the public has to take advantage of some passing crisis to get a new grip. Joseph in Egypt took advantage of the famine to restore to the crown the land that, from his point of view, had passed too completely into private hands. And in modern times, famine has more than once been the occasion for stiffening the title of the tenant as against the feudal lord.
VOL. 109-NO. 3
All this is merely to remind the reader of what the writer proposes to take for granted: that the tenure by which land is privately held, is and must ever be something less than real ownership, approaching it more or less according as the public, either in its own name, — as in this country, — or in that of the sovereign, — as in many countries, yields its prior claim; that the extent of this public concession and the stability with which it is adhered to, or, in other words, the nature of land-tenure, underlies the structure of society in almost as significant a way as the ground itself underlies the material structures erected on it; that vested interests, as they attach themselves to land, gain power to usurp the functions of the public; and that the public therefore needs to be alert for the protection of its own interests.
To these three observations, let us add a fourth: namely, that it is upon the frontier that private interests most readily become vested, and that the public most tardily awakens to its own rights. This need only be stated to be accepted. Every one is familiar with the process by which vast tracts upon the borders of civilization are either granted directly to exploiting corporations, or parceled out to homesteaders only as a disguise for their transfer from public ownership to that of the big proprietor.
But it is not only on territorial borders that this process goes on. It is upon the borders of unoccupied regions in every direction; and in these days new realms are coming into view on every hand. We are finding ourselves now and again upon a new frontier. The margin of the untamed sea has been such a frontier. It is only recently that the public has awakened to the importance of its right to the shore, but meantime the interests of the landowner along shore had become vested, and he was deriving from his possession a power that never was contemplated in the tenure of land. So the public has had to buy back its approach to the shore. When water-power was developed, the private riparian owner annexed the water-power to his adjacent land, and when the public needed water to drink, it found that the landowner who had annexed the waterpower must be paid for the water the public must drink. And now the public is buying back the lands at the sources of navigable streams because private interests, in many instances the very ones that claim the water in the streams, have endangered the sources; have possessed themselves of the egg, and are setting about eating the goose that laid it.
The whole history of frontiers of every sort is one of appropriation by private interests,and subsequent struggle for recovery by the public. It is the purpose of this writing to call attention to the existence of certain new frontiers to which private interests are becoming awake, and along which is likely to be repeated the story of seizure and exploitation by private interests, and tardy and costly taking over by the public in the face of bitter and tenacious resistance.
We still speak of the sun as rising and setting, although we all know that it neither rises nor sets. In like manner we still define our land-holdings in two dimensions, although we know that, in many instances, the third dimension is the one the purchaser has most in view, and that, like Archimedes, what he really wants is a fulcrum to move, the world. The whole conception of land-ownership has changed. In ancient times, area was a fair measure of use and of value, and it was to area alone that the tenant needed to be restricted. He might go down a few feet for a cellar or a grave, a well or a drain, or up a few feet for a habitation or a windmill, provided that he did not obstruct his neighbors’ ancient lights. But beyond that, the third dimension would take care of itself. Man was a creeping thing. There was no danger of his soaring into the heavens above, or of his diving into the waters that were under the earth. When the curse was pronounced on him who should remove his neighbor’s landmark, it did not contemplate his lifting it or sinking it, only his displacing it laterally.
But now all this is changed. Man has developed vast power to expand his possessions, both upward and downward. He burrows like the mole or the rat. He projects towers of Babel into the air as the octopus thrusts forth his tentacles, and tosses his tenants into them in baskets like that in which the old woman of Mother-Goose fame embarked on her mission to sweep the cobwebs out of the sky. He is learning to fly, and the realms of the upper air and the nether world are his. He still measures land in square feet and square rods, — when it is measured in cubic feet, its very nature changes and it becomes a commodity, — but the plane figure of two dimensions which the conveyancer thus bounds, by no means circumscribes the estate of which he gives possession. These metes and bounds define only a crosssection of that spacious solid of which the purchaser will claim exclusive proprietorship. The figure he has in mind, and from which he will warn off all trespassers, is a pyramid whose apex is at the earth’s centre, and whose base sweeps the starry heavens. He buys a rectangle or a triangle, but he takes possession of an entire spoke of the great wheel of Ezekiel’s vision, moving ever straight onward.
