The ancient cities of the world were never seriously troubled by matters of rapid transit. They were built originally as places of refuge, and the inhabitants, secure behind walls of stone, finally adopted them as permanent living places. Travel through the city, and through the gates of the city, was largely on foot. The dusty caravan stopped without the walls. The camel did not pass through the eye of the needle. Goods were brought into the bazaars and the markets on the backs of porters. Everything moved slowly. Traffic and trade were very leisurely affairs in the Old World.
Even in the present era, and in some parts of modern Europe, the question-of tune would seem of minor importance. Haste is generally spoken of as “unseemly,” and travel means something of days and distance. The city is still a home for inhabitants, rather than a hive or a mart for workers. The railway, like the caravan, stops outside the walls. A station within the city, with its accompaniment of rumbling trains and roaring via-ducts, would be disturbing to the householders. Only a few of the larger places, like London, Paris, and Berlin, have admitted railways into the heart of the city, have put in underground tubes, and developed the more modern means of transit. They are slowly waking to the consciousness that a city may be more valuable as a place of trade than as a place of residence a consciousness that has been with New York for many years.
If the suggestion made some chapters back be accepted, that the city is primarily a shop or a factory, then it becomes apparent that to continue successful in trade it must be frequently remodeled or newly built. Its machinery should be of the most modern type, and work with the greatest efficiency. Wide entrances to the business centers, direct communication for speed, huge buildings for capacity, unlimited markets for barter and sale, are necessary parts of the machinery. It is not possible to lead in commerce without them. New York quite understands this, but has always been hampered in carrying the idea into practice by the continuance of the old residential idea the force of tradition. Recently it has begun to free itself and develop commercially, with vast projects for bulk and marvelous schemes for expedition. The turbulence of its changes and improvements has kept the older city in bewilderment for twenty years. It is fast fitting itself to be the one master trader of the world.
This inclination toward commerce was with it at birth.
The site of Manhattan was discovered, occupied, and built upon by traders, because it was a place naturally fitted for trade. The inherited inclination has grown into an energy of enormous power; but without the natural geographical advantages of the city it might never have developed. The harbor with all its difficulties for rapid-transit engineers, is the natural highway of the world’s ships the inlet and the outlet of America’s commerce. The ocean water-ways connecting with the inland water-ways in continuous lines of transportation, not only throughout the port and the country but around and about the globe, have made the city the logical point of arrival and departure. With these natural highways, supplemented by the railways and other transit thorough-fares, it is easy enough to understand how and why New York should become the great terminal station of traffic and trade.
And be it remembered that traffic and trade are the breath of its nostrils. Its face has always been set that way. One has but to think for a moment of the vast equipment of commerce to be convinced of thisthe ships, the docks, the bridges, the viaducts; the tunnels, subways, tramways, railways; the elevators, storehouses, mills, factories; the exchanges, banks, depositories, treasuries; the thousands of business buildings, the hundreds of thousands of offices, the millions of people engaged in business pursuits. The great strain of the output more enormous, the income more fabulous. The wonder of to-day becomes the commonplace of yesterday; and still we keep mounting higher and higher, moving more and more swiftly.
What shall be in the future no man dare predict, save in figures fantastic. With its volume and energy, its commerce and its wealth, who shall say what cloud-born fancies may not be realized in the days to come! A few years ago, having outgrown its sixty-eight square miles on the island of Manhattan, the city expanded into an area of three hundred and twenty-seven square miles. Shall it stop there? Men called visionaries see the future port of New York at Montauk Point, with all Long Island in the greater ring. Shall it come to pass? No one can say. And yet, again, without the seer’s eye or the prophet’s ken, one can see the indication and the suggestion. From the high tower of the Singer or the Metropolitan Building the eye travels around the ring and sees water-ways, landways, bridgeways, railways, radiating and crossing, leading outward and onward; and, following them closely, the new streets and buildings of the growing city. Who knows that the city will stop at the thirty-mile limit, that it will stop at all?
There is indication of still other things. New York will be a city with perhaps more grouping about municipal, business, and traffic centers than now; but there is no suggestion that it will ever become a formal city, or like in plan to any other place that has ever existed.
That it will be a city of high buildings seems certain; and that it will always have its harbor setting, its brilliant light and color, its sea-blue haze, and its mountain-blue air can hardly be doubted. The high dome and tower glittering in the sun, the white wall half lost in shadow, the background of colored minarets projected against the blue sky, should be heightened in splendor by the increase of scale. A city, magnificently picturesque, should be the result. The likeness to Constantinople should fade out as too diminutive and inadequate; the resemblance to some city of Arabian Nights fancy should grow.
In the time to come, a quarter of a century hence, the traveler returning to New York may find that the age of wonders has not passed. The city should be more awe-inspiring then than ever a city of the same hurrying – energy perhaps, devoted to business still, leavening its life with the humanities here and there, aspiring to mentality and even to righteousness; but always a city of commerce, of display, of wealth and luxury, of color and light. The greatest port on any sea, with the wealth of the Americas back of it, it should outsoar in majesty and outshine in splendor any other city of the modern world. A slighter commerce and a less virile energy heaped magnificence upon Tyre and Carthage and Rome. Why not the repetition of the tale, increased a hundred fold, in the New New York?