For perhaps two years, I have watched, with silent misgiving, the reorganization of the interior of Pennsylvania Station. As the extent of the demolition grew, my bewilderment grew with it. I could hardly believe that any rational purpose could justify the devastation that was being worked, and as the bottoms of the row of great stone columns that run from north to south across the station were chipped away and covered with a light-hued plastic, my bewilderment became incredulity. So I waited, hoping that some brilliant stroke of planning, beyond any notions I could form from the unfinished work, would turn the phantasmagoria my eyes beheld into a benign dream. But now that the scheme has taken shape, it is plain that I waited in vain. As things are going, I fully expect that Jules Guerin's begrimed mural maps, which adorn the walls above the concourse and which were once, not unjustly, described as one of the few examples of successful mural art in the country, will give way to colossal color transparencies or winking whiskey ads. The only consolation is that nothing more that can be done to the station will do any further harm to it. As in nuclear war, after complete destruction has been achieved, one cannot increase the damage by doubling the destructive forces.
The Pennsylvania Station, now half a century old, was the collaborative product of Alexander Johnston Cassatt, the Pennsylvania Railroad's president, and Charles Follen Mc-Kim, of McKim, Mead & White, who got the commission in 1902 and finished the job in 1910, after four years of building. The purpose Mr. Cassatt had in mind was to provide a magnificent, monumental structure that would serve the railroad well and embellish the city. "Certain preliminary matters had to be settled with President Cassatt before McKim could begin to think of the design," Charles Moore, McKim's biographer, notes. 'The company had a notion of utilizing the very valuable air space above the station by building a hotel. Mr. McKim argued that the great Pennsylvania Railroad owed the metropolis a thoroughly and distinctly monumental gateway." And professional and civic pride won out over cupidity. But, unfortunately, the spirit of adventure had gone out of American architecture. Except for Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and a handful of their followers, no one any longer had the courage or the imagination to create new forms native to our own culture and the century. So the station was cast in the classic form of the Roman baths of Cara-calla; indeed, McKim had intuitively prepared himself for this commission, in 1901, by assembling a gang of workmen in those very baths, so that he could study the esthetic effect of the huge scale of the structure on the crowds passing under its arches. The punctuating beat of the rows of vast classic columns, without and within, of Pennsylvania Station turned out to be the dying note of the classic revival that had begun in 1893 with the Chicago World's Fair. But though the classic forms were symbolically dead and functionally meretricious, McKim's handling of the main elements of the design for the station was superb. The basic practical problem, created by the fact that the railway tracks, in order to pass under the East and Hudson Rivers on their way out of town, were far below ground, has, it is true, never been properly solved. Above the track level is a second level, along which one makes one's way from the trains to the subway lines on Seventh and Eighth Avenues; above this is a third level, containing the concourse and the ticket offices, and flanked by the taxicab ramps. Even this level is well below ground, and it is reached from east, west, north, and south by broad stairways from the streets surrounding the station. The ambiguity of the many exits from the trains, some leading to the second level and some to the third, is baffling to anyone attempting to meet a person arriving on a train, and creates a certain degree of confusion for the traveller seeking a taxi or a subway. Even worse, the inadequacy of the escalator system handicaps the passenger with heavy baggage much more today than it did in those fabled days when porters were numerous and did not become invisible when a train arrived. In these respects, the Thirtieth Street Station in Philadelphia and the Union Station in Washington, even with their two levels of railway tracks, are more satisfactory, despite the fact that the system of widely spaced double exits in the Philadelphia station makes meeting an incoming passenger difficult without prearrangement.
But, apart from these vexatious lapses, the general plan of Pennsylvania Station had a noble simplicity that helped it to work well. A broad, unobstructed corridor, running from east to west, was the visible expression of the station's axis, from Seventh Avenue clear through to Eighth Avenue. Mc-Kim made good use of Ms eight-acre site, which covered two entire blocks, by providing a sunken entrance, at the concourse level, for vehicles on both the north and the south sides of the station—far more adequate than the accommodations at Grand Central. If one approached the station by car, one had to walk but a short distance to the ticket windows and the trains. The ticket offices, the big waiting rooms, and the ample concourse, capable of embracing the largest holiday crowds, were at right angles to the axis and flanked the broad corridor. McKim, wishing to keep the axis and corridor clear, even placed the information booth in a northern comer, in a niche formed by the men's waiting room and some of the ticket booths, but wiser heads soon moved this important facility to the center of the ticket hall, so that passengers could approach it from the four points of the compass.
McKim's plan had a crystal clarity that gave the circulation the effortless inevitability of a gravity-flow system, with pools of open space to slow down or rest in when one left the main currents. Movement is the essence of transportation, and movement is what McKim's plan magnificently provided for. Amplifying this spaciousness were the great columns and the high ceilings of both the main entrance corridor (leading west from Seventh Avenue and lined with shops and restaurants) and the ticket hall, waiting rooms, and concourse — the scale gigantic, the effect not only imposing but soothing and reassuring, as if a load were taken off one's chest. In this terminal, meant to encompass crowds, there was no sense of crowding; the ticket hall was as long as the nave of St. Peter's. The shopwom tags of McKim's classic decoration receded from consciousness, and what remained was a beautiful ordering of space, whose proportions veiled the inappropriate decorative pomp and nullified the occasional irritations of the ascent from or descent to the trains. Even the fifty-year accumulation of grime on the travertine walls of the interior has not robbed this building of its essential grandeur, which now suggests the musty subterranean passages in the contemporary remains of a Roman bath. There is never too much of that grand Roman quality in a modern city. It comes from a princely sense of magnificence, a willingness to spend mu-nificently on a purely esthetic pleasure, instead of squeezing out the last penny of dividends. American railroad stations as late as twenty-five years ago compared favorably with those of England and the Continent, because of their interior serenity and dignity as well as the fact that they were then altogether free of advertisements—a point the European traveller often remarked on with surprise, as a pleasing contradiction in the land of the almighty dollar.
No one now entering Pennsylvania Station for the first time could, without clairvoyance, imagine how good it used to be, in comparison to the almost indescribable botch that has been made of it. To take the most favorable view of the new era, let us enter the main approach, from Seventh Avenue— the only element left that faintly resembles the original design. But the spaciousness of the corridor, with its long view, has been diminished by a series of centrally placed advertisements—a large aluminum-framed glass box for posters; then that standard fixture of today's railroad station, a rubber-tired confection from Detroit suggesting to the guileless traveller the superior claims of private motor transportation; then another poster box, holding an illuminated color photograph of a steak dinner. These nagging intrusions are only a modest beginning; in time, the top of mis great, barrel-vaulted corridor will probably, like the concourse, be punctuated with transparencies and flying signs.