We are thus upon the immediate frontier of two unlimited realms already being explored and exploited: the boundless deep of the air above us, the dark unfathomed depth of earth beneath our feet. And in the name of laws made for two dimensions the tenant of lands bordering on these two realms is claiming possession of all he can reach in either direction. Those early maps of the United States in which the possessions of certain states extended to the westward indefinitely, have now been turned edgewise and indicate the topography of private possessions. A man takes up a homestead given him by the public, or sold him at a nominal price, ostensibly that he may till the soil and establish a domicile. But inside the poke which the public thus sells him he perceives the pig. He turns over the farm undisturbed to another, using the same horizontal dimensions as before, but reserving to himself the vertical dimension. This is an instance of where one may eat his cake and have it, too. He finds gold or copper or coal or oil beneath the surface, and he joins the combine to make the dear public pay as dearly as possible for the contents of the prizepackage it gave him. The farm is still there. It is just as valuable as he and the government officials thought it was as a farm. But as a farm he is not interested in it. He bought the land because he recognized in it a potential trapdoor by which he, like Aladdin, might gain access to the regions below, there to search for hidden treasure.
Or he buys a few square feet of soil in the great city, not to use it as an area to be occupied, but merely as a resting-place upon which, like Jack of the Beanstalk, he may plant his ladder and climb to the regions above; or, perhaps, as a perch for his aeroplane from which he may wing his way to the celestial city. As yet, he requires more area to start him upon his flights than to erect his sky-scraper, but doubtless he will soon get over that and will combine the two upon a single mundane area, placing his air-line station at the summit of the sky-scraper, connecting it by express elevators with the street below. Then expect a new logarithmic series of real-estate values.
Already the United States government is embarrassed by the expansive force of the third dimension. A crisis is on in Alaska because the Administration hesitates about parceling out the public domain; and the Administration is hesitating mainly because of this perplexing third dimension, which tradition says must not be mentioned between friends, but which obtrudes itself in a very troublesome way into Alaskan land-titles. Doubtless the government will evolve some more effective way than has yet been found to fix vertical limits, differentiating superficial areas from subterranean volumes.
But it is not alone in distant Alaska that the owner of areas is appropriating volumes in a way to menace the public welfare. Already in our great cities the private owner has piled Pelion upon Ossa, stacking up humanity in tiers or layers, thrusting his possession upward tike a telescope, until he has multiplied by fifty the area which he purchased. And as a direct result the public, which he has thus trapped in his compression-chamber, must seek an underground exhaust, must burrow its way in and out. And then the same proprietor stands with outstretched hand to demand toll of that public for traversing with its subterranean passages the vertical lines that connect his boundaries with the earth’s centre, — lines which once we called imaginary, but which have now become veritable live wires, not to be trifled with. In New York City there are already five different levels of transportation, three of them subterranean, and the citizens are still building sky-scrapers that will require more. People who labor in columns must now travel in levels. They must be delivered from their human standpipes as the penny-in-the-slot machines deliver chewing-gum, in packages of a size to suit the outlet.
It would seem a sound principle, woidd it not, that no single freeholder should be permitted to occupy his land to a greater height or a greater depth than would be permissible for all others also to occupy theirs in a similar way? Consider now what would be the conditions in any of our large cities if the whole area were to be built up to the height and down to the depth of the loftiest buildings. If the owners of a single square mile were to build to a uniform height of fifty or thirty or even ten stories, what would be the human result? We speak of hives of industry, and here the figure would apply most aptly. There is nothing more analogous to such a mass of human cells than the cellular comb of the honeybee,— unless indeed it be an inhabited cheese, for the distilled sweetness of these cells will not be honey. What fissures would streets be then! What a network of subterranean galleries would be necessary to make passageway for travel in and out and between!
We have had in the Triangle fire an illustration of what may happen to human beings trapped in these modern cages only a few stories off the earth, but no one has yet conceived what might happen if by some sudden catastrophe, affecting a larger area of those serried cells, their human occupants were suddenly to lose their organized purpose, or be bereft of that intelligent, controlling, individual motive which we depend upon to unravel the congestion of a great multitude and to distribute it to its scattered abiding places. If this piled-up mass of humanity were to have its individual destinations suddenly obscured, or its passage to them cut off, — what then would happen?
