TORONTO AND TOWN PLANNING.
An Address by Mr. W. D. Lighthall, M.A., K.C., F.R.S.C., Member of the Metropolitan Parks ,Commission, Montreal, before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, on March 30, 1911.
Mr. President and Gentlemen
I have a word of apology to first present to the Empire Club. As a good Imperialist, it was a great disappointment to me not to have been able to address the Club on a previous occasion when an arrangement had been made. I had intended to speak on the subject of which the heading would have been "Imperialist Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces," and to have tried to emphasize-as we all ought to do-the fact that to be a good Canadian Nationalist is not at all incompatible with being a good British Imperialist. At the present time, in the present stage of development of the discussion of the Imperial question, it appears to me that it is the most important phase of it upon which we ought to lay emphasis.
I intend to speak today of city planning in general, and what I hope to do is to state my own convictions with regard to what strikes me as two or three strong points, of interest here. One of these points is that the matter is one of very great urgency at the present moment, and another is the fact that city planning is not essentially or merely a question of beautification or aesthetics, or of luxury, so much as it is the absolute interest of the population of a large city. The large city, of which we are developing our share in Canada, is a community which differs in some very important aspects from a small city or municipality. When a place--and this is a world-wide fact--runs up to the hundreds of thousands, it begins to develop the slum and, as it rises in population up to, say, 200,000, on this continent-perhaps it is different on other continents--the slum tends to rapidly increase, and very great evils, of which the slum is merely a general descriptive word, grow up in the community, and it is found that the population becomes congested in the centre. I speak particularly of the poorer elements of the population, or rather of the working elements, with the poor.
President Elliott of Harvard University, who is a great authority on the subject, that is to say, a great student of it, has stated its chief principle as this: that the great object of city planning is to fit the industrial population which fortes the essence of any large city for the tasks with which they have to deal, to equip them so that they can carry out their function in the community properly, upon which the happiness and comfort and progress of the rest of the community depends. This is the essential point in city planning, which ought to be considered more than the provision of parks, of drives, and of beautiful boulevards. They appeal to the scenic point of view, in any case, to the mere aesthetic sense and to the sentiment of luxury or city pride. But the first object of city pride ought to be the fulfilling of our duty to the masses of the people.
Everywhere in the civilized world at the present time the question of how to eradicate the slum--which is a disease--how to perform the duty of rendering the liven of the working population healthy, comfortable, and pleasant, and to enable them to do their work, has arisen Great evils have been noticed -as arising from a neglect of that duty which we have to perform. Sanitation and housing have been tried as such, and now it is found that these attempts to eradicate slum evils are handicapped and largely rendered useless by the absence of general city planning in each community. The worst result of the want of a plan is that the working population are driven to the centre, and the centre becomes congested; the houses become inferior there through age and the buildings more and more close together; they are built higher and higher, and light and air begin to be rarities; houses with dark rooms, for example, are built in numbers. In places where planning is absolutely neglected the children suffer from an immense death-rate, the general death-rate of the population is raised by that fact and by other facts, and disease rises to such a point that all the increase of population is wiped out. So that, in reality, city planning is essentially a hospital and racial fact, as well as a great industrial fact. These things overshadow its aspect as an aesthetic matter.
In Germany very great attention has been paid for about a generation to, and very great progress has been made in, city planning. The modern rise of industrialism in the German Empire has enabled it to make rapid strides in this particular. Take, for example, the cities of the Rhine, which were old mediaeval cities. With the growth of population that has arisen from trade and the manufacturing movement, the present generation have created new cities under better supervision and have planned them well and developed a whole science of town planning.
Germany has endeavoured to solve these problems, and we have a great deal to learn from that nation, and some of the cities of Prance have also done very well in this regard. I suppose it is known by most of us here that the cities of England are now feeling an interest in this subject, and for a considerable time have been making experiments and studying its different aspects. Such cities as Birmingham, London, Liverpool and other places have tried to meet the problem of congestion by rebuilding the worst areas. That is one of the remedies naturally suggested for a good many of these evils. But I want to say that it now has been generally agreed to be only a very partial cure, the cost of rebuilding these areas and various other unsatisfactory results with regard to them having shown that only a small portion of relief can be arrived at by rebuilding. You must replan, and you cannot escape from re-planning.