Happily, these obstacles serve an esthetic function; they soften the shock that one encounters at the head of the stairs to the main floor. There one discovers that almost the whole interior arrangement has been swept away. The broad east-west corridor has vanished, and in its place a huge plastic crescent canopy, brittle, fragile, and luminous, opens out, fanlike, across one's view—a canopy slanting upward at an awkward angle and suspended in midair by wires from the sturdy-looking stone columns of the original design: in all, a masterpiece of architectural and visual incongruity. This vast arched canopy drenches the space below it with diffused fluorescent light, illuminating a semicircle of ticket counters and, behind them, clerks at ranks of desks. The semicircle completely blocks the main channel of circulation to the concourse; moreover, it conceals the bottom half of the great window that once marked the western end of the station's axis. The counters of the ticket office are laid out in sawtooth indentations—open and without grillwork, like the ones in the newer banks—and a closed-circuit television set beside each counter presents the intending traveller with a visual summary of the accommodations available for the next week or so on whatever train he has in mind. This saw-toothed arrangement and the abandonment of the framed booth are the only elements in the design for which the most charitable observer can say a good word: let the reader linger over this moment of praise. The rest of this new office is a symposium of errors. To provide enough space in the rear for the booking clerks, once housed in the innards of the station, the designer wiped out both waiting rooms, for which a wholly inadequate substitute has been provided by a few benches on the concourse. To reach these, and the trains, one must walk all the way around the ticket counters. And the large central information booth has disappeared, to be replaced by a tiny counter tucked away north of the stairs from the Seventh Avenue entrance in such a fashion that people making inquiry at it obstruct one exit to the subways. "Meet me at the information booth" is now, at any busy hour, a useless suggestion. "Meet me at Travelers' Aid" would be more to the point. To conceal the information booth so neatly and to block so effectively an exit is a feat that only emphasizes the quality of this renovation—its exquisite precision in matching bad esthetics to a bad plan.
And there are other places in Pennsylvania Station where this carefree treatment has been equally successful. There are separate counters for buyers of coach, parlor-car, and sleeping-car tickets, but since the counters are identified only by numbered orange, green, blue, or red signboards, one must consult an index board beforehand. The use of colors is an excellent means of identification for all but the color-blind. Unfortunately, though, the numerals, which are white, do not show up clearly against the light green, and they virtually dissolve into the dull orange; only the red and blue backgrounds have a decent visibility. (Bold numerals, like the ones used in the central Rome railroad station, would remove the need for color identification.) No one can claim that this feeble, reticent color scheme represents an unwilling-ness to introduce a strong discordant note, for of such notes there is a jarring plenitude—the greenery-yallery walls next to the train hall, the stark white and black of the telephone booths, the effulgent stainless steel of the new shops and booths that have been erected on the main floor; in short, a West Forty-second Street garishness and tawdriness characterize the whole reconstruction. With this over-all design to establish the level of taste, the fevered illuminations of the soft-drink machines are fitting embellishments of the general chaos.
But these are minor matters; the great treason to McKim's original design, and the overpowering blunder, is the conception of these misplaced ticket counters, with their background of ticket clerks busily acting their parts under television's myriad eyes. If treated rationally and straightforwardly, the change-over to open counters with television equipment and doubled space for ticket selling could have been accomplished without destroying a single important feature of the" whole station. But rational considerations of fitness, function, and form, with a view to the ultimate human decencies, seem as unimportant in the reconstruction of Pennsylvania Station as they do to some of our designers of motorcars. One suspects that the subversion of McKim's masterly plan was due simply to the desire to make the whole design an immense advertising display, and, in fact, this design now centers on the suspended canopy, which not merely provides a ceiling of light for the office space below but juts out many feet beyond the counters, as if it had the function it might serve in the open air—of offering shelter against rain. The purpose of such a design, psychologically speaking, is possibly to convince the railroad user either that the Pennsylvania Railroad has gone modem and that the old station can be as pinched for space as generally commonplace, as a bus terminal, or else that it can be as aerodynamic in form as an airport terminal. The effort to shorten the time needed to make reservations is a • laudable one, though it may be doubted whether electronic Ř feathers will do much to improve a system whose worst bottle- )• neck is not communications but wholesale advance bookings ß by business corporations (often far in excess of their needs), which create the difficulty of allotting too few spaces to too many. But let us nevertheless assume that the new installation provides handsome gains in efficiency. These gains must be weighed against serious losses of efficiency at other points. There is no reason, for instance, that the booking clerks should occupy the space once given over to waiting rooms. As a result of this pointless dramatization of the process of ticket selling, the waiting passengers are now squeezed onto a few benches, many of them a constant obstacle to passenger circulation.
What on earth were the railroad men in charge really attempting to achieve? And why is the result such a disaster? Did the people who once announced that they were plan- • ning to convert the station property into a great skyscraper 'ř market and Fun Pair decide, finding themselves temporarily ř thwarted in that scheme, to turn their energies to destroying the station from the inside, in order to provide a better justification for their plans? Or did the management see pictures of the new Rome station and decide that it would be nice to have a station equally up-to-date, and even more flash-;
fly so? But they forgot that though the Rome booking hall is in effect a canopy, it is a free-standing structure poised dynamically on its own base, serving not as a piece of phony stage decoration but as a shelter for its activities. To transport the idea of a canopy into Pennsylvania Station, whose overwhelming quality, esthetically, depends upon its free command of space, was to nullify not merely its rational plan but its height, its dignity, and its tranquil beauty. If the planners had cut the height of the main level in two by inserting another floor above it, they could not have debased the original design more effectively than they have by introducing that mask of light, suspended by wires. This glaring device was not necessitated by the television system of communication. The special merit of such a system is that the headquarters of the operation can be miles away from the place where the information registers. To disrupt the whole flow of traffic through the station so as to put the system on display is a miscarriage of the display motive.
Behind this design, one must assume, was the notion that has made automobile manufacturers add airplane fins to their earth-bound products. This shows a loss of faith in their trade, on the part of railroad men, that may hasten the demise of the railways. If they had sufficient pride in their own method of transportation, they would emphasize the things that make it different from air or motor transportation—its freedom from tension and danger, the fact that planes stack up interminably over airports in poor weather, the fact that a motor expressway, according to surveys, can handle only four thousand people an hour, while a railroad line can handle forty thousand people an hour. This capacity for coping quickly with crowds that would clog the best highway facilities for hours is the special achievement of the railroad. What the railroad does superbly the motor expressway does badly, and planes, even though they travel at supersonic speed, cannot do at all. This was boldly dramatized by Mc-Kim in the great vomitoria he designed to handle the crowds in Pennsylvania Station. Everything that clutters up a railroad terminal either physically or visually must accordingly be rated as bad design, and, ultimately, because of its retarding effect on convenience and comfort, as bad publicity, too.
Some of the engineering ingenuity that was spent in devising the vast electronic jukebox of Pennsylvania Station might well have gone into repairing the crucial error in Mc-Kim's design—the failure to carry the system of circulation into its final stage; that is, an adequate method of passing immediately to and from the trains. As it is, a beautiful trip out of town can be soured in a few minutes by the poverty of mechanical means for changing levels and for transporting hand baggage. Moving platforms, escalators, light-weight two-wheeled luggage trucks, like the carts at a supermar-. ket; identification signs for baggage lockers, so that one might recognize at a distance where one left one's bags, just by looking at the color of one's key; a well-identified enclosure for meeting—such highly desirable improvements as these are untouched by the present innovations.
