Charles Mulford Robinson.

Modern civic art; or, The city made beautiful online

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Modern Civic Art





Second Edition
With Illustrations



Ube IKnfcfeerbocfeer press


11 A lc

Copyright, 1903



Published, May, 1903
Reprinted, September, 1904

Ube fmicfcerbocfter rPreaa, Hew Mori:

V\ l\


THAT there has been a call for a new edition of
this volume may be understood as meaning
much more than the success of a book. It
stands for the progress of the Cause for the further-
ance of which the book came into existence.

Nothing, indeed, has been more remarkable than
the growth of the "civic improvement" movement
during the last few years. There must be a strong
feeling on the part of an individual before he sets
about the organisation of a society to further his pur-
pose ; and not until his earnestness has spread to a
good many others can he succeed in establishing
such an association, if it is to call upon its members
for money, work, and self-sacrifice. And yet up-
wards of twelve hundred local "improvement" so-
cieties in the United States alone are now recorded.
They range from the club in that village which has
wisely substituted a wish to be attractive and beauti-
ful for the old vain dream of bigness, to a society in
one of the second-class cities that has 3000 mem-
bers. The clubs have begun to come into touch
with one another through national organisations ;
and they are, in a wish to learn, reaching beyond

iv preface to tbe &econ> bUion.

their own neighbourhood and even beyond their own
country. Cities of like size and class, wherever they
are, have similar problems. New York learns some-
thing from Paris, and Paris from New York. The
illustrations in this volume, of which not one is with-
out general pertinence, happen to be drawn from
five different nations, and in the United States they
range from the Eastern coast to the new North-west.
It is because suggestion can be thus widely and help-
fully drawn, that a literature of the subject is pos-
sible, and is called for, and can be international.

The best phase of the movement is not, however,
its extent, nor even its vigour and growing efficiency,
but the dependence it puts on the ideal. By select-
ing here and selecting there, the dreamed "City
Beautiful " becomes a reality, is made a tangible goal.
Nobody now laughs it to scorn. Boards of Trade
work for it ; Chambers of Commerce appoint com-
missions to consider the local development ; to do
one's part, in association or individually by gifts, to
bring nearer its consummation, has become the test
of public spirit and philanthropy ; corporations ac-
knowledge its claim to consideration, and politicians
have respect for the popular faith in it. It is the one
definite civic ideal now before the world.

When, only three years ago, the author published
The Improvement of Towns and Cities, no one had
dreamed of making a book out of the records of scat-
tered and still largely sporadic efforts for improving
the aspect of cities and towns, and the requirement

preface to tbe Seconb iMtton. v

was for a small volume that should be a practical
handbook for general use by those who were
working for town and village improvement. This
manual came into larger use than had been antici-
pated, and the phrase Modern Civic Art, which
would not at the outset have been understood, was
chosen as the natural title for a more comprehensive
work devoted chiefly to the artistic side of the sub-
ject. The army of workers for bettering material
conditions in community life had become conscious of
its own worth and was beginning to realise its power
for influence. A new, or at least a revived, ideal had
found itself. Not merely the philanthropic, "the
good and poor," but the rich and cultured were giv-
ing thought to the matter. The current periodicals,
quick to note the trend of popular thought, became
full of the subject ; and their proof of the facility with
which it can be illustrated has created the demand
that the new edition of Modem Civic Art should
contain appropriate designs.

Regarding the book itself, the author will avail
himself of this opportunity to say only a word. The
first two chapters have been occasionally misunder-
stood. It has been sometimes forgotten that they
form only the " Introduction," and that so little can
the book and its exposition be judged from them that,
as far as it is concerned, the reader could omit them.
Of course, the author sincerely hopes that he will not.
They have their purpose and were written to be read;
but because, necessarily, they speak of the subject as

vi preface to tbe Seconfc JEMtion,

a whole somewhat abstractly, it is not to be con-
cluded that the volume lacks in concreteness and
definiteness. For the rest, he would express the
warmest gratitude for the extreme cordiality, kind-
ness, and appreciation extended to him by both
reviewers and public.

C. M. R.

September, 1904.