In England, they have quite recently introduced a very fine piece of proposed legislation on the subject, called The Housing and Town Planning Act-of which Mr. Vivian spoke to the citizens of Toronto during his recent visit here. It will enable the municipal authorities to take hold of the whole subject of town planning, to acquire land, to properly sub-divide, and to improve the layout of their cities to a considerable extent. But the past, gentlemen, cannot be fully remedied. That is one of the essential lessons for us to remember; the past cannot be remedied without very great inconvenience, and never when the mistakes have been fundamental.
The cities of America have done something. Boston has had for the last seventeen years a Metropolitan Parks Commission, which, acting with great energy and provided with sufficient revenue, has been enabled, in conjunction with other bodies in the city of Boston, to create a system of well devised parks, playgrounds, etc., covering some 12,500 acres of land in extent, all properly devised and maintained.
There are other American cities that have been carefully studying the various aspects of the work, particularly Chicago. Chicago has taken up the work with great energy and spent millions and millions of dollars, until some of the finest of playgrounds in the world are to be found there, all well supervised. There is now in process what they call the New Plan of Chicago, which is the product of the best architects that the city could engage, acting with a great body of the business men, and which I have no doubt will be carried out in its essence with great energy. The city of St. Louis has also a very fine plan of similar work in hand.
Now, with regard to our Canadian cities. The thought most upon my mind today is that there is a sort of crisis at this particular time. The next ten years, most of us agree, will be the greatest growing time for Canada and for our cities and, undoubtedly, their greatest formative time. Cities like Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver are large enough to feel more than the beginnings of the slum and the non-planning disease, and that growing time for us is the time when those evils will move with great rapidity and when there is the fear that they may get ahead of us. You are not actually carrying out a really large plan for the city of Toronto, suited to what it will be and what you, by a little thought, must know it will be within the next fifteen or twenty years. (Voices, hear, hear.) Here is one point. Instead of spending so much every year, even if you take the amount you are spending now (and you ought to double it or far more than double it), you should capitalize that amount, and thus enable .the authorities in charge of revenues of the kind to spend large sums in acquiring land at the present time and with the present opportunities. You would thus give the public the advantage of the rise in price and a choice of sites. Next, there are two or three odd things that I have noticed in connection with Toronto that I would like to refer to. One is street widening. You seem to face your street widening problems with a good deal of hesitation. It appears to me that you ought to get a good general plan, endorsed by or studied out by an outside expert of the very best kind you could get, and that you ought to authorize a competent Commission to carry out that plan, no matter what it costs.
In this connection I ought to have mentioned the fact that I am a member of the Metropolitan Parks Commission of Montreal. About a year ago the Government of the Province of Quebec established what is called the Metropolitan Parks 'Commission of Montreal. On that Commission some six members were appointed, and during the past year we had the privilege of interviewing and obtaining advice of the best outside experts we could. get and arrived at a general outline plan for the city of Montreal, which was reported to the Legislature a month or two ago. One of the problems--which seems to be yours--we had to face was the congestion of the main streets toward the centre; and we came to the conclusion that while our city was not at the point yet when undergrounds or overheads should be considered--we do not like overheads, we do not want them-there seemed no doubt that undergrounds ought to be the solution or part of the solution, in the centre The cars, or at least the press of them, should be taken off the principal streets there. That seems to be the obvious solution that ought to be undertaken by the city of Toronto also-a partial subway system in the centre.
Another point that strikes me, in looking around your city, is that your institutions, such as the University, ought to acquire now, as soon as possible, enough land for the extreme wants of the future. No school, either, ought to be without enough land to make all the necessary extensions and have plenty of playground, in addition, for all the ultimate uses of that particular institution.
Another point is that it appears to me you ought in planning to have in mind the covering of the whole territory that the city of Toronto will ultimately cover. It is not necessary to acquire great outside parks that you can easily acquire later, because the more important thing is the acquiring of pieces that are immediately encircling the city and that are being lost. Those are in the first order of necessity. The fringes of the future territory of the greater Toronto ought to be planned out, and something should be done to acquire within a comparatively few years such pieces as would appear to be advantageous.
The point that I would like to emphasize finally, again, is that now is a time of crisis in the matter; it is a time of very great urgency; every postponement of a year during the next ten or fifteen years is a very great mistake for the city of Toronto; and I would like to see every gentleman here use his influence with the rest of the citizens in backing up the efforts that are being already made by those who are working on this matter, and that it should be brought to such a conclusion that the city of Toronto of the future would be worthy of the city of Toronto of today.