Cemeteries in Connection with City Planning

Date Published: 
September, 1921
Original Author: 
T. Glenn Phillips
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention

City planning, probably as you all know, is a term that has probably been used throughout the world for the last ten or fifteen years. It is not new because city planning started way back in the ages when men began to accumulate and live in small hamlets. As cities grew the difficulties of their growth were enhanced by transportation troubles living problems, housing troubles and so on consequently the last ten or fifteen years has seen much development in the idea of city planning, and it has become a subject of interest in this country particularly.

Ordinarily cities grow like the old cemeteries used to grow and we found that new additions had to be made and there were not proper facilities for carrying them out. Many of you know of superintendents who have found difficulty in acquiring enough and in making over the old cemetery to fit the new. I know we have had such difficulties in Detroit.

The city planning problem has very much the same atmosphere. Some cities fortunately have been laid out with the idea of accommodating future growth. The city of Washington, our national Capital, is a striking illustration of city planning from the beginning. As the city grew and became such an important factor in our national life, development was very easy because of the foresight of the city planners.

That was an important factor in making Washington a beautiful place to live in, and I say that advisedly because there are two types, practically speaking, of city planning; that is, city planning for a city like Washington and on the other hand, city planning for a manufacturing community such as Detroit. It is readily seen that one plan would not fit another consequently, the plans must be considered in advance for the type of town that is to be developed.

Cities are growing today faster than they ever were. The lack of proper facilities in the country and high wages in the city, have attracted a great element from the country districts to the city; we are consequently called in to exert every effort possible to make the city a decent place to live in.

Detroit has perhaps doubled in population in the last ten years. It is costing the city of Detroit today 50 or 60 millions of dollars to provide for this growth to provide sewers and water. We have over 150,000 people in the city or Detroit today who do net have sewers. The City Engineer is trying to expend a million dollars a month, and he cannot do it, he cannot get contractors to build sewers to take care of the growth which I have just mentioned. Consequently there is a demand for transportation, for the solution of transportation problems, and all that manner of thing which goes into the building of the city. I only want to call your attention to this because I think it is a very important, element perhaps net in the minds of you gentlemen, as superintendents, but your efforts in advising the cemetery associations, etc., who locate cemeteries, that they should be located with some study as to the growth of the future of the city, as well as with regard to traffic condition.
We have cemeteries in the city today which are located on heavy traffic streets, and it causes a great deal of inconvenience to the public and is a decided factor in money values.

We are trying to widen these streets, taking into account the atmosphere and location of the cemetery. For instance, on Van Dyke Avenue in this city, we are carrying on construction work, or rather we are widening that street to 106 feet, not entirely on account of the cemetery, but that will relieve the conditions that exist on Van Dyke Avenue today.

Woodward Avenue has been widened from the Six Mile road to the Eight Mile road and I might say in this connection that the builders and founders of Wood Lawn Cemetery located on Woodward Avenue, exhibited wonderful foresight because they made it possible for us to widen Woodward Avenue to 100 feet. They dedicated their portion to the city and Woodward Avenue is one of the big traffic streets, probably the most traveled street in America today. As I say, they provided for a future width of 100 feet when that cemetery was first laid out, and they are to be commended.

City planning problems have been carried on in the past generally by city planning commissions. Some of the city planning problems have not been adequately solved because there was no city planning commission as part of the city government. We are very fortunate in Detroit, because we had a city planning commission appointed in 1909 and in 1919 a new city planning commission was created consisting of nine members and by the city charter that commission is an integral part of the city government. I served on the old commission as one of the commissioners and since that old commission went out, I have been consultant of the new city commission as city planner.

City planning does not necessarily mean picturesque cities nor fanciful ideas; it means the practical solution of problems which confront us in providing for the future growth and in taking care of present conditions. We have been most fortunate in Detroit in that the council has been behind us in all respects. We have today probably one of the largest programs for street openings and widenings of any city in the world. We have a ten million dollar park and recreational bond issue which was voted in April 1919 and we have increased the park acreage in Detroit from 932 to 3,400 acres.

I have a map on the wall here which I hope you will be able to see. We have provided recreation facilities after having studied the matter from the standpoint of distribution of population and child density etc. We have located playgrounds play fields, parks, and outer boulevards, having those considerations in mind.

It might be interesting for you to know that playgrounds are differentiated from play fields, the former being small places for children to play in. We have a density of child population in Detroit in some locations, fortunately very few of 215 children to the acre.

I am now pointing to a district where 54 playgrounds have been ordered condemned and 11 of them have already been so condemned. We have planned thoroughfares, boulevards and our recreational system with the idea of connecting up the outer parkways boulevards and the parks all along this outer boulevard; which will be 46 miles encircling the city and tying up our most important parks.

