Transcription by Annie Cheng and Natalia
Broz, PWD PubEd Interns, 2004
Bibliographic reference: J. Rodman Paul
and Andrew Wright Crawford, Special Report on the City Plan by the City
Parks Association of Philadelphia. (Philadelphia: City Parks Association
of Philadelphia, 1902)
The City Parks Association, an advocacy group founded in 1889 which supported the creation of public parks and playgrounds in Philadelphia, published this Special Report in 1902. The authors severely criticized what they call the city's "gridiron" system of streets, especially the effect of such a rigid plan on the natural landscape and topography. The many illustrations show how destructive such a system tends to be, and how even slight devitations from the grid can be a great improvement.
One irony is this report's praise for curving streets. A number of the examples illustrated, including Belfield and Ogontz avenues, were built on top of sewers that had been laid to capture streams. With the creeks thus obliterated, the valleys were evened out with up to 50 feet of fill, and then the streets could be laid right across the valleys without the extra expense for bridges or other stream crossings. Perhaps the authors of the report realized what they were praising, and hoped that by encouraging curving deviations from the rigid plan - no matter what their original intent - they would see future streeets built that would meander alongside streams, rather than on top of them. In time, the city planners caught up with this philosophy, but it was too late for most of this gridded city, and too late for most of the city's natural features. The series of three historic vs. modern streams maps, found at the Creek to Sewer link to the left, speaks volumes about the city-building process in Philadelphia.
The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers
Compiled by Adam Levine
Philadelphia Water Department
The City Parks Association of Philadelphia
presents herewith a special report on the city plan. It recognizes that much
that has been done has been well done, and that much that has been ill done
cannot be undone, but it believes that similar mistakes can be avoided, as
the city spreads into the suburbs, and that it is not too late to correct
a few of the mistakes that have been made.
So long has the gridiron system exercised its baneful influence that many, generally well-informed citizens believe that the city plan cannot be changed, or, if it can, that it will take an enormous amount of energy to do so. Perhaps it may be claimed that the majority of citizens have that impression. That is an illustration of the fact that what is impossible in physical things is possible in mental things. It is a smoke without the smallest spark. Any street on the plan may be changed by precisely the same method as it was first adopted: by an ordinance of Councils. And not only may the plan be changed, but it is changed constantly; but nearly every change is to substitute one straight line for another. Streets that have been plotted are changed, streets that have been opened are vacated, actually, every day. It is like chasing a bug-a-boo to say so, but that bug-a-boo must be chased beyond further possibility of mischief.
It is curious that the advantage of diagonal streets did not impress itself more thoroughly upon the earliest settlers. The saving of time was perhaps not as important to them as to us, but the manifest inconvenience must have made itself felt long ago. The last generation and our own are more to blame than our ancestors, because the advantage of diagonal streets is visibly illustrated by the few that we have. Ridge Avenue, for instance, is a line of shops - and the shopkeepers go where the travel is. Moyamensing Road, Germantown Avenue, Lancaster Avenue, Frankford Avenue, Kensington Avenue are right before our eyes, and yet some of us ask, what their use is. The experience of other cities points to their desirability from a business point of view, but we refuse to learn.
Two or three of the diagonals show the continuing effect of Penn's idea in a signal manner. Ridge Avenue connects the formerly separate towns and villages of Manayunk, Falls of Schuylkill and North Penn Village with Philadelphia proper by a diagonal route to the point where it touches the confines of William Penn's city at Ninth and Vine Streets, and there it stops. Into those sacred precincts it dare not enter. And likewise with Passyunk Avenue. It approaches Penn's limits from a southwesterly direction and has the courage to continue a diagonal until it reaches South Street, just east of Fifth. Further it goes not. Gray's Ferry Road did not fear the terrors of the Schuylkill, not even during the years 1777-1834, when it crossed that stream by a floating bridge, but it stopped short when it struck South Street at Twenty-third Street. Even the railroads keep straight until they cross, one the Schuylkill and the other Vine Street. But no rule should be without and exception, and, despite the stern edicts of the founder of the city, the impertinent Dock Street winds its small existence through a distance equal to four squares. Would there were other infant prodigies!