The lack of improvements in these essential matters is a symptom of the bureaucratic fossilization in railroading, and that backwardness cannot be overcome by jazzing up the ticket service. If the Pennsylvania Railroad had given thought to these inefficiencies and discomforts and inconveniences, it would have treated the improvement of the ticket services with the same sharp eye on the business of railroading, and with the same readiness to keep the original design quietly up-to-date, without sacrificing the qualities in it that are timeless. Such a thorough renovation might be even more expensive than the present disarrangement, but it would pay off by improving every aspect of the service, instead of simply faking a loudly "modern" setting in the hope that the passenger will forget the many ancient coaches and Pullman cars, with their shabby upholstery, that are still in service.
But no sort of renovation of Pennsylvania Station makes sense until the railroad is ready to commission the one operation that would really cause it to look fresh and bright without benefit of fluorescent lighting—a complete cleansing of its soiled interior. The plaster has begun to crack and peel in the Seventh Avenue corridor; the mural maps are almost invisible; and, as if to accentuate the dirt, the thrifty management has merely scoured the columns and walls to a height of ten feet, making the worst of a bad job. As for the vast blaze of light from the low ceiling in the renovated portions, its chief effect at night is to make the train hall look as though it were under an air-raid blackout. If it was sad that Alexander Cassatt should have died in 1906, without seeing his great station erected, it was a mercy that he did not live until 1958, to witness its bungling destruction. It would take even mightier powers than these old railroad titans wielded to undo this damage.
During the last generation a change has taken place in our conception of open spaces in relation to the urban and regional environment. People in the nineteenth century were conscious, primarily, of the hygienic and sanitary function of open spaces. Even Camillo Sitte, a leader in the esthetic appreciation of cities, called the inner parks of the city "sanitary greens." In order to offset the increasing congestion and disorder of the city, great landscape parks were laid out, more or less in the fashion that the aristocracy had promoted for their private country estates. The recreational value of these landscape parks was indisputable; and in addition they served as barriers against the spread of the city as an unbroken urbanoid mass. But except for the leisured classes, these parks were used chiefly on Sundays and holidays; and no equivalent effort was made to provide more intimate open spaces in each neighborhood, where the young might dig and romp, where adults might relax, from time to time, all through the week, without making a special journey.
Given the high densities for dwellings that have prevailed in big cities, it was natural, no doubt, that there should be an emphasis on the biological necessity for open spaces:
this recognized the value of sunlight, fresh air, free movement in promoting health, and the psychological need for the sight and smell of grass, bushes, flowers, trees and open sky. The park was treated, not as an integral part of the urbafl environment, but as a place of refuge, whose main values derived from the contrast with the noisy, crowded dusty urban hive. So impoverished were most cities, except where they inherited aristocratic parks, open residential squares a°d plying fields from previous centuries, that open spaces caine to be treated as if their value was directly proportional to their area—without too much regard for their accessibility. 1ďĺ1ă frequency of use, or their effect in altering the texture of urban life. Those who felt increasingly deprived of the gardens and parks essential to urban living moved, if they h»d ^e means, to a spacious leafy suburb; and in the very ?ct of seeking this all-too-simple solution, they permitted the city itself to become further congested and pushed the open country ever further away from its center.
Today our appreciation of the biological function of open spaces should be even deeper, now that their function in sustaining life is threatened by radioactive pollution and the air itself around every urban center is filled with scores of cancer-prtxmcing substances. But in addition, we have learned that open spaces have-also a social function to perform that the mere demand for an open refuge too often overlooks.
To understand how important the social role of open spaces is we must take into account three great changes that have taken place during the last century. First, the change in the mode of human settlement brought about by fast transportation and instantaneous means of communication. As a result» physical congestion is no longer the sole possible way of bringing a large population into intimate contact and cooperation. From this has come another change: a change, wherever sufficient land is available at reasonable prices, in the whole layout of the city: for in the suburbs that have been growing s0 rapidly around the great centers the buildings exist, ideally, as free-standing structures in a parklike landscape- Too often the trees and gardens vanish under further pressure of population, yet the sprawling, open, individualistic structure, almost anti-social in its dispersal and its random pattern, remains. The third great change is the general reduction of working hours, along with an increasing shift of work itself from industrial occupations to services and professional vocations. Instead of being faced with a small leisured class, we have now to provide recreational facilities for a whole leisured population. And if this emancipation from incessant toil is not to become a curse, we must create a whole series of alternatives to the sedatives and anesthetics now being offered—especially the anesthesia of locomotion at an ever higher rate of speed and an even lower return in esthetic pleasure and meaningful purpose. In meeting this challenge, we may well re-examine the experience of the historic aristocracies who, when not engaged in aimless violence and destruction, devoted so much of their energies to the audacious transformation of the whole landscape. Once we accept the challenge of creating an environment so rich in human resources that no one would willingly leave it even temporarily on an astronautic vacation, we shall alter the whole pattern of human settlement. Ebenezer Howard's dream of garden cities will widen into the prospect of a garden civilization.
Now very little of the planning that has been projected or achieved during the last generation has taken this new situation into account. Indeed, the chief work that has been done in urban extension and in highway building has been under a curious compulsion to serve the machine rather than to respond to human needs. Unless fresh ideas are introduced, the continued growth of loose suburban areas will undermine our historic cities and deface the natural landscape, creating a large mass of undifferentiated, low-grade urban tissue, which, in order to perform even the minimal functions of the city, will impose a maximum amount of private locomotion, and, incidentally, push the countryside even further away from even the suburban areas.
Ibis kind of openness and low density is another name for social and civic disintegration, such as we find in cities like Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the great landscape parks in the heart of our old cities too often become neglected, though a long motor ride often leads to a far less attractive destination. While this is happening, the more distant recreation areas by woods, lake, or sea are left to stagger under a weekend congestion that robs that facility of its recreative value, for the motorcar brings to such distant areas the combined population, not just of a single city, but of a whole region.
As a result of these changes, in particular our overattention to movement and our underattention to settlement, the
very words park and field have taken on new meanings. "Park" now usually means a desert of asphalt, designed as a temporary storage space for motorcars; while "field" means another kind of artificial desert, a barren area planted in great concrete strips, vibrating with noise, dedicated to the arrival and departure of planes. From park and field unroll wide ribbons of concrete that seek to increase the speed of travel between distant points at whatever sacrifice of esthetic pleasures or social opportunities. And if our present system of development goes on, without a profound change in our present planning concepts and values, the final result will be a universal wasteland, unfit for human habitation, no better than the surface of the moon. No wonder people play with projects for exploring outer space: we have been turning the landscape around our great cities into mere launching platforms, and our long daily journeys in the cramped interiors of motorcars are preparatory trips for the even more cramped and comatose journeys by rocket.
