NEW YORK, A.D., 1997

A PROPHECY

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BY COLONEL GEORGE E. WARING, JR.

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If the population centering in New York increases during the next hundred years as rapidly as it has during the past fifty years, it will comprise, probably, twenty million souls. It would be futile, of course, to attempt to predict, with even a probability of accuracy, what the character and conditions of life of that community would be.

Judging from the building progress of the past twenty years, Manhattan Island will be covered, aside from its great public buidlings and their ornamental and roomy surroundings, and the parks, which are forever dedicated to the use of the people, with architectural monstrosities which the sky scrapers of the present day portend. It is not unlikely that the whole island will be largely abandoned as a place of residence. Staten Island will be given over to shipping, longshoremen and unsavory industries. The shoal western side of the harbor below Jersey City will be filled with docks, warehouses and railroad terminals. The beautiful ridge on the west side of the Hudson and all the northeastern portion of New Jersey, as well as the upper portion of Westchester County and the whole of Long Island, will become one vast residence region, save for the frequent manufacturing centres which will be established in favorable localities.

How will the people live?

How the people will live it is impossible even to guess, but it is not likely that they will live in the closely huddled habitations of the present day. The indications are these: The tenement house will be unknown, and no man, rich or poor, will live in a house of which every room does not open freely to the outer air. The present tendency to aggregation and conglomeration will yield to Heaven knowns what method of free, easy and cheap transportation. He would be a bold man who, recalling the short interval of time between the days of the ubiquitous omnibus and the rapid and pleasant trolley of to-day, would venture to predict what will be our means of urban travel. A quarter of a century ago no one would have believed that old and young, rich and poor, would be flying about our streets and over our country roads on rubber tired bicycles. It would have been as absurd to predict then what we are now so familiar with as to predict now that there will be some safe and universal method of aerial or subterranean mode of conveyance.

Engineering problems -- water supply, sewage.

The problems of municipal engineering are no less difficult to adjust, in view of the great possible changes of method and arrangement. For example, to suppy a population of twenty millions with water, according to our present system and at our present rate, would be practically impossible. It would involve the forcing of rivers of water from Lake Ontario, and the waste water of the great community would foul both shores of Long Island and the entire Hudson. The lower bay would be a cesspool.

As a mere matter of fancy, I have for some time considered the ultimate result of an experiment which I made on the wharf over the main outlet sewer at Newport in the Summer of 1894. Sewage was pumped up into filter tanks, which were supplied with abundant air (oxygen) to stimulate and facilitate the development of the bacteria by which the oxidation and nitrification of foul organic matter is effected. That system has now been applied in practice to filters which are purifying 100,000 gallons per day. Within the short space of four hours foul sewage is purified to the drinking water standard. I do not venture to predict, but I do say that it is possible that the development of this process will suffice for the purification of all the liquid wastes of all this vast population. At Newport the sewage was purified to the drinking water standard -- bright, sparlkling, odorless and palatable. Not only did I drink it myself, but it was drunk without question by half a dozen of the officials of Providence, who came to visit the works.

It is entirely beyond the realm of possibility to suppose that the public authorities, at the end of the next century, will furnish to the people, not water, but compressed air? that the sewage flowing from every house will be purified in filters of the character indicated -- aerated by air under pressure, and by the same pressure forced to reservoirs in the tops of the houses, from which it will flow to be used again? This is practically nature's way of purifying foul water. It is sent back to us through the medium of rain, earth filtration and river feeding springs.

So far as we can see, much, if not all of the work of lighting, heating and transportation will be performed by electricity under the great development it is to receive at the hands of men of genius like Nikola Tesla. One thing seems very sure -- coal and wood will cease to be used for fuel, and tha atmosphere of the city will be as free of smoke as the houses and streets will be of ashes and dust.

No horses or other domestic animals.

Domestic animals will cease to be domesticated within the limits of towns. Indeed, I believe that twenty years will not elapse before the horse will be unknown in New York, and that automobile carriages and trucks will entirely supplant the vehicles of to-day. Heavens! What a relief this will be to the Department of Street Cleaning. In fact, there seems to be no end to what one may imagine as to the material changes that are to take place in our modes of life.

The greatest changes will be in the people and government

But all these changes, great though they will be, will be as nothing compared with the changes that are to come over the people themselves and over their government. As to the people who will make up the vast community of New York a century hence, I think we may be most hopeful. There has never been, within the memory of any living person -- if we except, perhaps, the devastations of the war -- any period of five years that was not better than the five yeras preceding it.

Pessimists.

Calamity howlers and pessimists have said, from time immemorial, that the world was going to the demnition bow-wows, but the world has never failed to postpone to an indefinite time the realization of their fears and to march steadily on toward better things. In my judgment, our salvation from the impending disaster depends on two great facts: One is the constantly improving condition of public education, and the other is the constantly increasing interest of the people themselves in whatever may affect their public and private welfare.