Richmond Street likewise should be extended to the City Hall, connecting the center of the city with the enormous business enterprises along the northeastern river front. A great improvement that the Board of Surveys has long been dreaming of is the continuation of Kensington Avenue from its present terminus at Front Street to Broad Street at or near Girard Avenue, whence it could be extended through Francis Street to Spring Garden Street. Kensington Avenue funnels all the traffic from Frankford Avenue, the Bustleton and Somerton Turnpike and the Oxford Turnpike. The advantage of the diagonal suggested by the Bureau is self-evident. A plan showing these extensions will be found at the end of this report. Expensive as these great improvements would be, they ought to be, and can be, secured in the next fifteen or twenty years.
The radial plan is not in any sense and untried one. It is that of Washington and Paris. Washington is the most beautiful city in America, and there is no reason why its scheme should not be followed in the outlying districts of Philadelphia where the contour permits of it. And where the contour does not permit of this precise scheme, it will seldom demand more than a slight change, affording a variation which is to be sought rather than avoided. It will doubtless happen that individual owners will desire slight changes from this plan, but it is submitted as the one to be generally followed.
Of course careful attention must be paid to the sewerage system, but that can easily be observed. There are herewith presented many illustrations of unnecessary cuts and fills, which could have been avoided by swinging the street to follow the contour. No desire to have that done was expressed by the people of the vicinity, and it was not done. Doubtless the district surveyors have been sometimes at fault, as they could have suggested the changes themselves in many instances. But the fault lies equally with the people. It is hoped that the surveyors will take the initiative, but it is also the duty of the people; and not only their duty, but their advantage. Building operations would be more likely to be successful, whether building the poorest class of homes or the best, if the streets were attractive. The houses show much better on a curve than on a straight line.
For park purposes the great advantage of having the streets follow the contour of the land is obvious. Parks bounded by curving streets are much more attractive than perfectly square bits of ground. Where streams are surrounded by hills or high, shelving banks, as most of the Philadelphia streams are, streets running along the summits of the banks or a short distance from them, would not interfere with their natural beauty and would leave them to be taken for parks. Thus the expense of filling in the hollows would be saved, and there would be preserved for all time the stretches of beautiful scenery by which Philadelphia is at present surrounded, but which will be doomed to absolute annihilation if the streets forge ahead utterly regardless of the destruction they are causing.
Cobb's Creek itself affords a rarely good opportunity for a park, which should run along the whole length of it from City Line Avenue to Paschallville. Most cities would think themselves exceptionally fortunate in having one such stream, and so would we, had we not others like it, as well as the incomparable Wissahickon. But the people of Southwestern Philadelphia, the great mass of them at any rate, will seldom see that famous drive, and it is only just that their own beautiful scenery, within easy access of their homes, should be kept for them. The preservation of this stream and Indian Creek, Sherwood Forest and other natural features, and the adoption of the Washington plan of streets, as the contour permits, would make West Philadelphia delightful; and it will always be within easy reach of the business center of the community. In fact all of the outlying districts of Philadelphia offer opportunities for this sort of improvement, and the people will be alone to blame if they do not obtain it.
The plans published herewith, showing where the natural roll of the land
has been preserved, are notable signs that the time is ripe for modifying
the gridiron system, so as to make the great avenues of trade and business
greater, and the streets for the homes of this City of Homes more attractive
and homelike. We trust that the reasonable development of the city, having
in view its aesthetic and practical needs, will be undertaken in all our undeveloped
sections; and that, as time and opportunity offer, corrections of the plan
will be made in the built up portion. The suggestion, that is, at present,
the most prominent one before the public, is that of the Park Road [Benjamin
Franklin Parkway] from the City Hall to the Green Street entrance of Fairmount
Park. The present administration can secure to itself the credit, not merely
of the inauguration of a great betterment in Philadelphia's water supply,
but also of the commencement of its rural development in a way that will add
to its usefulness, its healthfulness and its beauty-improvements that will
bring lasting renown to the administration responsible for them as well as
to the city.
Captions with links to illustrations
Scanned either from photocopies or slides of the plans and halftone photographs included in the report.
Captions are verbatim; in some cases more descriptive information has been added to the caption headings.