Here is a plan of the city of Detroit showing in red the cemeteries. We city planners have in mind at all times the provision of open areas for light and air so that sane and suitable living conditions can be had. These cemeteries provide open wooded areas where light and air are available for the community. You will see by the map that we have provided park and recreational facilities of 225 acres; we have Belle Isle with 117 acres of recreational facilities; then we have Palmer Park on the north and an additional tract out in the River Rouge district. In studying the situation in connection with the location of cemeteries and city planning, you will notice that the north district of Detroit is well provided with cemeteries which take care of this whole district.

This map shows you a program of providing for the growth of Detroit in 1945 with a possible population of four and a half millions. Detroit has an acreage of 76.3 square miles. As I have said this map shows the growth of Detroit in 1945. I might say that the telephone companies and the electric light companies are planning on the heaviest growth in our northwest section, which is indicated en this map.

You will see that Detroit grows in fingers, stretching out in the manner indicated. Our greatest density of population is in this northwest district and you will notice that the only cemetery is out in Redford. This entire district here, as indicated on the map, is not provided with cemeteries. There is a chance for somebody to promote a new cemetery association.

I call your attention to this particularly because in city planning, the location of cemeteries must consider the location of thoroughfares. For instance, today, in this district here there is not a thoroughfare which is fit to use, consequently there must be provided in that district some day, a cemetery that will take care of that whole district.

Cemeteries should be located with regard to the future density of growth transportation facilities, etc. It is a very important factor in locating a cemetery or in remodeling your old cemetery to have proper setbacks to provide for the future widening of streets.

Today we are condemning pieces of properties from two different cemeteries for perhaps nearly a mile long on each cemetery. However it was fortunate, as I said a few minutes ago in the case of one cemetery, it was not necessary because the founders of that cemetery, Woodlawn, on Woodward Avenue, provided for the future, and had the proper set-backs for the future growth. That would seem to indicate that the study and thought should not be confined within the limits of the property which you buy. The means of egress and ingress to and from a cemetery are important considerations and should be planned with as much study and regard to the future growth as cities themselves. Today we have made plans for crossing one of the cemeteries on the east side. The cost of a bridge across that cemetery was practically prohibitive, but the necessity of crossing this cemetery in some manner arises because it blocks the way to the entire eastern section of the city. Heavy traffic must take a devious and roundabout way, whereas if that cemetery were not located where it is, it would be possible to save considerable time in making the journey from the down town section to the eastern end of the city.
Detroit was originally planned like Washington, the French engineer Monsieur LaFond, being responsible for our radial system. After we got a quarter or a mile away from the river, we seem to have lost the clue, because it practically ends at Grand Circus Park, with which you are all familiar, and five or six blocks east or west of Woodward.

I have before alluded to the fact that we have one cemetery in this city which, because of its location, makes necessary a roundabout route for motor and vehicular traffic going from one section of the city to the other. We are working with the Police Department in outlining certain streets for heavy traffic. There will be an ordinance passed and enforced requiring heavy traffic to confine itself to certain streets and this is absolutely necessary because last year our heaviest toll of deaths was caused by heavy moving vehicles. Over 74 percent of all the deaths occurring last year were caused by heavy moving vehicles. So we propose to restrict heavy moving traffic to certain streets, just the same as you find street cars only on certain streets. This leads me to say that wherever possible in the planning of cemeteries, they should be located a distance from these heavy traffic streets. I should think that cemeteries are a good deal like churches. They like to be en the highways and Woodward Avenue is a good illustration of that principle. We have a great number of churches located on Woodward Avenue, some of which are entirely surrounded by the fast growing business district. But, I think we are outgrowing that theory, and churches located on Woodward Avenue, are very glad to get away out into the residential sections where traffic conditions are not so unusual.

I think it is important in the location of future cemeteries to study traffic conditions, the thoroughfare systems of the city; and I do not mean by that that they should be located way off of heavy traffic streets, but they should be to a certain degree far enough removed for the reasons which I have heretofore indicated. That may be a thought worth considering.

Of course when the people who planned the cemeteries on Woodward Avenue laid them out, they had no idea that Detroit would reach the growth which it has; but I imagine they find it somewhat of a hardship, because Woodward avenue is the only street that reaches that section of the city at the present time.

We are very fortunate, however, in having a radial system of streets. Probably no other country in America was fortunate enough to have a radial system mapped out for it in the beginning, and the radial system is the quickest way of getting from the outside districts down town. The only thing which we lacked was a cross-town thoroughfare, and that we are providing for now.

City planning problems arise by usage. The Dix-High-Waterloo cross town thoroughfare, which we are working on today is twelve miles in length and will extend from one side of the city to the other. It is very important to get some street across there, and yet as you will see by the map, this cemetery cuts off practically all east and west streets and it is through that district that the highway of which I have just spoken will go. It throws all the burden of traffic on the streets north and south, because all this district in here must get to the down town section either north or south of that cemetery. If that cemetery had been laid out the narrow way, east and west, it would not have been handicapped as it is today.