Public Education.

The public schools of New York are marvelous -- not so much for the mere book instruction that they are giving to the children of all classes of the people as for the influence that school life is exerting on the children's character. It has been my good fortune to see a great deal of the public schools of this city, and I have never ceased to marvel at the good order, the good training, the cleanly appearance and the individual ambition of children, even of the lowest class, brought in from the streets and subjected to the influence of competition in all matters appealing to their ambition. The value of the reflex action on the character of parents and their pride in sending their children to school in tidy condition cannot be overestimated.

Popular will supplant monarchical school government.

The interest shown by the school children of all classes in the organization of the juvenile street cleaning leagues and in the civic organizations established by Mr. Wilson L. Gill, president of the Patriotic League, especially his "School City"; the avidity with which they acquire information as to the minor details of government; the idea that is beginning to prevail among them that government means something more than the policeman to be run away from -- as when building bonfires in the street -- and the interest that they show in everything affecting public welfare -- these alone are enough to give one the most confident hope for the future.

There are two other influences which are working most effectively throughout the whole community. One is the series of public free lectures given in the public schools, under the direction of Dr. Leipziger, where crowds of intelligent, earnest men and women drink in eagerly the information laid before them to their and our lasting good. The other is the formation of fellowship clubs and associations, largely under the direction of the University and College Settlements and kindred organizations. These are gatherings mainly of young men eager to improve their condition, and to secure for themselves and their neighbors the improvement that their united action can effect.

The tendency toward the formation of these associations is extending rapidly, and the indications are that within a very few years every little community -- certainly every Assembly district -- will have an organization properly guided, but left free for such action as it may desire, looking to the bettering of local conditions and to the exertion of useful influences on those who have the direction of municipal forces.

People will do their own thinking.

Through these agencies we cannot fail soon to reach a condition where the people of all classes and in all parts of the city will begin to do their own thinking and to act together for the advancement of the best interests of all. It is hardly too much to hope that these organization, rather than the boss-guided primary, will become the source of nominations for municipal offices. When the desire for such a result is generally realized, it will be backed by such a political power as must suffice to exterminate "politics" as we know it, from the control of the business of the city.

Relief, especially in this respect, is not to be secured in a moment, but we may vertainly say that the condition is most hopeful.

Not afraid of Tammany.

Thw town is now filled with apprehension as to what may happen if Tammany Hall returns to power, and the fear is far too general that this would mean a return to the worst conditions of the past. I have no such apprehension. I have had occasion, during the past two or three years, to make a familiar acquaintance with many of the most active leaders of the Tammany organization, and I have made the important discovery that they are human beings; that, as a rule, they are actuated by the same aspirations that are felt by others. They seek success in life, and the acme of such success is to secure the approbation and the esteem of the people.

WE SHALL ALWAYS HAVE AS GOOD A GOVERNMENT AS THE PEOPLE AT LARGE APPRECIATE. These Tammany gentlement are not hankering after public obloquy and disgrace. The voice of the people is the controlling power with them. Some of themmake mistakes and some of them do wrong, but the worst man among them will hold his hand before he will knowingly shock public opinion. They still have a greedy hankering after "patronage," and they will make mischief in satisfying it for some years yet, but this tendency will lessen as time goes on.

Public opinion.

Public opinion is constantly growing more intelligent and more exacting, and it cannot fail to react to our rulers, of whatever party, in leding them to conform to such standards as the people may establish. In the present case the conditions seem very clear. The people have learned what good government is, and they will not give it up for long under any administration.

Long before the great city of the future shall have approached the lines laid down above, ITS PEOPLE WILL BE A DIFFERENT PEOPLE FROM WHAT THEY NOW ARE, AND ITS RULERS WILL BE DIFFERENT RULERS.



George E. Waring (1833-1898) was a sanitary engineer and author of the "Waring system" for drainage that he introduced in Memphis, Tennessee. He was also a consultant to a number of cities on the design or improvement of sanitary or water systems, both in the United States and in Cuba. During a long and productive professional career, Waring was an agriculturist, an engineer who installed the thorough drainage system in New York's Central Park, the compiler of the Social Statistics of Cities component of the U. S. Census of 1880, and Street Commissioner of New York in 1895-96. In this latter position Waring achieved remarkable success. According to Dr. Albert Shaw, his biographer, Waring's efforts had a "transforming effect upon the appearance, comfort, and health of the city."



From Life of Col. George E. Waring, Jr., The Greatest Apostle of Cleanliness, as told by Dr. Albert Shaw (New York: The Patriotic League, 1899), pages 36-42.



F&M College/American Studies/David Schuyler