Since the Free Library copy of this report was falling apart, illustrations may not be in their original order.
Gridiron system of the William Penn Plan, 1682
William Penn's plan of the City of Philadelphia. The idea of straight streets and rectangular blocks without curves or
diagonals has been carried out in the enlarged city, while the system of small parks has not.
Cuts at Broad and Fisher Streets
A view at Broad and Fisher Streets, showing cuts typical of the results of the gridiron system.
Cut at Olney Avenue
The fixity of the gridiron system is being gradually relaxed, as has been show in some of the preceding plans of streets, but it has only been relaxed to a slight degree and apparently it has not come elastic enough as yet for us to realize that sometimes it is better not to have a street the same width from one end to the other. Olney Avenue was a much desired connection between Germantown and Frankford, but it was unnecessary to make it absolute of the same with all the way though. Had it been kept the width of Thorp's Lane, where it crosses the Old York Road, the destruction shown in the above photograph would have been avoided and a much more
attractive boundary would have been preserved.
Fill at Olney Avenue
If Olney Avenue had followed the grade of the land, it would not have been nearly so steep as are other streets, for instance Wynnefield Avenue, and the chance of preserving these fine trees would have been much greater. The mere filling of the abutting ground
to the level of the street will kill the trees that now rise from the ground below that level.
Broad Street and Old York Road, from Logan Station
Broad Street and Old York Road as seen from Logan Station. This shows how unnecessary it was to extend Broad Street so far north.
It should have been diverted into Old York Road at Cayuga or Wingohocking Street.
Curving streets in Mt. Airy
The idea of curving streets is gaining ground. The above plan of Mt. Airy shows a marked advance.
It was one of the first instances in Philadelphia where the gridiron system was abandoned.
Good and bad in the Forty-Second Ward
Good and bad are curiously mingled in the above plan of a portion of the Forty-second Ward. The unnecessary extension of Broad Street is illustrated on the one hand, while, on the other, the attractiveness of winding streets and the usefulness of diagonals are suggested. The winding line of Ogontz Avenue, following the course of a stream, is very commendable and the extension beyond Olney Avenue as a diagonal is likewise attractive. Belfield Avenue is admirably laid out to connect the northeastern portion of Germantown with Broad Street and should be continued to Hunting Park. Windrim Avenue and Wagner Avenue running in a northeasterly direction are likewise features which suggest a need of similar diagonals in other sections of the city. These avenues, or certainly one of them, should be continued to Cheltenham Avenue. The Bureau of Surveys is to be congratulated upon the way which it has laid out the intersection of Nineteenth Street, Belfield and Lindley Avenues. The triangle formed by Wyoming Avenue, Belfield Avenue and Sixteenth Street should be taken for a park.
If Belfield Avenue were then continued to Hunting Park it would make most admirable Park Road.
Plan of South Philadelphia, with diagonal streets
It should be carefully noted that this plan for the development of South Philadelphia, prepared by Mr. Frank Miles Day, does not require a great change in the line of the streets. The line of Southwark Avenue and the streets running east and west are precisely the same. Thirteenth Street is pushed somewhat to the west, Fifth Street and Twenty-fourth Street to the east, and Fifteenth Street is somewhat changed. All the other streets running north and south are unchanged. There is pending before Councils an ordinance to take the ground south of Oregon Avenue and between Fifteenth Street and the present line of Thirteenth Street as an approach to League Island Park. As this plan places Thirteenth Street further west, it follows that less ground as an approach would be take than by pending ordinances. The main changes are the location of Penrose Ferry Avenue further south, and addition to the park on the east so as to make it have the same acreage on each side of Broad Street, two diagonals running southeasterly and southwesterly from the intersection of Thirty-ninth Avenue south with the east and west boundaries of the park, and to others running northeasterly and northwesterly from the same points, with two circular parks at their respective intersections with Southwark Avenue and Penrose Ferry Avenue. Penrose Ferry Avenue now stops at the intersection of Sixteenth and Johnston Street. This plan changes its line so as to bring it into Broad Street and Johnson Street. Its line south of Pattison Avenue is unchanged. From the intersection of Broad and Johnson Streets there would thus be a vista north, south, east, west, southeast and southwest. A monument placed at that point would, therefore, have a position that could not be rivaled in Philadelphia, and that site is respectfully suggested as an ideal one for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. A straight shaft is particularly fitted for such a location. Moreover, the continuation of Fifty-third Street, as hereinafter suggested, comes to the same point and a diagonal from Mifflin Square would afford another view. The latter diagonal is not very important, as Moyamensing Avenue is a short distance north of it. The junction of Moyamensing Avenue with Broad Street is not suggested as site for the monument because houses are built south of it. But all the ground covered by there plans is not entirely open. The adoption of this plan would be the making of this section, which is surely to be the home of the workingman.