Perhaps the first step toward regaining possession of our souls will be to repossess and replan the whole landscape. To turn away from the processes of life, growth, reproduction, to prefer the disintegrated, the accidental, the random to organic form and order is to commit collective suicide; and by the same token, to create a counter-movement to the irrationalities and threatened exterminations of our day, we must draw close once more to the healing order of nature, modified by human design.
The time has come then to conceive alternatives for the classic and romantic cliches of the past, and for the even more sterile cliches of the mechanical "space-eaters," who would destroy all the esthetic resources of the landscape in their effort to enable tens of thousands of people to concentrate at a distant point at the same time; and who, when their weekend tourists finally reach such a point, can only reproduce the congested facilities and the banal amusements of the community they have made such a desperate effort to escape. It is not by a mere quantitative increase in the present park facilities, but by a comprehensive change in the whole pattern of life that we shall realize to the full the social function of open spaces.
And first, one must think of open recreation spaces, outside the existing urban areas, as no longer adequately represented by a few landscape parks or wild reservations however large: nothing less than a whole region, the larger part of which is in a state of natural growth and useful cultivation, will suffice to meet the needs of our new-style recreation, open to the larger part of the population. The most important public task, around every growing urban center, and far beyond, is to reserve permanent open areas, capable of being maintained for agriculture, horticulture, and related rural industries. These areas must be established in such a fashion as to prevent the coalescence of one urban unit with another. Within its metropolitan area, this has been the notable accomplishment of Stockholm, and in no small degree of the Netherlands as regional entity. Witness the call of the bulb fields at flowering time in spring.
Though the provision of urban greenbelts in part meets our new requirements, we must now think not of greenbelts alone but of a permanent green matrix, dedicated to rural uses whether it comes under public control or remains in private hands. For weekend recreation, the whole regional landscape has become, in fact, the landscape park. That area is far too large to be acquired for park purposes alone; for its upkeep, if solely under state or municipal control, would overburden the largest budget. But by firm legal regulation, the land may be zoned permanently for rural uses in a fashion that will maintain its recreational value, provided both highway system and recreational facilities are planned so as to disperse the transient population of visitors.
The new task for the landscape architect is to articulate the whole landscape so that every part of it may serve for recreation. Besides persuading public authorities to stabilize agricultural land uses by zoning and urban tax abatement so that it will not, without public authorization, be used for residential or industrial building, the task of the landscape architect will be to design footpaths, picnicking grounds, pedestrian pleasances along riverfronts, beaches, and woodland groves in such a fashion as to give public access to every part of the rural scene, without undue disturbance to the daily economic round. One must think of continuous strips of public land weaving through the whole landscape and making it usually accessible to both nearby residents and to holiday visitors. There is the beginning of this new process of using the whole landscape as a recreational facility in the layout of bicycle paths in the Netherlands; and there remains in certain parts of England, as a residue from an older era, a system of public footpaths over hill and dale, through field and wood, that needs only to be broadened into somewhat wider strips, no more than twenty or sometimes fifty feet, to provide amply for public needs without encroaching too heavily on agricultural uses.
The same kind of planning would even apply to the motor road, once the object was to achieve, not the maximum amount of speed, but the maximum amount of relaxation and beauty in slow drives designed to open up views, and persuade the motorist, not to seek a more distant point at high speed, but to linger where shade and rich foliage and spicy air are his without further effort. Even in the design of faster highways, those recreational values that have nothing to do with speed can be brought into play by the resourceful landscape architect. Thus the design of the Taconic Parkway in New York State, following the ridgeway in great curves, heavily planted with flowering bushes, opening wide views from time to time over the valley below, offers special rewards to the sensitive motorist.
While our facilities for mass transportation are responsible for opening up the whole region as a recreational area and public park, the landscape architect must boldly challenge the transportation authorities and highway engineers who have made a fetish of speed and who, in order to justify the extravagant costs of their enterprise, seek to attract the heaviest load of traffic. Speed is the vulgar objective of a life devoid of any more significant kind of esthetic interest. But if our rational object is to disperse traffic and avoid congestion, we must round out our highway system, not by building more speedways, but by laying out or rehabilitating minor roads designed for just the opposite purpose; namely, to tempt the motorist to slow down, to stretch his legs and relax, to spend more time in enjoying the natural beauties near at hand, and less time in trying to reach some more distant point where thousands of other motorcars will converge.
Our ability to turn the whole regional landscape into a collective park, with its recreation facilities dispersed and easy to reach, will be determined by the success of public authorities in making misused or untidy parts of the landscape more attractive, and by setting aside as public recreation grounds a sufficient number of small areas to prevent any congestion or overuse in any particular spot. The government might well offer subsidies to individual farmers and landowners for participating in larger public landscaping schemes, as well as by paying outright for widened rights of way and proiding the gates and stiles and fences needed to keep the urban visitor within bounds. Something of the same system that the Italians have worked out to police their roads, with individual stations at intervals, occupied by a permanent roadworker and his family, might well be applied to ensure the proper care of the landscape.
In this task of applying landscape design to the whole region, in order to make it available to every kind of recreation, we must find a place for both the extrovert and the introvert; for those whose enjoyments are often enhanced by a public setting and the presence of other people, and those whose deepest impulses lead to withdrawal and solitary exploration and quiet contemplation. Today, in most countries, we tend to overplay the role of mass movements and mass satisfactions and mass attendance at spectatorial sports. We forget the need to offset the pervasive compulsions of the crowd by providing plenty of space for solitary withdrawal. But man, as Emerson observed, needs both society and solitude; and no small part of the social function of open spaces is to remain open, not crowded with people seeking mass recreation.
Now in this regional provision for open spaces I can detect no difference whatever between the needs of the most congested metropolis and those of the country town or the open suburb. For mass transportation, by rail, by public bus, and by motorcar, has extended the field of recreation far beyond the local community and has, at least potentially, widened the area of choice. The surest mark of bad planning is that, in the very effort to meet one kind of mass demand, the planner is tempted to set up a single standard of success, that of quantitative use, and to overlook the need for variety and choice. If this goes on, our mass recreation areas will become as standardized, as monotonous, as lacking in psychological stimulus of any kind, as the urban quarters people want relief from. Good planning, on the other hand, as it widens the field of recreation, in order to meet the demands of a bigger population commanding greater leisure, must be more concerned to achieve a fuller differentiation of both human activities and landscape forms, bringing out the unique resources of each spot—here a winding river, there a striking view, or in another place, an historic village with a good inn, whose character must be preserved by swinging motor roads and carparks widely around the village, instead of letting them pile up in its center. The autumn visits to the vineyards that used to go on in the Napa Valley of California, like the visits to the blossoming apricot orchards once possible in the Santa Clara Valley, may have more recreational value than a visit to an idle landscape sacred to park custodians. In allowing such land to be swallowed up by speculative builders our "great metropolises" are depleting their most precious recreational resources.
So much for the larger conception of open spaces, as conceived on a new regional pattern, with a permanent green matrix of open areas, preserved for both local residents and visitors. If we take the necessary political measures to establish this green matrix, a large part of the pressure to escape from the congested city to a seemingly more rural suburb will be relieved, for the rural values that the suburb sought to achieve by strictly private means—and actually could achieve only for a prosperous fraction of the population— will become an integral feature of every urban community.
