The great American novel, of whose coming we used to talk a great deal, has not been written and probably never will be, for a novel must have location, must picture with fidelity to detail individual characters and a group of characters. This necessary detail inevitably makes it sectional, provincial, differentiates its people and its atmosphere from the people and the atmosphere pictured in another novel equally good, equally true, the scene of which is laid in another part of the country or which deals with a different group of people. These differences will cause Americans of other sections to disclaim both books as representative of America as they know it, though to foreigners who view us from a distance both books may seem typically American. We, close at hand, see most clearly the differences of detail, accept subconsciously the likenesses; they, farther away, miss the detail and see only the broad likenesses.
1 Adapted from "Housing and the Regional Plan," Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Part I (1927), pp. 1513-23. Paper presented at the joint meeting of the City Planning Division with the American City Planning Institute, Philadelphia, 1926.
So it must be with our regional planning and the housing that is to develop as regional planning becomes accepted practice. The broad likeness that will be characteristic of our regional plans and the housing for which they provide will lie in acceptance of the proposition that they shall provide adequately, even generously, in terms of open spaces, of sanitary equipment, of "modern" conveniences; that they shall be based upon the well-known but, fortunately, never clearly denned "American standard of living"; "fortunately" because this standard is ever changing, ever rising. Other nations may accept present standards, seeking merely to modify them so that they may be tolerable; other nations may figure closely on economies which they believe the hard conditions of their life force upon them - definitely discard, for example, water-borne sewage and a sewer system, not only because of cost of installation and operation, but also because of loss of fertilizing content which they believe they must have for their farms. But we, who are coming to reckon farm productivity in terms of bushels per man while they reckon in terms of bushels per acre, will base our plans upon the health, efficiency and more abundant living of our population rather than upon the amount of money not spent for a sewer system or an imported or manufactured fertilizer. Water carriage of sewage may go into the discard, but not until we have found a better method of safeguarding human well-being.
Inside such broad American characterization, however, our regional plans will doubtless take on many differentiating characteristics due to sectional habits, traditions, resources and climate. Consequently, in a paper like this, dealing with the subject for the whole nation, one must paint in broad strokes, describe objectives in general terms that are subject to infinite modification in their detailed application, give approximations rather than exact measurements.
A house is not a commodity of uniform size and character, as a pound of sugar has been since the pure-food law was enacted. Its variations are infinite, though they all fall into fairly clearly defined classifications. The use of each of these classifications will be affected by the regional plan if that plan proves effective in guiding metropolitan or regional development. Consequently an outline of a regional plan from the housing point of view is necessary if housing is later to be fitted into it understandably.