I. A New Day for Cities 3

II. What Civic Art Is 24


III. The Water Approach 39

IV. The Land Approach 59

V. The Administrative Centre 81


VI. The Street Plan of the Business District . . 101

VII. Architecture in the Business District . . .123

VIII. The Furnishings of the Street . . . .138

IX. Adorning with Fountains and Sculpture . . 166


X. Street Plotting among the Homes . . .187

XI. On Great Avenues 206

XII. On Minor Residential Streets .... 228
XIII. Among the Tenements 245

viii Contents



XIV. Comprehensive Planning 271

XV. Open Spaces 287

XVI. Parkways 307

XVII. Distribution and Location of Parks . . -321

XVIII. Park Development 337

XIX. Temporary and Occasional Decoration . . 355

Index 377



Decoration over an Entrance to the Doges' Palace
in Venice Frontispiece

The doge kneels before the lion of St. Mark in token that he
is servant, not master, of the State.

St. Paul's, London, from the Thames . . .14

The Arc de Triomphe, Paris 24

Embankment and Bridge, Place de la Duchesse Anne,

Nantes, France 38

The Thames Embankment, London, at Somerset

House . 50

St. Pancras Station, London 66

A familiar type of European station in which a hotel, screen-
ing the train-shed, disguises the true significance of the building.
Only the clock tower suggests possible connection with a

A Civic Centre in Berlin 68

By courtesy of the Art Commission of the City of New York.

The buildings from left to right are: The Altes Museum,
the new Cathedral with the Lustgarten before it, the royal
palace, and the Kaiser Wilhelm I. Memorial. The monu-
mental bridge in the foreground is the Schloss Brucke, over the
Spree. Note the imposing effect of grouping the structures.

Railroad Station at Waban, Mass 74

On the Boston and Albany Railroad. A suburban station
in a parklike setting.

Railroad Station at Wellesley Farms, Mass. . . 88

On the Boston and Albany Railroad.

x Illustrations


Sir Christopher Wren's Plan for Rebuilding London

after the Great Fire in 1666 110

A Bit of New York, at Bowling Green . . .124

Height as the most striking characteristic of modern com-
mercial building.

Isle of Safety and Artistic Electrolier . . . .148

Fifth Avenue and Twenty-third Street, New York. This
construction was a result of the Municipal Art Society's

The Fontaine Moliere, Paris 170

This has been placed in the acute angle formed at the build-
ing line by converging streets, a point of great civic significance
but one that, because of its slight commercial value, is often an

The Sieges Allee, Berlin 182

Manning Boulevard, Albany, N. Y 198

Suggesting the charm of the curving street.

The Champs filysees, Paris 218

A Minor Residential Street 236

The planting on the house lawns is, as commonly, too
" spotty " ; but the street's dependence on private property for
its beauty is well illustrated.

Seward Park, New York 262

This open space in a tenement district has been elaborately
developed as a playground. It would be better without the

Gate to the "Yard" at Harvard . . . .278

Place de la Republique, Paris 288

Trafalgar Square, London 296

The Square and the Place Darcy, Dijon, France . 300
Hudson Park, New York 306

This square illustrates an unusual and interesting develop-
ment, but one lacking relation to the streets it should adorn.
The fencing of the greensward here also is to be regretted.

Illustrations xi


Chart Showing the Public Reservations in the Metro-
politan District of Boston 310

Note how the outlying parks are connected with the areas of
densest population by means of parkways.

The Sumac Drive in the Park and Pleasure Drive

Association's Holdings, Madison, Wis. . .314

A suggestion of how outlying parks that have been developed
in the natural style can be suitably connected.

View in Seneca Park, East, Rochester, N. Y. . 322

Note the invitation to loiter and enjoy the view.

Chart Showing the Distribution of Public Reservations

in and about Metropolitan London . . . 334

This may be compared with the chart showing the reserva-
tions in metropolitan Boston, where a "system" has been

The Glen in Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis, Minn. . 338
In Genesee Valley Park, Rochester, N. Y. . . 344

" The park is the cathedral of the modern city."