Two complementary movements are now necessary and possible: one is that of tightening the loose and scattered pattern of the suburb, turning it from a purely residential dormitory into a balanced community, approaching a true garden city in its variety and partial self-sufficiency, with a more varied population and with sufficient local industry and business to support it; and the other is that of loosening the congestion of the metropolis, emptying out part of its population, introducing parks, playgrounds, green promenades, private gardens, into quarters that we have permitted to become indecently congested, void of beauty, and often positively inimical to life. Here, too, we must think of a new form of the city, which will have the biological advantages of the suburb, the social advantages of the city, and new esthetic delights that will do justice to both modes.
Now the great function of the city is to give a collective form to what Martin Buber has well called the I-and-Thou relation: to permit—indeed, to encourage—the greatest possible number of meetings, encounters, challenges, between varied persons and groups, providing as it were a stage upon which the drama of social life may be enacted, with the actors taking their turn, too, as spectators. The social function of open spaces in the city is to bring people together and as Raymond Unwin demonstrated at Hampstead Garden Suburb—and Henry Wright and Clarence Stpin even more decisively at Radburn—when both private and public spaces are designed together, this mingling and meeting may take place, under the pleasantest possible conditions, in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the very congestion of the city produced a reaction on the part of sensitive people that made them overemphasize a purely quantitative ideal of open spaces; and under the influence of suburban practices, which made privacy and spatial aloofness a mark of upper-class status, many of our new communities in both America and Europe are far too loose and sprawling to serve their social purposes. Socially speaking, too much open space may prove a burden rather than a blessing. It is the quality of the open space—its charm and its accessibility—that counts for more than gross quantity.
The problem of the archetypal suburb today is to trade some of its excessive biological space (gardens) for social space (meeting places): that of the congested city is just the opposite, it must introduce into its overbuilt quarters sunlight, fresh air, private gardens, public squares, and pedestrian malls, which will both fulfill the social functions of the city and make it as favorable a place as was the older suburb for establishing a permanent home and bringing up children. The first step in making our older cities habitable is to reduce their residential densities, replacing decayed areas now occupied at a density of two hundred to five hundred persons per acre with housing that will permit parks and gardens as an integral part of the design, at densities not higher than a hundred, or at most, in quarters with a large proportion of childless people, of one hundred and twenty-five to one hundred and fifty persons per acre. Let us not be deceived by the appearance of the spatial openness that can be achieved by crowding many families into fifteen-story apartment houses. Abstract visual open space is not the equivalent of functional open space that may be used as playgrounds and private gardens. Here again a variety of uses— and therefore a variety of esthetic forms—is the mark of skfflful planning and expressive design. Row after row of great slabs or towers, even though set apart far enough to avoid casting a shadow on each other, create a poor environment for any kind of recreation, for they rob the area of sunlight and destroy the intimate and familiar human scale, so vital to the young child, and so pleasant, for that matter to the adult.
In the restoration or fresh creation of urban open space; there is room for much fresh experiment and bold design which will depart both from traditional models and those tha have become the fashionable cliches of contemporary form And in this field each city should suggest a different answer: what is appropriate for Amsterdam with its great water re sources would not be equally possible in Madrid. We d( not merely need grand plans, conceived freshly, for entirely new neighborhoods where we have cleared away acres of slum We also need piecemeal solutions that can be applied on i small scale, seizing each small opportunity that will go towarc the fulfillment over the years of a much larger design.
When I ask myself what immediate improvement woulc make my own city. New York, more attractive to live ir again, I find two answers: rows of shade trees on every street, and a little park, even a quarter of an acre, in eaci block, preferably near the middle. When I think of anothel familiar city, Philadelphia, I would turn the back alleys into green pedestrian malls, threading through the city, now widening into pools of open space surrounded by restaurants cafes, or shops, all insulated from motor traffic. And what applies to individual blocks applies to neighborhoods. To have any value for recreation they, too, must be insulated from the traffic avenues and motorways: the parts of the neighbor hood should be joined together by green ribbons, pedestrian malls, and pleasances, such as that admirable park Olmstec designed for the Back Bay Fens of Boston, taking advan' tage of a little river and a swamp to create a continuous band of green, uniting more than one neighborhood.
The one great requirement for open spaces in urban centers is to insulate them from the fumes, the noise, and the distracting movement of motor traffic. The neighborhood, not the individual building block, is now the unit of urban design, and all fresh schemes for both open spaces and for traffic, to be worthy of approval, must separate the pedestrian completely from the motorcar. When this can be done from the beginning as was first decisively achieved at Radburn, New Jersey, the motor roads that give access to buildings may be reduced in area and partly eliminated; while the space that is so saved within the superblock and the neighborhood may be dedicated to a public park. When these measures are taken, a much more economic and socially valuable use of the land can be made, without the wastage in excessive roads and setbacks and verges one finds in the British New Towns—admirable though they often are in their adequate, indeed sometimes overgenerous, provision for green-belts and private gardens.
What I have been saying about the social function of open spaces can now be briefly summed up. For weekend recreation we must treat the whole region as a potential park area and make it attractive at so many points that the hideous congestion of the slowly unwinding procession of weekend traffic will be minimized, or disappear entirely in a more lacy network of regional distribution. As for daily use, the same requirements for open space now apply to both the most congested cities and the most sprawling suburbs:
for the first must be loosened up for the sake of health and pleasure, while the second must become more concentrated and many-sided, for the sake of a balanced social life. In the cities of the future, ribbons of green must run through every quarter, forming a continuous web of garden and mall, widening at the edge of the city into protective greenbelts, so that landscape and garden will become an integral part of urban no less than rural life, both for weekday and holiday uses.
When the American people, through their Congress, voted a little while ago (1957) for a twenty-six-billion-dollar highway program, the most charitable thing to assume about this action is that they hadn't the faintest notion of what they were doing. Within the next fifteen years they ë'Ř doubtless find out; but by that time it will be too late to correct all the damage to our cities and our countryside, not least to the efficient organization of industry and transportation, that this ill-conceived and preposterously unbalanced program will have wrought.
Yet if someone had foretold these consequences before this vast sum of money was pushed through Congress, under the specious, indeed flagrantly dishonest, guise of a national defense measure, it is doubtful whether our countrymen would have listened long enough to understand; or would even have been able to change their minds if they did understand. For the current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism. Perhaps the only thing that could bring Americans to their senses would be a clear demonstration of the fact that their highway program will, eventually, wipe out the very area of freedom that the private motorcar promised to retain for them.
As long as motorcars were few in number, he who had one was a king: he could go where he pleased and halt where he pleased; and this machine itself appeared as a compensatory device for enlarging an ego which had been shrunken by our very success in mechanization. That sense of freedom and power remains a fact today only in low-density areas, in the open country; the popularity of this method of escape has ruined the promise it once held forth. In using the car to flee from the metropolis the motorist finds that he has merely transferred congestion to the highway and thereby doubled it. When he reaches his destination, in a distant suburb, he finds that the countryside he sought has disappeared: beyond him, thanks to the motorway, lies only another suburb, just as dull as his own. To have a minimum amount of communication and sociability in this spread-out life, his wife becomes a taxi-driver by daily occupation, and the sum of money it costs to keep this whole system running leaves him with shamefully overtaxed schools, inadequate police, poorly staffed hospitals, overcrowded recreation areas, ill-supported libraries.