But the possible catastrophe is no more appalling than the less dramatic but no less tragic social results of such an artificial and extreme congestion. What are the consequences, political, ecnomic, social, moral, of the action of these strange suction-chambers, into which great volumes of humanity are drawn each day, as whales of some species draw sea-water into their maws only to force it out again through meshes which extract from it all its organic life? The most obvious effects, and those we hear most about are the awful slum conditions; the oppression of the poor; the sacrifice of the children; the surrender of political control to those who are willing to endure the stifling atmosphere, who have learned to live like parasites upon the mass of those submerged and smothered in it, who have no large interests at stake, and are responsible to nobody; the consequent inevitable struggle of the really large interests to protect themselves by irregular and pseudo-political means; the complexity of safeguarding laws for so dense a population, and the difficulty of consistent enforcement, or even of adequate inspection.
On the economic side, sky-scraping puts a fictitious value upon certain centrally located lands at the expense of suburban lands, making impossible any ownership by the resident, and consequently by the voter; compelling the busiest people to spend a great portion of their lives in traveling to and fro, and irritating the proletariat by aggravating the gross inequality of privilege of which they have already too many reminders.
It will be said that congestion of population is a necessary accompaniment of the modern development of commerce and industry. One may not confidently dispute this proposition, but one may be permitted to doubt it. Commerce and industry have a way of adapting themselves to the exigencies of human welfare and then discovering that the changes which they have resisted are after all favorable to themselves. The front vestibule for trolley cars, and the air-brake for freight trains, once stoutly opposed as impracticable, are now viewed with favor by the trolley management and the big railroads, and the latter are even beginning to acquire a thirst for rate-regulation. It is probable that commerce and industry would as readily adapt themselves to factories and office-buildings one or two stories in height and spreading wide upon the ground. But if congestion of business and of population is favorable to commerce and industry, there is ample evidence that it is unfavorable to human welfare; and as between human welfare and commerce and industry, the latter must one day yield.
Apart from these most obvious and well-recognized evils of congestion, more adequate consideration is due to its dehumanizing effect upon that wellto-do portion of the city population that lives in sumptuous barracks within the city limits, as far removed from natural and normal conditions of life as are the soldiers in our forts; and upon that other and greater portion of the day-time denizens who are pumped in and pumped out every day, rushing like the tides through the Hell Gate of Park Street or Fourteenth Street. This is a travesty upon human life, to be herded like cattle in the stock-yards, awaiting the car; then to be packed like sheep into crowded compartments, the clean and the unclean, the drunk and the sober; to be shaken together and bruised and trodden upon. Yet thousands must go through this process twice a day, and thousands more must rush in and out on shopping or other dissipating quests. Think, not of the ‘old terrific feminine suburban’ of Holmes’s phrase, but of the finer and gentler and sweeter feminine, her dainty finery bedraggled, dust-laden, and absurd, mingling with the sordid, grimy, nicotine-scented, alcohol-soaked masculine, — all frantically elbowing, scrambling, struggling, tussling for a place in the merry-go-round; and having secured the place, sitting or standing, with grim endurance, in foul air and painful posture, while the wheels speed them on between their feverish labor and their feverish sleep. This can but be productive of pessimism, and pessimism is humanly unwholesome.
But while this is the condition in every large city, — and even in conservative Boston men are burrowing ways out with all the desperation with which men once tunneled their way out of Southern prisons, — at this very juncture other men are proposing to set for Boston a new record in the way of sky-scraping, and thus to multiply the area to be served by the new subways before they are fairly begun.
Who, that is not already paralyzed, can stand and view the Vanity Fair of New York’s sordid streets of an evening without a shudder? And who wants to see Boston follow in New York’s footsteps? To heap up human beings one above the other, thirty or forty deep, and leave the public to provide a way of escape for the caged creatures is not only a menace to society, physically, socially, politically, but as a business proposition is absurd. If a man is forbidden to invite into his skyparlor more patrons than his stairs will accommodate, why should he be permitted to invite into his graduated inferno more than his share of the street will accommodate?
The third dimension is the key to the problem of congestion. If buildings were on the average half as high, congestion would be reduced. If they were one fourth as high, it would be reduced more. The man who builds additional stories is thereby adding to the difficulties of the city’s problem. Is the city receiving any compensating benefits?
Every added story imposes upon the public much the same burdens as does an equal expansion upon the surface. Why should it not bear its share of the burden as an abutter? It may be said that the added story does not compel the municipality to lengthen its streets as does an added lot upon the surface; but length is nowadays no measure of the expense of street maintenance. Streets are the areas set apart for purposes of intercommunication. They are still being laid out on the lines traditional from those simpler times when the only communication to be provided for was travel on foot or by horse-power. Not enough account has been taken of the vastly increased need of reserved space for other kinds of travel and for other purposes than travel.
