November 1912
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Month November 1912

What Atlanta Most Needs and How She Can Get It

THE CONSTITUTION, ATLANTA, GA. SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 1912.

By DR. J. HORACE MacFarland

Atlanta is sick, “pow’ ful bad off,” as Aunt Lizbeth might say, and what she needs is drastically recommended by the most eminent civic doctor in the country, Dr. J. Horace MacFarland, president of the American Civic association, whose recent visit to Atlanta was a notable event in the history of the city.

But though conditions here are deplorable in many ways, though changes are needed and more in the line of severe operations than pills and bitters, yet Dr. MacFarland is not without hope that Atlanta, “the strategic point of the south,” is going to take her medicine bravely and strengthen up, an example to the nation. In fact, he is sure of it, after looking over the city and drinking freely of the Atlanta spirit, so he has written for the chamber of commerce his opinions of his visit with suggestions as to what is needed, a document which is of great value.

After taking up the problems one by one, and treating all of them with the trained eye of the specialist, Dr. MacFarland concludes:

Build for Million People.

“I am full of hope that the very notable opportunity presented in Atlanta to do good things for Atlanta without any great delay will be availed of soon. You are, it seems to me, not dealing alone with the population of Atlanta, but because of the strategic importance of the city, are facing the need of so handling its fortunes as to fit it for caring for the business of 1,000,000 people, and properly and happily housing a population of 500,000 within a very short space of years. I am the more confident of a good result because of the sort of people whose hands I shook and into whose eyes I looked when in Atlanta. I believe anything is possible to the people who have proved their possession of ‘the Atlanta Spirit.’ ”

In the midst of the wrangles over minor political advantages, despite the waiting needs of thousands of people, Dr. MacFarland’s broad and sane view of the present and his economic and humanitarian glimpses into the future will come as more than a message to the citizens of Atlanta, the men who cast votes an the women who control the men who cast votes and who work side by side for the good of Atlanta.

First and foremost, Dr. MacFarland says Atlanta needs a city plan. He points out what the lack of such a plan has caused in the past, congestion of the streets that expensive and dangerous, lack of co-ordination between uses of streets, railway stations and their approaches, sewerage, water and transportation problems and finally the unsanitary condition of a great portion of the city.

Traffic Unreasonably Dangerous

“It is obvious that traffic proceeds in Atlanta only under expensive delay and unreasonable danger, and that only by broad and well considered effort, undertaken at the earliest possible moment, can vast future expense be avoided. The extraordinary circumstances surrounding the approach from the main part of the city to the new Terminal station provides a glaring instance of extensive waste.”

Atlanta public buildings, he says, “are scattered and without the least relation one to another,” and he points out the advantage of artistic grouping about a civic center. “If Atlanta avoids this as successfully in the future as she has in the past she will be able to have the distinction of having the worst placed public structures in the country.”

The boast of Atlanta for a long time has been her pure water, but Dr. MacFarland saw things to which Atlanta’s eyes, by familiarity, have been dimmed, the numerous vans delivering distilled and mineral water to residences in the city. He also remembers a visit to some of the negro sections, where sewers had overflowed, leaving a green scum, the product of Atlanta’s boasted sewerage system.

Some sub-surface method of transportation will be necessary before long unless Atlanta can more than double the width of her principal streets, says the civic physician, and unless the revision takes place soon, the prevailing congestion of transportation will become disastrous. Dr. MacFarland also takes a hit at “unfortunate skyscrapers, which never ought to have been built in a city with a whole state to spread over.”

House Population Properly.

The housing of the population is another feature of the city, intimately connected with every person in it. We have a “very bad supply” of certain kinds of houses, in the opinion of Dr. MacFarland, which will have to be remedied to safeguard the health of every class.

Atlanta’s parks and playgrounds bring forth the most enthusiastic bit of praise in the entire article, and their management is commended as not merely competent, but far-sighted.

“Such parks as you have are most excellently handled within the scanty means at command, and have evidently developed along the line of service to people rather than of ornamentation. I ought to point out the desirability of a larger sustentation of your present park facilities in the way of a fixed, definite and liberal appropriation, for annual maintenance as well as progress.”

Dr. MacFarland commends the swimming pool in Piedmont park and says it should be kept open longer, adding that he has not noticed in the American man or boy any desire to cease out-of-door life after September 1. He urges that the parks and business sections be connected with a park driveway, and that the parks be enlarged, gradually if necessary, but all the time, so that natural bits of woodland may be preserved to the city.

Billboards Illegal on Streets.

In regard to smoke, poles, wires and billboards, he classes Atlanta as a “two-dollar city,” because it was on that basis a change of linen was required! The smoke was too obvious to need much mention, but he points out what other cities have done and how it has been a saving in fuel as well as in self-respect. Poles and wires ought to come down, he says, without any qualification except as to trolley poles. Billboards in Atlanta he flatly denounces as bad.

“I saw many of them maintained illegally on the city’s streets. It is axiomatic that the streets of a city belong to the state, and that they have been taken for a special purpose, which puts it out of the power of any local authorities to grant their use for private advantage. Yet in front of every building being erected great and ugly billboards prevail. All of these could be removed at any moment if the city authorities chose to enforce the common law as it applies to Atlanta. There are abundant decisions to support this point of view. I do not oppose all outdoor advertising, but I do oppose its prevalence under unfair conditions, such as exist in Atlanta.”

Dr. MacFarland points out how various large cities have adopted systematic plans and employed several engineers to work in harmony to develop the city.

How to Let a City Plan.

“But how shall this plant be obtained for Atlanta? I would answer that the chamber of commerce, the details of which you (Mr. Walter G. Cooper) so ably preside over as secretary ought to be quite willing and able to finance such a plan. To raise by public subscription a sufficient amount to obtain the services of the right type of engineers, and then to conduct a careful campaign of education through the aid of the press, the pulpit, the schools and all well-disposed people would be a procedure greatly to the credit of Atlanta.

“I must not in this connection overlook the essential and important relation that will be borne to the whole proposition by the women of Atlanta. I ought to enforce upon you that without the co-operation with the women’s organizations you are not likely to reach any great success, while with co-operation it will be easy to do things which would otherwise seem impossible. In making this statement I speak from repeated experience.”

After leaving Atlanta Dr. McFarland wrote encouragingly of his visit to Charles J. Haden, of the chamber of commerce, expressing his gratification at the interest shown here in the message he had brought. He said in part:

“I judge from the editorial in The Constitution that some of the people are thinking about some of the things that were presented last week. I have been in more than 300 American communities, but I have never found one needing a comprehensive survey and a successful plan upon which to operate so much as Atlanta. Nor, indeed, to be just, have I found conditions more generally favorable for such a plan.”