Millbourne Avenue, curving along Cobb's Creek
This plan shows the admirable way that Millbourne Avenue has been laid out for Sixty-third and Market Streets to
Sixty-ninth Street, following the line of Cobb's Creek.
Connecting Parkway from South to West Philadelphia
The above plan shows how, by the use of Fifty-second Street and the extension of Fifty-third Street, a fine parkway can be secured connecting League Island with Fairmount Park, and passing in its course the new park at Fifty-second and Pine Streets, Bartram's Garden, Girard Park and small circular park at Twenty-fourth Street and Passyunk Avenue. Its suggested line strikes Broad Street at its intersection with Johnston Street, the proposed site for the Soldiers' and Sailor's Monument. The arrangement of the approach to League Island Park
from Oregon Street south is not intended to be shown here, excepting its boundaries. For that arrangement, see the above plan for the development of South Philadelphia. The line of Twenty-fourth Street is changed so as to agree with that plan. From its intersection with the extension of Fifty-third Street, it would thus form another parkway to League Island Park. The continuation of Penrose Ferry Avenue to
Mifflin Square is shown. This is not as important as the plotting of the other diagonals, because Moyamensing Avenue is only a short distance north of it. But it would afford a view of the monument from that square. Attention is called to the admirable arrangement of the streets between Bartram's Garden and Paschall Avenue, whereby the line of Fifty-second Street is deflected into Fifty-third Street. For this
suggestion we are indebted to George S. Webster, Esq., chief of Bureau of Surveys. A portion of this arrangement has been confirmed.
Curving streets in Pelham
A section where the gridiron system has been abandoned for a far more attractive one. One portion of Lincoln Avenue is here shown. It is, perhaps, the most admirably laid out street that we have with the exception of some of the drives in the park. Let the good work go on.
Cresheim Drive and Hillside Road follow natural contours
This plan shows Cresheim Drive and Hillside Road following the contour of the land. This is well done and makes it seem
the greater pity that the same idea was not followed in the smaller valley of the Mineaska Creek.
Wissahickon Drive and adjacent streets following natural contours
The plan of the streets as the end of the Wissahickon Drive, following the contour of the ground and its slope. The greatest improvement that this plant illustrates can readily be understood when it is pointed out that the gridiron system has still two squares on this plan, those marked A. This whole section would have been covered by similar rectangular squares has it not been for the timely action of the Bureau of Surveys in refusing to adopt the gridiron system for this portion of the city. Why not make the same refusal in all other suburban sections?
Extensions of diagonal Streets throughout the City
[NOTE: This plan was scanned in two parts, which do not match up exactly.]
In the above plan the continuation of four of the diagonal streets that we already have is shown. We do not intend this plant to show the exact solution to the vexed question of a park drive from the City Hall to the entrance of the park, but believe that the line as here plotted will show its usefulness. The extension of Ridge Avenue to Front and Market Streets is most desirable, and also that of Richmond Street to the City Hall. The suggestion for the extension of Kensington Avenue to the northeast end of Francis Street is one that was brought to our consideration by Chief Engineer Webster. We have not adopted the exact plan courteously furnished at out request by the Bureau. That provided a perfectly straight extensions. By diverting it, as we have done in the above plan, we make it pass two squares , Ontario Park and Norris Square, and avoid the expense of taking the costly residences at Girard Avenue and Broad Street, and preserve the Josephine Widener Memorial Gallery. If these vast improvements are secured within the next fifteen or twenty years we believe a still vaster improvement in the business and aesthetic interests of out city will be secured.