Air and light and recreation; waterpipes, gas-pipes, sewer-pipes; telephone, telegraph, trolley and police and fire-alarm wires; automobiles and cartracks, all have been added in recent times to the functions of a street. All call for space, all are maintained by the public either by taxation or by those direct but no less certain methods of assessment which the temper of the times prefers to taxation. An expansion in one of these particulars usually involves an expansion in all. Upon all the second story makes the same demands as the first. It would seem axiomatic that when floor-spaces are multiplied by thirty or forty or fifty, more street space must be provided. The high building with its multiplied occupants is the cause of street congestion; and of the consequent demand for subways and elevated structures; it imposes the same wear upon pavements, the same necessity for tearing them up at frequent intervals, the same demand for larger trunk-lines of sewer and water and wire; it makes the same increased demand for police service, and brings much more than an equal stress on the building-inspection service and the fire-department service, not merely adding the difficult problem of its own protection, but complicating and making doubly difficult that of protecting all other buildings and their occupants.
It may seem that the public is spared the burden of maintaining such lines of intercommunication between the occupants of the several floors as would have to be established between the occupants of an equal number of surface lots. But even this is not clear. As already intimated, public burdens are not all levied in the tax-list. Just who ultimately pays for free elevator rides, free delivery, free samples, free trading-stamps, free lunch, is not easily determined; but no better explanation of the high cost of living has yet been given than that we, the public, are paying in this way for the countless services that seem to be rendered us without charge. When somebody succeeds in getting something for nothing, — that acme of success for which we are all ready to sacrifice our last dollar, — it is safe to infer that the public somehow pays the bill. And when interior service is plentiful and free, we may be sure that the exterior somehow makes up for it. There is little reason to believe that, from the public point of view, or from any point of view except that of private and localized greed, a city heaped up is more economical, more convenient, or more potentially effective, than a city spread out; or that free elevator service between floors is any less a public charge than would be free trolley service between blocks.
What effect lofty structures may have upon the public and private rights of the wider neighborhood as to air and sunlight, might be a profitable subject of research for the Sage Foundation. For the question how it shall secure light and air for its inmates is no more serious than how it obstructs the light and air of others. The enforced twilight of those deep gorges known as streets, and of buildings even some distance removed; the absence of sunshine with its purifying influence upon pavements and surrounding walls and apartments; the changed direction of winds and aircurrents, said to be particularly and sometimes violently illustrated by the flutter of wind around the Flatiron Building in New York, and certainly to be anticipated from the standpoint of the seafaring man or the aviator, accustomed to study the deflecting and obstructing effects of cliffs and bluffs upon an element to which he commits life and limb, — all these have a subtle and obscure but an undoubted hygienic and sociological effect, and suggest that the invader of the air, like the builder of a breakwater, must be held to account for any disturbance he may cause in the balance of nature.
One other burden these abnormal structures throw upon the public, which it is only now beginning to shoulder. Beauty is coming to be recognized as a necessity of life, — a true factor of the abundant life, — instead of as a mere luxury for the leisure class. Even that portion of the public that does not accept this new appraisal has begun to take account of beauty as a commercial asset. The mirror is being held up to our cities as never before. The landscape architect is abroad in the land, and we hear of parks and boulevards and river-basins and water-fronts and sky-lines. It is time. The water-fronts of our American cities fairly reek, and the dainty craft that ply between them must needs hold up their skirts as they enter and retire. And now we are thrusting teeth into the sky-line. Nothing is more grotesque (unless it be the panoply of bespangled billboards with which Boston emblazons her approaches) than the semi-toothless grin with which New York greets the friendly visitor to her shores. In the absence of upper teeth to engage the straggling molars and protruding bicuspids that project upwards, their display is suggestive of a redolent cobpipe which the dame seems momentarily to have taken from between them as she extends a grimy hand in welcome, meanwhile belching volumes of smoke from her hospitable throat.
Some Martian astronomer, observing our modest planet through his mighty telescope as New York’s profile turns into view, may startle the scientists of that canal-bedecked orb with the discovery of one portion of our mundane sphere where the planking has been ripped off and the spikes left sticking in the timbers. Perhaps if he looks more closely he may find other proofs to confirm his hypothesis that Terra is inhabited on the inside and that here is a place with the lid off.
The public, the real public-spirited public, is beginning to wrestle with the hard problem of adorning municipal features and beautifying municipal life. To do this requires public possession of the air and public regulation of the sky-line. And when the summons does come to a city to awake and put on her beautiful garments, these huge excrescences stand ready to complicate and obstruct the task. Will the skyscraper then stand ready to bear his share of the burden, and be assessed as an abutter for the improvement of the sky-line?
