Edward Bassett

Edward Bassett

Edward Murray Bassett (1863-1948) was one of the founding fathers of modern day urban planning. Known as "The Father of American Zoning," Bassett wrote the first comprehensive zoning ordinance in the United States, adopted by New York City in 1916.


Edward Murray Bassett was born on February 7, 1863, in Brooklyn, New York, son of merchant Charles R. Bassett and Elvira Rogers Bassett. He attended Hamilton College and Amherst College, graduating from the latter in 1884. While at Amherst he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity. From 1884-1886 he attended Columbia University Law School, and taught at a private school run by R. D. Dodge in Brooklyn. In 1886 Bassett graduated from Columbia and was admitted to the bar, and began practicing law in Buffalo, New York. He returned to New York City in 1892 to practice law there, and lived there the rest of his life (until 1948). He married Annie R. Preston in 1890 and had five children, including inventor and engineer Preston Bassett and geologist Isabel Bassett Wasson.

Bassett served on the Brooklyn School Board from 1899-1901 and chaired the Local School Board from 1901-1903. In 1903 he was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives, representing New York's 5th congressional district. He served one term from 1903 to 1905, but declined to run for reelection so he could serve at the local level. Major projects he worked on included bankruptcy law, the Panama Canal, advocating a canal route through Nicaragua, and opposing high tariffs.

In 1907 Bassett was appointed by Governor Charles Evans Hughes to the New York Public Service Commission, where he served until 1911. During this time he aided in the development of the dual subway plan for the New York City Subway. He was vice-chairman of the Brooklyn Committee on City Plan, for which a report was published in 1914. He was chairman of the Heights of Buildings Commission in New York City, the final report of which 1916 presented the first Zoning Resolution of the City of New York, which was the first comprehensive zoning ordinance in the United States. He consequently served posts of counsel to the Zoning Committee of New York, the Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs, and the (New York) City Planning Commission. A member of the Advisory Committee on City Planning and Zoning, Bassett was appointed by then U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Herbert Hoover to serve as president of the National Conference on City Planning.

Most of his work, both private and on committees, concerned city planning, zoning and the legal issues surrounding these fields. Bassett is credited with developing the "freeway" and "parkway" concepts, and for coining the term "freeway" to describe a controlled access urban highway, based on the parkway concept but open to commercial traffic.


* [http://www.amherst.edu/~rjyanco94/genealogy/acbiorecord/1884.html Amherst College graduates, 1884]
* [http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/freeway.htm U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (FWA)]
* [http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/EAD/htmldocs/RMM02708.html Cornell University, Guide to the Edward M. Bassett Papers, 1892-1948, Collection Number: 2708]
*"Autobiography of Edward M. Bassett." New York, 1939.
*Wilhelm, Carl. "Bassett shaped Gotham's towers." Brooklyn Eagle, May 9, 1926, p. 10.

Further reading

*Bassett, E.M. "The master plan, with a discussion of the theory of community land planning legislation." New York: Russell Sage foundation, 1938.
*Bassett, E. M. "Zoning." New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1940
* [http://www.planning.org/awards/pioneers.htm List of National Planning Pioneers, American Planning Associaition]
* [http://www.nbm.org/blueprints/90s/spring92/contents/contents.htm Milestones in American City Planning: from the Plan of Chicago to the Crash.]

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