In short, the American has sacrificed his life as a whole to the motorcar, like someone who, demented with passion, wrecks his home in order to lavish his income on a capricious mistress who promises delights he can only occasionally enjoy.
For most Americans, progress means accepting what is new because it is new, and discarding what is old because it is old. This may be good for a rapid turnover in business, but it is bad for continuity and stability in life. Progress, in an organic sense, should be cumulative, and though a certain amount of rubbish-clearing is always necessary, we lose part of the gain offered by a new invention if we automatically discard all the still valuable inventions that preceded it.
In transportation, unfortunately, the old-fashioned linear notion of progress prevails. Now that motorcars are becoming universal, many people take for granted that pedestrian movement will disappear and that the railroad system will in time be abandoned; in fact, many of the proponents of highway building talk as if that day were already here, or if not, they have every intention of making it dawn quickly. The result is that we have actually crippled the motorcar, by placing on this single means of transportation the burden for every kind of travel. Neither our cars nor our highways can take such a load. This overconcentration, moreover, is rapidly destroying our cities, without leaving anything half as good in their place.
What's transportation for? Ibis is a question that highway engineers apparently never ask themselves: probably because they take for granted the belief that transportation exists for the purpose of providing suitable outlets for the motorcar industry. To increase the number of cars, to enable motorists to go longer distances, to more places, at higher speeds, has become an end in itself. Does mis overemployment of the motorcar not consume ever larger quantities of gas, oil, concrete, rubber, and steel, and so provide the very groundwork for an expanding economy? Certainly, but none of these make up the essential purpose of transportation. The purpose of transportation is to bring people or goods to places where they are needed, and to concentrate the greatest variety of goods and people within a limited area, in order to widen the possibility of choice without making it necessary to travel. A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation; and in any event, it offers a change of speed and mode to fit a diversity of human purposes.
Diffusion and concentration are the two poles of transportation: the first demands a closely articulated network of roads—ranging from a footpath to a six-lane expressway and a transcontinental railroad system. The second demands a city. Our major highway systems are conceived, in the interests of speed, as linear organizations, that is to say as arteries. That conception would be a sound one, provided the major arteries were not overdeveloped to the exclusion of all the minor elements of transportation. Highway planners have yet to realize that these arteries must not be thrust into the delicate tissue of our cities; the blood they circulate must rather enter through an elaborate network of minor blood vessels and capillaries. As early as 1929 Benton MacKaye worked out the rationale of sound highway development, in bis conception of the Townless Highway; and mis had as its corollary the Highwayless Town. In the quarter century since, all the elements of MacKaye's conception have been carried out, except the last—certainly not the least.
In many ways, our highways are not merely masterpieces of engineering, but consummate works of art: a few of them, like the Taconic State Parkway in New York, stand on a par with our highest creations in other fields. Not every highway, it is true, runs through country that offers such superb opportunities to an imaginative highway builder as this does;
but then not every engineer rises to his opportunities as the planners of this highway did, routing the well-separated roads along the ridgeways, following the contours, and thus, by this single stratagem, both avoiding towns and villages and opening up great views across country, enhanced by a lavish planting of flowering bushes along the borders. If this standard of comeliness and beauty were kept generally in view, highway engineers would not so often lapse into the brutal assaults against the landscape and against urban order that they actually give way to when they aim solely at speed and volume of traffic, and bulldoze and blast their way across country to shorten their route by a few miles without making the total journey any less depressing.
Perhaps our age will be known to the future historian as the age of the bulldozer and the exterminator; and in many parts of the country the building of a highway has about the same result upon vegetation and human structures as the passage of a tornado or the blast of an atom bomb. Nowhere is this bulldozing habit of mind so disastrous as in the approach to the city. Since the engineer regards his own work as more important than the other human functions it serves, he does not hesitate to lay waste to woods, streams, parks, and human neighborhoods in order to carry his roads straight to their supposed destination.
The fatal mistake we have been making 5s to sacrifice every other form of transportation to the private motorcar—and to offer, as the only long-distance alternative, the airplane. But the fact is that each type of transportation has its special use; and a good transportation policy must seek to improve each type and make the most of it. This cannot be achieved by aiming at high speed or continuous flow alone. If you wish casual opportunities for meeting your neighbors, and for profiting by chance contacts with acquaintances and colleagues, a stroll at two miles an hour in a concentrated area, free from needless vehicles, will alone meet your need. -But if you wish to rush a surgeon to a patient a thousand miles away,
the fastest motorway is too slow. And again, if you wish to be sure to keep a lecture engagement in winter, railroad transportation offers surer speed and better insurance against being held up than the airplane. There is no one ideal mode or speed: human purpose should govern the choice of the means of transportation. That is why we need a better transportation system, not just more highways. The projectors of our national highway program plainly had little interest in trans- j portation. In their fanatical zeal to expand our highways, the very allocation of funds indicates that they are ready to '? liquidate all other forms of land and water transportation. -The result is a crudely over-simplified and inefficient method of mono-transportation: a regression from the complex many-sided transportation system we once boasted.
In order to overcome the fatal stagnation of traffic in and around our cities, our highway engineers have come up with a remedy that actually expands the evil it is meant to overcome. They create new expressways to serve cities that are already overcrowded within, thus tempting people who had been using public transportation to reach the urban centers to use these new private facilities. Almost before the first day's tolls on these expressways have been counted, the new roads themselves are overcrowded. So a clamor arises to create other similar arteries and to provide more parking garages in the center of our metropolises; and the generous provision of these facilities expands the cycle of congestion, without any promise of relief until that terminal point when all the business and industry that originally gave rise to the congestion move out of the city, to escape strangulation, leaving a waste of expressways and garages behind them. This is pyramid building with a vengeance: a tomb of concrete roads and ramps covering the dead corpse of a city.
But before our cities reach this terminal point, they will suffer, as they now do, from a continued erosion of their social facilities: an erosion that might have been avoided if engineers had understood MacKaye's point that a motorway, properly planned, is another form of railroad for private use. Unfortunately, highway engineers, if one is to judge by their usual performance, lack both historic insight and social memory: accordingly, they have been repeating, with the audacity of confident ignorance, all the mistakes in urban planning committed by their predecessors who designed our railroads. The wide swaths of land devoted to cloverleaves, and even more complicated multi-level interchanges, to expressways, parking lots, and parking garages, in the very heart of the city, butcher up precious urban space in exactly the same way that freight yards and marshalling yards did when the railroads dumped their passengers and freight inside the city. These new arteries choke off the natural routes of circulation and limit the use of abutting properties, while at the points where they disgorge their traffic they create inevitable clots of congestion, which effectively cancel out such speed as they achieve in approaching these bottlenecks.