Let us turn now to another phase of this vertical expansion of superficial titles. When this reconnaissance was planned, it contemplated a virgin field which seemed to promise scope for exercise upon certain humorous aspects of the new aerial traffic. But since that date, several state legislatures have come into the arena with proposed laws to regulate the navigation of the air, and have thus dulled the edge of the humor with which a new departure may propel itself. Indeed, the humorous aspects have apparently received too much attention, for the proposal to establish laws of the road for aerial craft has in some instances been treated with undue levity. It may be too early to establish such laws, but it is not too early to begin their consideration. Already the proprietors of greenhouses have sought by common-law measures to protect their property, and presumably the same measures are open for the protection of our persons to us who have no property.
Those of us who still plod our weary way upon the plebeian earth may not be so much interested in the regulations by which aeronauts shall be kept from interfering with one another. We are more concerned about us terrestrial creatures— how we are to be protected from that shower of paper-bags, banana-peel, peanut-shells, and cigarstubs with which the amiable American blazes his triumphant way; and from the occasional plunge of the aviator who moults his wings, or of the derelict craft that he may have abandoned in mid-air.
The regulations by which passing air-ships shall be governed when their paths intersect will present new problems, and one of those problems ought to impress upon us the value of a certain early invention which marked a long stride in civilization, and which has not received the recognition due it. The discovery of the law of right and left should be ranked with that of the mariner’s compass or the law of gravitation. Here was a law, simple, understandable, applicable to both parties. When we meet, we may both turn to the right or both to the left, both to port or both to starboard, and not collide. We may both shout ‘Gee,’ or both shout ‘Haw,’ without danger of confusing each other’s oxen, and we pass each other safely while both keeping to the same side as measured from the individual base-line. We can both go to the right or both to the left of each other, but we can’t both hurdle over or both dip under each other. Here will be large room for confusion and perhaps for quarrel.
This, however, is a digression by way of meeting the advocates of regulation halfway, as the Massachusetts legislature ought to have done. We need not go farther into the air, for our topic ties us to the ground. We are dealing not with rights of way or regulation of the highway, but with who shall own the way, and how rights shall be secured. If the possessor of a few square feet of the earth’s surface may demand toll of the wayfarer who tunnels under his feet, may he not equally demand it of the aviator who flits over his head, or even of the wireless operator who wings a message across the space which he claims the right to inclose in a sky-scraper as high as future invention may make possible? And so long as the present policy prevails, will it be possible to establish aerial highways without taking possession of those belts or zones of the earth’s surface to which they are attached by this curious tradition of an unlimited third dimension in landtenure. This may involve us in another canal zone.
If it is too early to lay down laws of the road for flying craft, it is not too early to consider whether squatter sovereignty shall prevail in taking possession of this new and hitherto unoccupied realm on whose frontier we are now encamped. Nor is it too early to look sharply to precedents now being established and claims now seeking recognition, which may be turned against the public when the time comes to determine the rights of the air.
For, once conceded, the right of the individual to inclose and fortify all the air-space that lies between his acreage and the zenith, and all the subterranean space that lies toward the nadir, may well loom up as a vested right to regulate the use of air and air-currents, to fix the conditions of passage through them, and to control all the radiations and emanations from them, when the public arrives at a clear comprehension of its own dependence upon the possession of the air. It is not too early to take possession of the air in the name of the public and to reserve it to the use of the public, as the ocean is now reserved. The high seas the public has thus far succeeded in holding as its own. And that public is the biggest public the world knows. Here is one piece of property belonging to no nation or kindred or tribe, but vested in the population of the planet. The recognition of the high seas as the common possession of all the peoples of the earth is high-water mark in the recognition of the brotherhood of man. Upon the bosom of the sea, no man is a trespasser. The rights of all are equal. Shall it be so with the air, or shall that be parceled out, not merely as the land is, but as an appurtenance of the land or a perquisite of the land-holder?
This paper was conceived somewhat whimsically. The writer proposed to sit on the bleachers with the reader, to point out some of what seemed to him the rather diverting features of the game under the new rules, and to inquire what was to happen when men should have to hang lanterns upon their flagstaffs and chimneys and roofclothes-lines to warn the belated airman off, or to guide him on his fluttering way to his expectant and perhaps anxious roost; when land-owners must paint ‘no trespass’ signs in huge letters upon their roofs, to be read aloft, and boards of health should have to blazon their no-spitting rules over the face of our public parks in letters of light, such that the sky-pilot might read, and even the wayfaring man though a fool might not disregard, their warnings and threatened fines; when the police should flit in aeroplanes, and fire departments should hurl themselves through the air by gasoline.