Broad Street, Philadelphia, Temporarily Transformed

into a "Court of Honour" for a Pageant . . 366






THERE is a promise in the sky of a new day.
The darkness rolls away, and the buildings
that had been shadows stand forth distinctly
in the gray air. The tall facades glow as the sun
rises; their windows shine as topaz; their pennants
of steam, tugging flutteringly from high chimneys,
are changed to silvery plumes. Whatever was
dingy, coarse, and ugly, is either transformed or
hidden in shadow. The streets, bathed in the
fresh morning light, fairly sparkle, their pavements
from upper windows appearing smooth and clean.
There seems to be a new city for the work of the
new day. There is more than even the transformation
that Nero boasted he had made in Rome, for night
closed here on a city of brick, stone, and steel; but
the morning finds it better than gold. Sleep had
come to weary brains and hearts, and had closed
eyes tired of dreariness and monotony; the day finds
faculties alert and vigorous; and eyes are opening

4 flDofcern Civic art.

upon beauty. As when the heavens rolled away
and St. John beheld the new Jerusalem, so a vision
of a new London, a new Washington, Chicago, or
New York breaks with the morning's sunshine upon
the degradation, discomfort, and baseness of modern
city life. There are born a new dream and a new
hope. Within these is the impulse to civic art.

Cities grow in splendour. There are new stand-
ards of beauty and dignity for towns. The science
of modern city-making is being formally laid down
as its principles are discovered and its rules enun-
ciated. For the true ideal that spurs to useful en-
deavour is that alone which is based on study and
facts. As the dawn transforms none but real cities,
so can this "new day" come only when the town
of familiar experience has commenced to become
what it should be and might be. In one place this
may be soon, in another late; in one place there is
already long progress toward it, in another there
are only the yearnings and painful beginnings. But
everywhere a desire to some extent is present,
efforts are put forth to attain to the noble and beau-
tiful in city-making, and there is proud remembrance
of such urban glory as the past can claim.

Out of this irregular progress a law appears of
municipal evolution. Though the development be
slow and tedious, it is sure; and if the course be
marked, the law noted, the vision at the end described,
doubtless something will have been done to hasten
an advance that was never so swift as now, however

a 1Rew Bas for Citiee. 5

laborious to the impatient the process seems. Con-
sidered merely as a morning picture, the new day
for cities has its ancient promise in the tower and
steeple gleaming in the sunlight. Its newer morn-
ing pledge is in the light that, glancing on the dew-
bathed flowers and grass of the people's parks, studs
them with jewels as sparkling and as precious to a
city as were the gems in the prophet's vision of the
new Jerusalem. It appears again in the beams that,
falling athwart the open space, change it to a bright
oasis whither pallid multitudes flock from dreary
homes, and where little children play, the sun upon
their hair.

Progress toward a better day for cities owes more
than might be guessed to the impetus of dream and
hope and high resolve, for these furnish the inspira-
tion to practical achievements. Merely as a measure
of the advance, however, the latter alone have first
to be considered. Observe how much the modern
city is indebted not merely for comfort but for dig-
nity and beauty to recent discovery and invention.
The dark streets through which the pedestrian form-
erly made at night an uncertain way, with his indi-
vidual lantern, now glow at midnight as at noon.
The refuse once poured from upper windows to the
streets, in proudest capitals, flows now in subter-
ranean streams, unknown. The pavement, that at
best in other days was a racking way of cobble-
stones, is now made hard and smooth. Streets,
once so crowded by enclosing city walls as even in

6 flfcofcern Civic art

capitals of empires to be narrow, treeless slits be-
tween the buildings, now alike in the humblest
and most thronged communities widen broadly, per-
mitting the traffic to move with ease, and still leave
room for grass and trees, and ever and again for
flowers. Water is had in abundance to clean the
pavements and lay the dust. The mesh of Wires
that inventions brought with them as a temporary
urban evil are now assembling in orderly strands
beneath the ground; and there is promise that the
smoke, which has hung in a dark cloud above the
modern industrial community, is shortly to be dissi-
pated by the ingenuity at work upon the problem.

