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The craftsman
Vol. V, No. 4 (January 1904)

Urbi et orbi: to the city and to the world,   pp. 358-362 PDF (1.8 MB)


Page 359


URBI ET ORBI
foreign, and nothing irrelevant to our own
purposes and desires.
  Among these principles and plans of ac-
tion, the most vital and significant of them
is that one which purposes "to clothe in ar-
tistic form all that progress has made useful
in modern life." This principle, if judged
superficially, might be characterized as a
simple effort to transform the prosaic into
the picturesque. But it is something far
beyond this, or rather such transformation
is in itself a great moral agent. For the
evil effects caused by the sordid aspect of
city districts abandoned to elevated railways
and other means of rapid transit and com-
munication, are too deep and wide-spread to
be calculated. Depressing as such districts
are to the visitor, who regards them as pop-
ulous deserts through which he must pass to
reach his objective point, they are, beyond
all doubt, the active source of despair to the
forced inhabitant, who, becoming the victim
of his environment, is led on to vice, and it
may be, to crime. It becomes, then, a public
duty to create symmetry, sunniness, conven-
ience, gaiety and variety out of inveterate
confusion; to entrust the solution of this in-
tricate problem to the finest brains and the
warmest hearts: so that we may multiply
such results as that effected by the genius of
Olmsted, when he turned to a decorative pur-
pose the car-tracks on the Beacon Street
Boulevard, Boston: causing them to be laid
in a strip of turf at the road's edge, and
thus making brilliant lines through the
green which the eye follows with a sense of
pleasure, almost of mystery. Reasoning
from such a result, One arrives at the con-
clusion that "to clothe in artistic form all
that progress has made useful in modern
life" is a work worthy of the highest talent,
of the most subtile faculties of the age; a
work also that brings with it the greatest of
rewards: that is, the increase of happiness
among the people.
  There are indeed materialists enough and
to spare who scoff at the project of making
electric light poles graceful, and street ad-
vertisements beautiful, but few there are
who do not unconsciously, or in spite of
their boasted hardness, turn eagerly to the
bits of beauty which are scattered through
prosaic New York; who do not greet with
pleasure the old trees of Washington Square
and the Dewey Arch, as they appear in vista
from the elevated trains: a view grateful
and tonic to the eye distressed by the almost
uninterrupted panorama of poor domestic
secrets and industrial slavery, which defiles
along miles of the upper stories of tene-
ments and factories. For such centers of
population as our sea-board cities, civic
improvement is a means of salvation to be
viewed on the same plane as the agencies of
religion, law and philanthropy, with all of
which it is* closely and vitally connected.
  A second principle of the great movement,
less applicable in a certain restricted sense
to our own country than to Europe, can yet
be broadly interpreted among us. This, as
formulated by the Belgian Society, is "to
transform the streets into picturesque mu-
seums comprising various elements of edu-
cation for the people."
  Prominent among "these various elements
of education" is the effort to strengthen the
sense of nationality by restoring as far as
may be the external glories of the old Flem-
ish towns. The effort is made with the
practical good sense marking all Belgian
governmental schemes, and the result, it
must be believed, will not only justify, but
                                       359


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