But as thought rambled on, it has found itself growing serious, and has convinced one thinker, if it has not convinced others, that land-tenure should be limited to the surface, that the public should take possession of the air and the solid earth, and that individual enterprise, when it invades those realms, should do so under restrictions laid down by the public, and of such a nature as to conserve public interests and limit the tendency to congestion.
One need not be a prophet, or the son of a prophet, but need only have faith in human ideals, to predict that man will not submit to such conditions of life as are imposed by even moderately lofty buildings, or that, if he continues to erect buildings of more than two or three floors, he will insist upon streets or squares as wide as the buildings are high.
Some nine years ago a writer in the Atlantic, calling attention to this matter, advanced a theory that sky-scraping secreted its own antidote, that the obligation to preserve the necessary space for light and air would compel the owner of a lofty building to control a considerable area around it, and so would tend at the same time to compensate for some of the evils of skyscraping and to fix a limit to it as a business enterprise.
This necessity for light and air certainly obtains. It is only another way of saying that such additional private inclosures, piled one above another, if they are to exist at all, must be accompanied by additional public space in due proportion, whether in streets and parks, or in areas occupied only by structures of low altitude.
Whether the proprietors of lofty buildings have indeed adopted the policy of purchasing or leasing adjacent areas for these purposes, or, relying upon the neighboring owners to appreciate equally with themselves the folly of erecting similar structures on adjoining lots, have merely adopted David Harum’s policy of doing it first, the present writer does not profess to know. He is concerned only with the fact, thus early set forth, that the lofty building is in effect a trespasser upon public rights and the rights of the neighborhood, and can exist only upon sufferance.
The predicted reaction has not yet set in, and it is doubtful if the limit of height has yet been reached, or will be reached, so long as private profit alone is considered and the public waives its rights and consents to stand the burden. The public certainly has rights if it chooses to assert them.
Is there any reason that a man who takes possession of an area should be free to reproduce that area over and over, any more than that, having received a coin or a treasury note, he should be free to counterfeit it? Or that, possessing a small piece of land adjacent to a body of navigable air, he should be more free to make land out into that air than that, when his land adjoins a navigable stream, he should be free to make land out into that stream; or that, when a city has been laid out with streets properly proportioned to areas, he should be more free to expand those areas by duplicating them vertically, than to expand, in any other way, the areas to be approached by those streets without at the same time contributing land for the expansion of the streets themselves; or that the public, under whose eminent domain he holds a title defined in two dimensions, should need to concede to him any control of the solid earth through which that public must find passageway to and from his estate, so long as it in no way disturbs the foundation of any legitimate edifice erected upon his share of the earth’s crust?
Of course, there are already certain perpendicular limits fixed by city ordinance, by building laws, or by administrative rules, but the best interests of society demand that there should be not only a limit, but repressive measures before that limit is reached. And to our friends of the Single Tax, who, preferring half a loaf to no bread, and finding their ideal of public ownership impracticable under present conditions, are offering the single tax as an approximation to the ideal, let us propose the question whether, when they carry their point of taxing only the area upon which improvements are made and not the improvements made thereon, the discs of area which the possessor has flung up into the air should not be taxed as areas, which they are, rather than as improvements, which they are not. Why, since the many-storied structure entails so much of social and economic evil, should it be regarded as in any real sense an improvement?
One grave defect in modern municipal administration lies in the failure to distinguish between what are improvements from the point of view of human welfare, and what are improvements only from the point of view of taxable value. The two are not necessarily identical. From the human standpoint it will some time be necessary, as it is even now desirable, to define the vertical dimension as well as the two horizontal dimensions in determining land-titles.
Modern invention has brought us to the frontiers of two vast domains of which man is certainly to take possession in the near future, and, indeed, of which he is already taking possession. The vested interests have begun to appropriate all that they can reach of these domains. They have already gone far in annexing, at the expense of the public, the subterranean and aerial hinterlands which adjoin their terrestrial possessions. It is time for the public not only to stake out its own claim in the unoccupied region, but, by defining the third dimension in land-tenure, to limit the extent to which terrestrial surfaces may be telescoped upward or downward, and converted into solid aerial or subterranean possessions.