At the outset of this discussion, two definitions are needed. The term city planning will be used as covering the selection and use of land for public purposes in urban areas and control by the public in such areas of the use of private land. Housing will be used in its obvious sense of structures designed or used for human habitation.
As thus defined, where do city planning and housing meet?
Under the definitions just given, zoning may be regarded as a subdivision of city planning, and the building code as an important factor in good housing; or perhaps we might more accurately give to zoning ordinances and building codes the appointment as chief liaison officers between the city planning and housing forces.
1 Adapted from "Where City Planning and Housing Meet," Planning Problems of Town, City and Region, Papers and Discussions (New York: National Conference on City Planning, 1929), pp. 114-21. Address before the Twenty-first Conference on City Planning, Buffalo, May, 1929.
The job of these liaison officers, of course, is to protect and control as effectively as may be, in the public interest, the proper use and development of private property. We need somehow to give them greater sanction than they now possess in many cities, and to warn our public officials and civic organizations against the too common American mistake of passing a law and assuming the job to be done. Careless building inspectors and complacent boards of adjustment are all too numerous in cities where lawmaking is regarded as more important than law-observance.
And the street in its location and width is one of the most nearly permanent of human products.....
If we can ever induce our public officials to give as much forethought to placing new streets properly on the map as they are now compelled to give to correcting previous mistakes in this matter of street location and width, we shall have done much for the cause of city planning and housing.....Among the ill effects on housing of this state of affairs against which painfully slow progress is being made by our more progressive city planners and municipal engineers - are: a) Needlessly high cost for land, because of wasteful street layout, involving greater installation of paving and utilities than scientific planning would justify.
b) Failure so to orient the streets as to provide the maximum of direct sunlight to dwelling rooms.
c) Back yards that are either too small or too deep for efficient use.
d) More corner lots than needed, in residential districts, involving betterment assessments, street noises, traffic dangers and dust on two sides, where one front - or no front - on a motor highway would suffice.
In the new buildings now being erected in many of our larger cities, more families are being provided for in "apartment houses," so-called, than in single-family homes. The good old term "tenement house" has gone into the discard, except in legal documents. But while the multi-family dwellings now being erected are in general more fit for human habitation than the worst of the old tenement houses, most of these new buildings occupy, as Henry Wright, John Taylor Boyd, Jr., and others have shown, a needlessly large percentage of their lot area.
Our ears are being constantly battered these days with the half-truth that mankind cannot be made virtuous by law. The extent to which words can be made virtuous by law, I do not know; but if we could enact legislation which would restrict the use of the term "apartment house" to buildings occupying not more than 50 per cent of their lot area, and compel the use of "tenement house" in the name and in all advertisements of dwellings of the more congested type, we should go far, I am sure, to cure our speculative builders of their appetite for super-congestion.