All these are powerful factors. They lay a strong
and suitable foundation upon which a superstructure
of civic art may be consistently built up. If, indeed,
our cities be spacious, well paved, and clean, with
the touch of God's fingers in open space, park, and
street, to what mingling of comfort and nobility may
there not be aspiration in these days of municipal
resource and power? From such a foundation it
must, inevitably, be possible to build statelier cities
than ever before. So modern civic art appears.

Of all the prerequisites to this progress the most
potent is the extension of cities over a greater area.
That the normal city can increase vastly in popula-
tion, with no proportionate increase in congestion,
is a condition of supreme importance. This is the
aid of rapid-transit to the cause of city beauty. We
are not even yet realising fully what it is to mean,

H Wew 2)as for Cities. 7

for it has brought with it at first a financial and con-
structive embarrassment in the greater burden of
public property to be cared for, extending and multi-
plying sparsely built-up streets that have to be
paved, lighted, provided with sewers and water, and
guarded from crime and fire. And this embarrass-
ment is one which many cities have gone half-way
to meet through the extravagant extension of their
boundaries, so that it has early had an undue pro-
portion of the emphasis. But the net advantage of
widening the area available for city expansion re-
mains very great. Therein rests the solution of
many problems of city development that have to be
solved before the new science of city-making can
advance any claim to thoroughness in results ; and
if we have hastily gone half-way to meet the one
great disadvantage, striving first of all to overcome
that, we already know the worst and may expect in
the fast coming years to reap a profit which will
then appear to be almost wholly net. 1

And what is this profit to be ? Of its immediate
and superficial benefit, in such broadening of thor-

1 In the United States where, through multiplicity of examples, the first results
of the extension of city boundaries can be most conveniently observed, a newspaper
took a census at the opening of the twentieth century of " the greatest needs " of
a score of the larger and older cities. Overwhelmingly they were : (i) pave-
ments ; (2) extension of water- and sewer-pipes ; (3) additional water supply.
Such practical wants in old and rich communities would have been inexcusable, and
undoubtedly of nothing like this predominance, had not the city's area been recently
extended greatly in every case. The census was taken in a period of national
prosperity, and as this was prolonged great urban expenditures were undertaken to
supply the wants. A compilation made by the Municipal Journal two years later
put the anticipated expenditures for municipal improvements in that one year in the
United States at upwards of a billion dollars. This included $24,000,000 by New

8 flDofcern Civic art.

oughfares that there is room upon them not only for
the traffic but for the soft and brightening touch of
nature, there has been already a suggestion. The
change can be better appreciated in the old world
than in the new, for there the razing of the walls
marks distinctly the transition from the ancient
method of city-building to the modern. Within a
stone's throw we may find the old, narrow, treeless
chasms that did for streets, and the broad new
boulevards with trees and turf. But without the
provision of some means of urban transit that should
be cheap, swift, and frequent, this razing of the con-
fining walls could have accomplished little. Hap-
pily, however, one promptly followed the other.
The town, having been given the opportunity to
expand, found the means to do so. Thenceforth, in
the United States, and wherever the self-confident
commerce of late years has built new cities, the
towns have begun expansively.

The advantage, however, far exceeds an outward
and purely aesthetic gain. It promises to check that
sad phase of urban development in which, heretofore,

York, mainly for subways, bridges, paving, and water ; about $20,000,000 by
Philadelphia, mainly for the improvement of the water system ; and, as an example
of the effort by smaller cities, the laying of at least one hundred thousand square
yards of paving in St. Paul. These estimates, it should be remembered, were simply
on work to be actually done within the twelve months. The commitments for the
future represented a far greater sum. In New York, for instance, the rapid-transit
tunnel alone was to involve a total cost of $35,000,000. To this more than half a
dozen millions were to be added by the tunnel under the East River. Three new
bridges, on which work was in progress, were expected to add $60,000,000 a total
in these items of more than a hundred millions. Then there were bridges over the
Harlem, development of the Bronx district, new street openings, paving, etc., to a
very great amount. Clearly, the new obligations were courageously attacked.

a Mew 2)as for Cities. 9

the increase of population has meant a closer huddling
of the poor. For this there could have been no
relief while city walls lasted; it must have gone
from bad to worse and have made in the misery of
the poor a horrible mockery of the efforts for city
beauty; and these walls, we need to remind our-
selves, did not have to be of stone. Much more
relentless than embattlements of masonry are those
gateless walls that time and space throw round about
a city. Until rapid-transit lowered these, municipal
art held out no promise to the poor.