Today the highway engineers have no excuse for invading the city with their regional and transcontinental trunk systems: the change from the major artery to the local artery can now be achieved without breaking the bulk of goods or replacing the vehicle: that is precisely the advantage of the motorcar. Arterial roads, ideally speaking, should engirdle the metropolitan area and define where its greenbelt begins; and since American cities are still too impoverished and too improvident to acquire greenbelts, they should be planned to go through the zone where relatively high-density building gives way to low-density building. On this perimeter, through traffic will bypass the city, while cars that are headed for the center will drop off at the point closest to their destination.
Since I don't know a city whose highways have been planned on this basis, let me give as an exact parallel the new semicircular railroad line, with its suburban stations, that bypasses Amsterdam. That is good railroad planning, and it would be good highway planning, too, as the Dutch architect H. Th. Wijdeveld long ago pointed out. It is on relatively cheap land, on the edge of the city, that we should be building parking areas and garages: with free parking privileges to tempt the commuter to leave his car and finish his daily journey on the public transportation system. The public officials who have been planning our highway system on just the opposite principle are likewise planning to make the central areas of our cities unworkable and uninhabitable. Route 128 in Boston might seem a belated effort to provide such a circular feeder highway; but actually it is a classic example of how the specialized highway engineer, with his own concerns solely in mind, can defeat sound urban design.
Now it happens that the theory of the insulated, highspeed motorway, detached from local street and road systems, immune to the clutter of roadside "developments," was first worked out, not by highway engineers, but by Benton Mac-Kaye, the regional planner who conceived the Appalachian Trail. He not merely put together its essential features, but identified its principal characteristic: the fact that to achieve speed it must bypass towns. He called it in fact the Townless Highway. (See The New Republic, March 30, 1930.) Long before the highway engineers came through with Route 128, MacKaye pointed out the necessity for a motor bypass around the ring of suburbs that encircle Boston, in order to make every part of the metropolitan area accessible, and yet to provide a swift bypass route for through traffic.
MacKaye, not being a one-eyed specialist, visualized this circuit in all its potential dimensions and developments: he conceived accordingly a metropolitan recreation belt with a northbound motor road forming an arc on the inner flank and a southbound road on the outer flank—the two roads separated by a wide band of usable parkland, with footpaths and bicycle paths for recreation. In reducing MacKaye's conception to Route 128, without the greenbelt and without public control of the areas adjacent to the highway, the "experts" reduced the multi-purpose Bay Circuit to the typical "successful" expressway: so successful in attracting industry and business from the center of the city that it already ceases to perform even its own limited functions of fast transportation, except during hours of the day when ordinary highways would serve almost as well. This, in contrast to MacKaye's scheme, is a classic example of how not to do it
Just as highway engineers know too little about city planning to correct the mistakes made in introducing the early railroad systems into our cities, so, too, they have curiously forgotten our experience with the elevated railroad—and unfortunately most municipal authorities have been equally forgetful. In the middle of the nineteenth century the elevated seemed the most facile and up-to-date method of introducing a new kind of rapid transportation system into the city; and in America, New York led the way in creating four such lines on Manhattan Island alone. The noise of the trains and the overshadowing of the structure lowered the value of the abutting properties even for commercial purposes; and the supporting columns constitued a dangerous obstacle to surface transportation. So unsatisfactory was elevated transportation even in cities like Berlin, where the structures were, in contrast to New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, rather handsome works of engineering, that by popular consent subway building replaced elevated railroad building in all big cities, even though no one could pretend that riding in a tunnel was nearly as pleasant to the rider as was travel in the open air. The destruction of the old elevated railroads in New York was, ironically, hailed as a triumph of progress precisely at the moment that a new series of elevated highways was being built, to repeat on a more colossal scale the same errors.
Like the railroad, again, the motorway has repeatedly taken possession of the most valuable recreation space the city possesses, not merely by thieving land once dedicated to park uses, but by cutting off easy access to the waterfront parks, and lowering their value for refreshment and repose by introducing the roar of traffic and the bad odor of exhausts, though both noise and carbon monoxide are inimical to health. Witness the shocking spoilage of the Charles River basin parks in Boston, the arterial blocking off of the Lake Front in Chicago (after the removal of the original usurpers, the railroads), the barbarous sacrifice of large areas of Fair-mount Park in Philadelphia, the partial defacement of the San Francisco waterfront, even in Paris the ruin of the Left Bank of the Seine.
One may match all these social crimes with a hundred other examples of barefaced highway robbery in every other metropolitan area. Even when the people who submit to these annexations and spoliations are dimly aware of what they are losing, they submit without more than a murmur of protest. What they do not understand is that they are trading a permanent good for a very temporary advantage, since until we subordinate highway expansion to the more permanent requirements of regional planning, the flood of motor traffic will clog new channels. What they further fail to realize is that the vast sums of money that go into such enterprises drain necessary public monies from other functions of the city, and make it socially if not financially bankrupt
Neither the highway engineer nor the urban planner can, beyond a certain point, plan his facilities to accommodate an expanding population. On the over-all problem of population pressure, regional and national policies must be developed for throwing open, within our country, new regions of settlement, if this pressure, which appeared so suddenly, does not in fact abate just as unexpectedly and just as suddenly. But there can be no sound planning anywhere until we understand the necessity for erecting norms, or ideal limits, for density of population. Most of our congested metropolises need a lower density of population, with more parks and open spaces, if they are to be attractive enough physically to retain even a portion of their population for day-and-night living; but most of our suburban and exurban communities must replan large areas at perhaps double their present densities in order to have the social, educational, recreational, and industrial facilities they need closer at hand. Both suburb and metropolis need a regional form of government, working in private organizations as well as public forms, to reapportion their resources and facilities, so as to benefit the whole area.
To say this is to say that both metropolitan congestion and suburban scattering are obsolete. This means that good planning must work to produce a radically new pattern for urban growth. On this matter, public policy in the United States is both contradictory and self-defeating. Instead of lowering central area densities, most urban renewal schemes, not least those aimed at housing the groups that must be subsidized, either maintain old levels of congestion, or create higher levels than existed in the slums they replaced. But the Home Loan agencies, federal and private, on the other hand, have been subsidizing the wasteful, ill-planned, single-family house, on cheap land, ever remoter from the center of our cities; a policy that has done as much to promote the suburban drift as the ubiquitous motorcar.
In order to cement these errors in the most solid way possible, our highway policy maximizes congestion at the center and expands the area of suburban dispersion—what one might call the metropolitan "fall-out." The three public agencies concerned have no official connections with each other: but the total result of their efforts proves, once again, that chaos does not have to be planned.