Saving historical houses at Fifth Street and Olney Avenue
Fifth Street has been opened as far as Olney Avenue. Its line, as at present contemplated, continues it without the slightest digression due
north through the property of the late Mary D. Fox, which extends over several squares. One the entire place there are only about six building, one of which is a colonial mansion built in 1770, but nearly all these structures will be taken by this cast-iron extension unless diverted. It is not too late to do so, and we hope that the line of the street will be changed to follow the contour as shown by the dotted line on the above plan. This will save the expense of cutting and filling, and a much greater expense - that of paying for these buildings. The street, as we suggest it,
will not interfere with the revised grade in the slightest, and will be much more attractive than a straight street. A similarly small change in the line of Arch Street west of Sixty-ninth Street will save several buildings.
Plan of the City of Washington
The basis of this plan is rectangular system of streets, relieved by numerous diagonals radiating at angels of 30 degrees or 60 degrees. Some of the intersections of the diagonals with the cross streets have been turned into circular parks, which convey an impression of curving streets.
The result of this comparatively simple scheme has been to make Washington one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Ruthless cuts at Old York Road
The above illustration shows the ruthless and unnecessary cuts that have been made around a residence fronting on Old York Road a short distance from Logan Station. The ground that is left is certainly not in any way as desirable or as attractive for building purposes as the ground originally must have been.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: Obliteration of Mineaska Creek
A view of Mineaska Creek [Thomas Run], a few hundred feet from its junction with Cobbs Creek. The advance of 59th Street is shown on the left, and 58th Street can be seen in the distance. Fifty-ninth Street should be stopped where it is and a street laid out from 58th Street, following the curves of this small stream and saving the group of trees shown on the right.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: Fill at 55th and Baltimore
Illustration showing the fill that will have to be made by the owners of property at the northwest corner of
Baltimore Avenue and Fifty-fifth Street.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: Destruction of woodland at 55th and Christian
Christian Street, west of 55th Street, showing a typical cut and likewise typical disregard of natural beauty. It is going straight for the heart of Sherwood Forest. If it had been graded on an easy incline from 55th Street to within three or four feet of the level of the bottom of the manhole showing in the frontispiece and had curved to the north up the other side of this small valley, Sherwood Forest would not have been threatened and the greater part of the expense of the cuts and fills, borne by city and citizens, would have been avoided.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: Fill near 55th and Catherine
A typical result of the gridiron system of streets. The large fill marks the line of Christian Street, west of 55th Street; the manhole on the left that of Catharine Street. The city will have to pay for filling the latter to the top of the manhole, while the abutting property owners will have the expense of filling some of their ground to the level of the cellars, and all the rest, to and above the top of the manhole.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: Destruction of old oak tree at 57th Street
The above illustration shows the main sewer in 57th Street and the level of the street, indicated by the top of the manhole.
The fine old oak tree will be destroyed, although it could have been saved by swinging the street slightly to the northeast.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: Fill at Whitby Avenue near 56th Street
A view between 56th Street and 57th Street from Whitby Avenue, showing the amount of filling that city and citizens will be compelled to do, because a street was not laid out following the line of Mineaska Creek and the streets crossing it were not graded down to such street. Mineaska Creek [Thomas Run] is a tributary of Cobb's Creek and flows into it at 60th Street and Florence Avenue. Its line should have been preserved, and the stream itself as far as possible, as an approach to a drive and park along Cobb's Creek. If it were thought necessary to have a level street across the Creek at one or two places, bridges could have been built. The lower portion of this valley can still be preserved.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: Fill along 59th Street
After Cobb's Creek passes Market Street it curves until it becomes nearly parallel to 59th Street. Unfortunately, the idea of [a curved street following the contours of the creek valley] was not followed in the way 59th Street was laid out, but the gridiron system was adopted with the result that, while 59th Street forms the boundary of the Cobb's Creek valley, portions of it have been filled up by an enormous bank,
as shown in the illustration.
Cobb's Creek Watershed: View of the Valley
From the top of the fill shown in the preceding illustration this view of the valley of Cobb's Creek can be obtained.