The "blighted district" is the outward and visible sign of this unwholesome contact. No one wants business and industry to remain static; but a great handicap to the orderly development of most communities is that too much space, rather than too little, is provided for purposes of manufacture and trade. We have the spectacle of our small town Main Streets spoiled for a mile in length as sites for pleasant homes by straggling and struggling retail stores. The zoner or realtor who provides soil for two such stores to grow where only one is needed, is far from being as great a public benefactor as he would be, could he devise a method of restricting business property to the reasonable needs of the community without creating a form of land monopoly which would be to the community's detriment.
As to factory sites, let us have them by all means - in communities that want them. But let us stop providing any unrestricted districts in our zoning ordinances. If there is logic in excluding the so-called nuisance industries from other districts, why should we not exclude all housing from districts where nuisance industries are allowed? There is as yet altogether too much truth in the criticism which certain radicals make of some of our zoning ordinances - that they are devised with tender solicitude for upper economic groups of the community, but are far from providing adequate open spaces, sunlight, and freedom from noise and atmospheric pollution, in the districts where those of the "other half" live. If it be argued that congestion is necessary because of high land values, let it not be forgotten that one cause of high land values is this very fact that congestion is permitted - to the financial gain of a few and the detriment of the many.
On this important phase of the subject under discussion, I cannot do better than quote from an able article by one of our foremost authorities on housing, Dr. Edith Elmer Wood, which the American City is to have the privilege of publishing in an early issue.
Mrs. Wood lists four main causes of slums: (a) faulty layout - too narrow streets or too large blocks, inviting courts, alleys and rear tenements; (b) bad structural plans of the dwellings themselves; (c) disrepair; and (d) overcrowding and uncleanliness. While placing on landlords and tenants, rather than on city planners, responsibility for (c) and (d), . . . .1
The painter achieves success when his beautiful dream becomes a picture; but the city planner or architect achieves success only when his beautiful picture becomes a street or a park or a building. The manufacturer succeeds when he designs a worth-while product and makes it and sells it. For some reason, however - or for many reasons - ability to transform city plans into a living reality lags far behind ability to conceive them. Discussing the economic phase of this subject before a 1927 meeting of the Snag Club, in New York, Dr. Charles A. Beard said:
It will be conceded that the power of artists and engineers to conceive city plans and the capacity of technical experts, contractors, and laborers to carry them into execution is without discernible limits. Equally undeniable is the proposition that, considered from the standpoint of esthetics, economic efficiency, and physical comfort, our great cities must be assigned a low scale in the percentage of possibility. There is hardly a municipality of any size in the country that does not have filed in its libraries and its city hall innumerable dust-covered rolls of blueprints and projects, drawn by competent hands, indicating lines of constructive work which would add enormously to the productivity and comfort of its inhabitants. Apart from decorative work, such as boulevards making it easy for the Rotary boys to go from their offices to their country clubs, or civic plazas - that is, putting diamond crowns upon leprous brows - there has been very little achievement in the field of city planning in the United States. Our capacity for execution, for realization, has lagged far behind our capacity to imagine and to project. Why is this so? Surely there is no more interesting problem in social economy than this - none worthier of the highest talent we can discover.
We need, obviously, more efficient governmental machinery and community organization for carrying out our city plans. Fully as important, I believe, is the practical problem of acquiring the land and financing the improvement thereof or thereon. We can never reach absolute justice in so financing our public improvements that those who benefit from them will pay in exact proportion to benefits received. An approach by gradual steps to land value taxation, however, and a wider and more scientific use of the special assessment method of financing street, transit and park improvements will go far towards effecting a righteous and productive union of city planning and housing.
1 See pp. 660-65.
One of the most heartening signs of the times is the advocacy by the National Association of Real Estate Boards of the principle of excess condemnation (or marginal eminent domain, as it might better be called). And now if the same Association will use its great influence in behalf of laws by which private property needed for slum clearance and model housing projects can be secured at a fair price, it will perform a public service of great importance.