Although every city is adjusted somewhat to the topography or natural features of the land on which it is built, and to the convenience and needs of its citizens, the inhabitants of most cities heedlessly get themselves into all sorts of unnecessary tangles in their use of land. This happens because to no one is assigned the responsibility of looking around or ahead when a street is extended or cut off, or when blocks are built up one after another with no space left for parks and playgrounds. Streets are laid out in hilly districts with little or no regard for easy grades and low cost of construction and maintenance, or for economy in grading lots and building houses upon them. Ill-arranged blocks and sporadic dwellings on lowlands near the railroads stand in the way of expanding industries. River fronts, which are of the greatest worth to a city for parks or boulevards flanked by fine buildings are used for junk yards or for back yards which are little better in appearance, and ravines which would make ideal parks are used for ash dumps.

Good city planning aims to bring about order in the physical development of a city, town, or village. It brings the city government and its citizens together in preparing for their own future needs and for the probable requirements of their commerce and industries. A city or town is a place in which to live, to work, and to play, and should be planned systematically with these ends in mind, just as the location of buildings on a factory site is carefully determined.

In any community the local government, which means the organized citizenship, controls so much land in streets and public places, usually from 25 to 40 per cent of the total area, that it holds the key to the situation. Many communities double their population every 20 or 30 years, and the local authorities through their control of new developments, or lack of control, can largely determine for good or for bad the conditions that affect not only the present but coming generations.

1 Adapted from A City Planning Primer. Division of Building and Housing, U.S. Department of Commerce, 1928.

In practically all cities in the United States large public and private investments are made each year in constructing buildings, streets, and public-utility lines and plants. Within 20 or 30 years the parts of cities now built up will probably have been largely rebuilt. Hence, carrying out a city plan does not usually start with bond issues to cover improvements on a grand scale. The city government simply allots its expenditures so that each improvement represents a part of a logical plan. Under a wisely drawn city plan, for example, the yearly street-paving work contributes toward a network of well-paved major streets instead of adding a series of unconnected units. In the case of new subdivisions, good planning assures that the new streets and improvements, made largely at the expense of the private developers, go in the right place.

City planning may be good or bad. It is good where it is based on a good plan and where public and private developments are in harmony, with that plan. Bad planning is less often the result of a bad plan than of piecemeal planning, when the layout of a new subdivision, the location of a public building, and so on, are regarded as separate problems without regard to the layout of the city as a whole. There is always city planning going on in every town, be it good, bad, or incomplete. It is not possible, therefore, for a community ever to say truthfully that it is not interested in city planning.