N 1 8 9 8 , D E L E G A T E S F R O M A C R O S S T H E G L O B E
gathered in New York City for the world’s first international
urban planning conference. One topic dominated the discussion. It was
not housing, land use, economic development, or infrastructure. The
delegates were driven to desperation by horse manure.
The horse was no newcomer on the urban scene. But by the late
1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented
heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the
rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were
drowning in horse manure as well as other unpleasant byproducts of
the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion,
carcasses, and traffic accidents. Widespread cruelty to horses was a form
of environmental degradation as well.
The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated
that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in
horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded
that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story
windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable
And no possible solution could be devised. After all, the horse had
been the dominant mode of transportation for thousands of years.
Horses were absolutely essential for the functioning of the nineteenth-
century city—for personal transportation, freight haulage, and even
mechanical power. Without horses, cities would quite literally starve.
All efforts to mitigate the problem were proving woefully inade-
quate. Stumped by the crisis, the urban planning conference declared its
work fruitless and broke up in three days instead of the scheduled ten.
Eric Morr is is a Ph.D. student current ly studying transportat ion at
Univers i ty o f Cal i fo rn ia, L os Ange les (e r i cmorr is3@gmai l . com).
From Horse Power
B Y E R I C M O R R I S
N U M B E R 3 0 , S P R I N G 2 0 0 7
SADDLED WITH THE URBA