We are confronted with some difficulty in getting around cemeteries located in that way and some cities have gone so far as to bridge ever or tunnel under, cemeteries located such as this one is. New York has done so, and some other cities are starting it. Under the law as it at present exists, it is impossible to condemn cemeteries with grades. In Michigan we can do so at the present time where there are no grades.

If you men, as superintendents and representatives, of cemeteries take into consideration the future growth of cities in planning cemeteries, you will be doing a great deal of good for posterity, and save a great deal of trouble caused by cemeteries illogically located.

From now on there is going to be much more study and thought given to the idea of city planning because cities all over the country are taking up the idea. Over 140 cities of over 50,000 in population in America today are considering re-planning their city either remodeling or rebuilding it by making new streets, new thoroughfares, etc.; consequently, the location not only from a profit standpoint, but from a utility standpoint, the proper location of cemeteries in a city planning proposition is of utmost importance to the future growth of that city.

I have in mind two or three cities which I have helped solve planning problems, where we have found cemeteries using large areas blocking and practically strangling the growth beyond that particular portion of the city. We recognize the necessity for cemeteries. Some day we will all need them, but their location should not be a haphazard thing; it should be a well studied plan, carried out in conjunction with the future growth of the city, and in conjunction with thoroughfares, consideration being given to the location of heavy traffic streets, railroads, etc.

Detroit has grown so fast that it has become a big problem to deal with traffic conditions. I need hardly tell you people that the use of the motor car on city streets has changed the whole condition of affairs. You men in your cemeteries know that the width of the road, and the question of drainage have become quite serious since the popular use of the automobile. We do not build roads for automobiles today as we used to.

The ideal city today is a city of 100,000 to 150,000 population. In planning that city from the beginning we endeavor to arrange for belts at intervals where provision is made for parks, recreation grounds, farming or garden belts, including cemeteries, green houses and nurseries.

Today, we are planning for the city of Detroit a zoning system which is one of the highest types of city planning. In that zoning system we are planning for belts such as I have mentioned as a protective measure. We have made provisions for the location of industrial belts where manufacturing can be carried on and all manner of nuisances, as we term them, can grow.

That might be termed the method of making cities grow in an orderly way. Canada has started such programs and has made progress along that line. Your good friend, Tom Adams from Ottawa has talked until he is black in the face trying to get cities to grow in this orderly way which I have referred to, making provision for large areas in which can be located agricultural belts for cemeteries, green houses, etc. as I have mentioned them. You can readily see what a vast difference such belts would make in the life of the community where light and air are provided. It becomes a very important factor, and we feel as city planners that the cemetery should be located from the standpoint of light and air circulation, etc. and also after very careful consideration of the question of traffic conditions. It would have been a very clever fellow indeed who could have predicted or estimated that Detroit would ever reach the size which it is today. But, it does not make any difference how large or how small the city is, the plan should be comprehensive enough to take in future additions. I doubt very much if the founder of the cemetery located at Redford way out Grand River (you cannot see it on this map) ever thought that the heavy growth would be in that direction. As I have before pointed out, you will notice that there is a large area in this district, where no provision whatever is made for cemeteries. We should have an agricultural belt in that district which would be included in the cemetery belt.

My profession is that of a landscape architect, nevertheless several times I have been called on to layout a cemetery. I have always "passed the buck". I think every man should stick to his own job, and I always thought there were enough cemetery superintendents to take care of it, and fortunately I had enough friends among the cemetery superintendents to take care of that work. But I know you men are not planning cemeteries simply to take care of the present situation. If you are, you are making a mistake. Cemeteries should be planned as open spaces, a place where people can go to enjoy the green grass, flowers, trees and nature's beauties.

I am not in favor of the "Evergreen" atmosphere. It makes me think too much of the old idea of the cemeteries; that atmosphere is passing today and you gentlemen are the ones who should make it pass a little more quickly. Not that we have in mind the idea of using cemeteries as a playground, but as a restful place. We have in Detroit, in some districts, children who have never seen a spear of grass; we have not one, but thousands of children who never get an opportunity to go to a park, a playground and not even to Belle Isle, just a short distance from the city.

You men in charge of the beautification of burial grounds can alleviate this condition to some extent by providing open air spaces where such children can enjoy God's free air and wondrous sunshine; where people can enjoy those things while they live, and you will take care of them when they are gone.

In closing I want to leave with you the thought that in city planning work, in the development of practical ideas, cemeteries play an important part. Their location should not be guessed at but should be a matter of thoughtful study having in mind the considerations and conditions which I have touched upon. I thank you.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention held at Detroit, Michigan
September 13, 14 and 15, 1921