One of our leading philanthropists, long since gone to his reward, begged me to save a point of unique unspoiled beauty jutting out into the ocean, and within a month sold his holdings there to a ruthless developer whose aim was to blow down the dunes, tear out shrubs which had taken root after ages of conflict with wind and storm, and rebuild the point in his own image. My philanthropist friend explained that his hard-boiled brother had forced the sale. The same developer chopped down eleven hundred stunted white oaks on state land to make way for a power line. In this case, however, we made his agents apologize publicly and pay a heavy fine which went toward replanting, but it will take thirty years to repair the damage.
We have in our state park system a beautiful unspoiled salt meadow with a beach, a brackish creek, and sand dunes overrun by beach plum, cedar grass, bayberry, and stunted pines, and with a forested ridge running into it. We sought to protect it by zoning. The neighbors, who professed to love it, tried by every means to break down the restrictions and to fill, level, and minutely split it up. When we condemned more of it, they based their claims in court on what they would have made if their subdivision plans had succeeded.
The typical real-estate subdivision brochure contains distorted maps, claims that distant places are within easy commuting range, and pictures kitchens replete with shining gadgets, living rooms which look like Hitler's Chancellery, and gardens reminiscent of Marie Antoinette and the Tuileries. These folders, which aim to create a romantic atmosphere, are labeled Rocky Mountain View, American Venice, Marmaduke Manor, Phoenix Park, Pacific Shores, Aztec Village, Wampum City, Quahog Beach, Casabianca, or Capri. Their streets are named after fruits, Presidents, ballplayers, movie stars, Indians, Eskimos, departed local celebrities, Scotch clans, and Riviera resorts. There are usually guarded references to a magnificent community clubhouse where good old Crestfallen Manor still stands, and to murmuring hemlocks, vast expanses of sandy beach on salt or fresh water, and so forth.
Soon the frontage on main roads burgeons with new landmarks impishly called Snak Shak, Tumble Inn, St. Bernard Dog Wagon, Machine Shoppe, and filling stations entitled "Oil Well and All's Well." On closer examination the lots turn out to average less than four thousand square feet; the streets are narrow and are laid out in gridiron patterns; the houses are mere cabins; and what was once a pleasant bit of nature has been ruthlessly leveled and ripped up to make a subdivider's holiday. Building lots in such subdivisions represent about 5 per cent of the entire cost. An extra one thousand square feet would therefore add little to the price.
The tumult and the shouting cease. The developer and his drums depart. There remain for bewildered taxpayers and frightened local officials staggering problems of sewage, water supply, drainage, lighting, garbage, transportation, schools, playgrounds, fire and police protection, health, hospitals, in the slums of tomorrow.
NOW let me make it quite clear that this type of fly-by-night subdivision by promoters whose aim is to dig up the scenery, stake out and sell lots, make the landscape unrecognizable, and then run for their lives is not the universal pattern. There are many honorable exceptions representing intelligent, responsible, and farsighted planning by private developers, life insurance companies, and cooperative organizations, who intend to live with their subdivisions, to control them and at least see them through to the point where a well-rounded and self-contained community is firmly established. These people preserve topography and planting, stake out lots large enough for privacy and for the exercise of ingenuity in landscaping, place restrictions on permitted types of houses, and establish wide streets for main traffic, dead-end streets and drives for safety, adequate utilities, playgrounds, schools, and community meeting places. And such people welcome high zoning standards established and policed by honest local officials with pride in their work.