As cities grew throughout the Industrial Revolution , so did the influence of government on their growth. Urban planners tried to combat overcrowding through garden cities (planned communities designed to keep green spaces) and zoning (division of cities into sections for homes, businesses, and factories). The first zoning law was passed in New York City in 1916 and gave the public control over the use of land and construction. Within ten years, more than one thousand cities across America would pass zoning laws in hopes of controlling not only how land was used, but also the height and use of buildings.
Urban growth problems
Although the passage of zoning laws signaled a major transition toward governmental intervention in the marketplace, the laws were largely negative in their results. The zoning laws did not encourage adequate housing, nor did they provide a basis for coordinating housing and city planning. The result, instead of well-planned cities, was major overcrowding and a type of residential (living) building called tenement housing.
Tenement housing was the first style of apartment buildings. By 1903, New York City's eighty-two thousand tenements housed nearly three million people, nearly all of whom occupied the lowest economic rung of society.
Tenement housing offered few advantages other than cheap rent. The buildings were erected close together so that there were no lawns. The Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the century was a typical Page 1531 | Top of Articletenement ghetto (a poor, crime-ridden section of the city). There, the basic tenement buildings were five stories high and contained twenty three-room apartments, four to a floor. Each apartment or flat contained a front room, small bedroom, and kitchen, for a total of 325 square feet. The only room to receive light or ventilation (air) was the front room. As other tenement buildings were constructed around it, however, both light and ventilation were cut off.
Tenements built before 1867 did not have toilets, showers, or even running water. Common (used by all tenants) toilets were situated in between buildings, toward the rear of the lots, and may or may not have been connected to public sewage lines. Garbage was disposed of in a large box kept in front of the buildings, but it was not picked up on a regular basis. Many tenements were without heat. The buildings that had heat posed a serious health threat. The fumes and smoke from the coal-burning heaters had nowhere to go without proper ventilation.
The first housing law, passed in 1867, required tenements to have one toilet for every twenty residents. Those toilets had to be connected to sewer lines whenever possible. The next law was passed in 1879 and required that all new tenements had to be built so that every room received air. Under the old tenement floor plan, most existing inner rooms had no access to outside walls. Building engineers solved this problem by developing a “dumbbell” blueprint in which the air shaft running through the building was indented, thereby providing air to all rooms.
This same law required toilets in all tenements to be hooked up to sewage lines and equipped with a way to flush after use. It was not uncommon for raw sewage to be strewn throughout a tenement yard.
Despite the housing laws, tenement life remained dangerous and miserable. The most far-reaching bill was passed in 1901. The Tenement House Act not only required improvements on ventilation, toilets, and Page 1533 | Top of Articlelight but set standards that all but banned the construction of buildings on 25-foot-wide lots. Newly built tenements would have to be wider, with more space. The highly effective 1901 law required existing tenement buildings to upgrade to meet the new, stricter standards. With the passage of the law came the formation of the Tenement House Commission, a committee that inspected housing and ensured the laws were being followed.
Tenement landlords were furious over the passage of the 1901 act. They believed there was no justification for its passage, and that its new standards were too harsh. Their tenants, after all, were mostly poor Irish immigrants who were used to crowded living conditions. Landlords insisted their tenants did not mind living in poor conditions; to be forced to make improvements would cut down on the amount of profit made from each building. By 1902, as improvements were being made, landlords realized the imposed changes were not as drastic as they had feared.
To meet the new requirements, landlords had to update old buildings with skylights in the hallways, to provide natural light for as long as it was available over the course of the day. To assist residents once nighttime set in, landlords were required to make sure that a lamp burned from sunset to sunrise along first- and second-floor stairways. Inside the apartments, landlords had to cut out part of the wall that kept the inner rooms darkened twenty-four hours a day to allow for light from an outer room to enter.
The most controversial aspect of the 1901 act, because of its expense, was the requirement that all common toilets be removed. Every building now had to have one water closet for every two families. These closets had to be constructed inside the buildings whenever possible, whether in newly built tenements or those already in existence. Without exception, all toilets had to be connected to sewer lines, even if those lines had to be built. Most landlords ignored the law until they absolutely had to comply. There were reports as late as 1918 of tenements with outdoor toilets still in use.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3048900601