Motorcar manufacturers look forward confidently to the time when every family will have two, if not three, cars. I would not deny them that hope, though I remember that it was first voiced in 1929, just before the fatal crash of our economic system, too enamored of high profits even to save itself by temporarily lowering prices. But if they don't want the motorcar to paralyze urban life, they must abandon their fantastic commitment to the indecently tumescent organs they have been putting on the market. For long-distance travel, a roomy car, if not artfully elongated, of course has many advantages; but for town use, let us insist upon a car that fits the city's needs: it is absurd to make over the city to fit the swollen imaginations of Detroit. The Isetta and the Goggomobil have already pointed the way; but what we need is an even smaller vehicle, powered by electricity, delivered by a powerful storage cell, yet to be invented: the exact opposite of our insolent chariots.
Maneuverability and parkability are the prime urban virtues in cars; and the simplest way to achieve this is by designing smaller cars. These virtues are lacking in all but one of our current American models. But why should our cities be destroyed just so that Detroit's infantile fantasies should remain unchallenged and unchanged?
If we want to make the most of our New Highway program, we must keep most of the proposed expressways in abeyance until we have done two other things. We must replan the inner city for pedestrian circulation, and we must rebuild and extend our public forms of mass transportation. In our entrancement with the motorcar, we have forgotten how much more efficient and how much more flexible the footwalker is. Before there was any public transportation in London, something like fifty thousand people an hour used to pass over London Bridge on their way to work: a single artery. Railroad transportation can bring from forty to sixty thousand people per hour, along a single route, whereas our best expressways, using far more space, cannot move more than four to six thousand cars: even if the average occupancy were more than one and a half passengers, as at present, this is obviously the most costly and inefficient means of handling the peak hours of traffic. As for the pedestrian, one could move a hundred thousand people, by the existing streets, from, say, downtown Boston to the Common, in something like half an hour, and find plenty of room for them to stand. But how many weary hours would it take to move them in cars over these same streets? And what would one do with the cars after they had reached the Common? Or where, for that matter, could one assemble these cars in the first place? For open spaces, long distances, and low population densities, the car is now essential; for urban space, short distances, and high densities, the pedestrian.
Every urban transportation plan should, accordingly, put the pedestrian at the center of all its proposals, if only to facilitate wheeled traffic. But to bring the pedestrian back into the picture, one must treat him with the respect and honor we now accord only to the automobile: we should provide him with pleasant walks, insulated from traffic, to take him to his destination, once he enters a business precinct or residential quarter. Every city should heed the example of Rotterdam in creating the Lijnbaan, or of Coventry in creating its new shopping area. It is nonsense to say that this cannot be done in America, because no one wants to walk.
Where walking is exciting and visually stimulating, whether it is in a Detroit shopping center or along Fifth Avenue, Americans are perfectly ready to walk. The legs will come into their own again, as the ideal means of neighborhood transportation, once some provision is made for their exercise, as Philadelphia is now doing, both in its Independence Hall area, and in Perm Center. But if we are to make walking attractive, we must not only provide trees and wide pavements and benches, beds of flowers and outdoor cafes, as they do in Rotterdam: we must also scrap the monotonous uniformities of American zoning practice, which turns vast areas, too spread out for pedestrian movement, into single-district zones, for commerce, industry, or residential purposes. (As a result, only the mixed zones are architecturally interesting today despite their disorder.)
Why should anyone have to take a car and drive a couple of miles to get a package of cigarettes or a loaf of bread, as one must often do in a suburb? Why, on the other hand, should a growing minority of people not be able again to walk to work, by living in the interior of the city, or, for that matter, be able to walk home from the theatre or the concert hall? Where urban facilities are compact, walking still delights the American: does he not travel many thousands of miles just to enjoy this privilege in the historic urban cores of Europe? And do not people now travel for miles, of an evening, from the outskirts of Pittsburgh, just for the pleasure of a stroll in Mellon Square? Nothing would do more to give life back to our blighted urban cores than to re-instate the pedestrian, in malls and pleasances designed to make circulation a delight. And what an opportunity for architecture!
While federal funds and subsidies pour without stint into highway improvements, the two most important modes of transportation for cities—the railroad for long distances and mass transportation, and the subway for shorter journeys— are permitted to languish and even to disappear. This is very much like what has happened to our postal system. While the time needed to deliver a letter across the continent has been reduced, the time needed for local delivery has been multiplied. What used to take two hours now sometimes takes two days. As a whole our postal system has been degraded to a level that would have been regarded as intolerable even thirty years ago. In both cases, an efficient system has been sacrificed to an overfavored new industry, motorcars, telephones, airplanes; whereas, if the integrity of the system itself had been respected, each of these new inventions could have added enormously to the efficiency of the existing network.
If we could overcome the irrational drives that are now at work, promoting shortsighted decisions, the rational case for rebuilding the mass transportation system in our cities would be overwhelming. The current objection to mass transportation comes chiefly from the fact that it has been allowed to decay: this lapse itself reflects the general blight of the central areas. In order to maintain profits, or in many cases to reduce deficits, rates have been raised, services have decreased, and equipment has become obsolete, without being replaced and improved. Yet mass transportation, with far less acreage in roadbeds and rights of way, can deliver at least ten times more people per hour than the private motorcar. This means that if such means were allowed to lapse in our metropolitan centers—as the inter-urban electric trolley system, that complete and efficient network, was allowed to disappear in the nineteen-twenties—we should require probably five to ten times the existing number of arterial highways to bring the present number of commuters into the city, and at least ten times the existing parking space to accommodate them. In that tangled mass of highways, interchanges, and parking lots, the city would be nowhere: a mechanized nonentity ground under an endless procession of wheels.
That plain fact reduces a one-dimensional transportation system, by motorcar alone, to a calamitous absurdity, as far as urban development goes, even if the number of vehicles and the population count were not increasing year by year. Now it happens that the population of the core of our big cities has remained stable in recent years: in many cases, the decline which set in as early as 1910 in New York seems to have ceased. This means that it is now possible to set an upper limit for the daily inflow of workers, and to work out a permanent mass transportation system that will get them in/and out again as pleasantly and efficiently as possible.
In time, if urban renewal projects become sufficient in number to permit the design of a system of minor urban throughways, at ground level, that will bypass the neighborhood, even circulation by motorcar may play a valuable part in the total scheme—provided, of course, that minuscule-size town cars take the place of the long-tailed dinosaurs that now lumber about our metropolitan swamps. But the notion that the private motorcar can be substituted for mass transportation should be put forward only by those who desire to see the city itself disappear, and with it the complex, many-sided civilization that the city makes possible.
There is no purely local engineering solution to the problems of transportation in our age: nothing like a stable solution is possible without giving due weight to all the necessary elements in transportation—private motorcars, railroads, airplanes, and helicopters, mass transportation services by trolley and bus, even ferryboats, and finally, not least, the pedestrian. To achieve the necessary over-all pattern, not merely must there be effective city and regional planning, before new routes or services are planned; we also need eventually—and the sooner the better—an adequate system of federated urban government on a regional scale.
Until these necessary tools of control have been created, most of our planning will be empirical and blundering; and the more we do, on our present premises, the more disastrous will be the results. In short we cannot have an efficient form for our transportation system until we can envisage a better permanent structure for our cities. And the first lesson we have to learn is that a city exists, not for the constant passage of motorcars, but for the care and culture of men.