The tenement we have with us yet, and it seems
too much to hope that we shall ever be without it; but
it may be an improved tenement, with a playground
for the children very near it and a lovely park not far
away. Thanks to rapid-transit, modem civic art
can now hope to banish " the slum," thus to redeem
the tenement, and to make its own conquests
thorough. For the expansion of the town resultant
from good transit facilities acts in two ways upon the
slum. It lessens the pressure from within by making
possible the removal of some of the surplus pop-
ulation; it lessens the pressure from without by
permitting the increase of the town's accommodation
to be by concentric rings. What this means to
the community can hardly be appreciated in the bare
statement; but the greatest of our humanitarian op-
portunities lies within it.

That, now, the civic renaissance to which we tend
must include an entirely new art of city-making is

io flftofcern Civic art

clear from the character of the factors which have
been already considered. Not one of them was
operative in the most superb city of ancient times.
The opportunities that are offered by recent inven-
tion and discovery, the levelling of restricting city
walls with the consequent lessening of pressure
within the town, an outward movement from the
centre for the express purpose of improving industrial
surroundings so robbing the great rise of modern
industry of its menace to civic aesthetics, all this is a
recent development. It is a happy adj ustment to new
conditions, seeming to make possible the creation of
a city beautiful on lines that are not antagonistic to
any development which may be essential to modern
urban greatness, and on lines also that should be
more permanent and splendid than any civic creation
of the past, if the science of city-building be care-
fully evolved and adhered to.

But there remains one factor more. To describe
an art movement in the industrial phraseology of the
day, it is as if we had a clear track for our locomotive
and an engineer eager to draw the throttle. We
need only the steam. If this be conceived of as the
power derived from wealth, the gauge should now
be marking an extremely high pressure. We are
rich enough to-day, not in the United States alone,
nor in Great Britain alone, nor in France or Germany.
For, whatever may be the per-capita wealth of
nations or cities, this is the day of great individual
fortunes, which is to say of vast opportunities, and

a 1ttew 2>as for Cities n

more and more it is the fashion to use these for
the public good. It is the day also of ready com-
munication, so that the treasures of the world, the
various materials, and the taste and ingenuity of
man lie at the hand of him who can pay for them.
The city that would make itself magnificent has the
whole world to draw upon.

And in this connection, note these thoughts:
Bayet in his Precis d'Histoire de VArt observes of the
Renaissance cities of Italy that "the accumulation of
wealth by these enlightened communities made for
artistic progress. " ' The statement is interesting as a
historical justification of the claim that in an age of
enlightenment wealth does make for art. Art, de-
pendent on slow painstaking, must have its patron
who can pay. Bayet again speaks of the Italian
cities as republics "which by their commerce and
industry became prosperous and rich, and in which
political life was especially ardent." This is of
interest as showing that the eager feverishness of
municipal politics does not necessarily hamper the
development of civic art. Nor is it perfectly clear
that such art has to develop in spite of, rather than

1 Ernest Gilliat Smith in his Story of Bruges notes an exactly similar phenomenon
in the Flemish Renaissance. During the prosperous fifteenth century, when the
Renaissance was at its zenith, he remarks that aside from the splendid work done by
the great city companies and by the nobles, the movement toward civic art became
truly popular. He says: " The new men who had recently amassed fortunes vied
with the old aristocracy in the magnificence and luxury of the mansions which they
now built; plain, well-to-do merchants were everywhere constructing those roomy,
comfortable abodes, which, with their high-stepped gables and their facades en-
circled with stately panelling and Gothic tracery, still render the streets and squares

Online LibraryCharles Mulford RobinsonModern civic art; or, The city made beautiful → online text (page 1 of 24)