Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/November 1913/The Increase of American Land Values

THE INCREASE OF AMERICAN LAND VALUES
By Dr. SCOTT NEARING

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

SO much has been said and written regarding the theoretical importance attaching to the rise of land values that the student of economics looks eagerly for some collection of facts which shall in a measure substantiate the numerous theories advanced. To his consternation he discovers, after a careful examination of economic literature, that little of importance has appeared on the subject. The fundamental significance of land value increases is conceded in every land, yet, with the exception of farm land values, there has apparently been no systematic attempt to discover the extent of the land value increases. Although an examination of the available facts has convinced the writer that the time is not yet ripe for an authoritative statement, the data at hand do indicate rather clearly the trend in land valuation.

Land values, in so far as they relate to the present discussion, may be conveniently grouped as follows:

1. The value of lands containing minerals and fuels.
2. The value of water rights.
3. Timber land values.
4. Farm values.
5. Urban land values.

Mineral land values and the value of water rights may be dismissed with a word. Repeated inquiries directed to state officials, to the federal authorities, to trade journals and to prominent engineers, failed to elicit any response worthy of consideration. Indeed, one of the most prominent mining engineers in the country goes so far as to write:

I have no reliable information to give you as to the extent to which mineral land values have increased during recent years. Mineral lands become valuable only with favorable developments, and do not rise in value in conformity with laws determining values of other kinds of property.

The editor of The Engineering and Mining Journal (Mr. Walter E. Ingalls) writes (January 9, 1913):

We have not compiled any data regarding the increase in the value of mineral lands, and do not, in fact, see how any such data that would be worth anything could be compiled.

The State Mining Board of Illinois, in a somewhat more optimistic mood regarding the statistical possibilities, writes (December 19, 1912):

The coal lands in certain parts of the state have increased a hundred per cent, in value for a period of ten years, while in other portions of the state the increase in value has been very slight. The values as a whole are increasing from year to year.

The Wisconsin Tax Commissioner, after a most exhaustive report, makes the following statement:[1]

Under present statutes minerals enter into the valuation of the land in which they are deposited. This law is absolutely impossible of just enforcement. The assessor can have no reliable information as to the amount of the mineral in the ground, even in operated mines, much less its value, which must depend upon the quantity and quality of the deposit, cost of mining, and other matters requiring the highest expert knowledge. In practise the consequence is that no effect is as a rule made to tax the mineral.

The net result of this rather extensive inquiry into the increase in the value of mineral lands was therefore practically nil.

Even less success attended the attempt to secure any reliable information regarding the value of water sites. The development of water power on a commercial basis is so recent, and the variation in the facilities afforded by different sites is so extreme, that it seems impossible to make any just estimate of the extent to which these sites are increasing in value. It seems fair, however, to state that with the exhaustion of the coal supply, on the one hand, and the improvements in electrical appliances on the other, the near future should witness a rapid advance in the commercial value of water-power facilities.

Aside from the discouragement involved in this attempt to draw statistical blood from an economic stone, the results yielded by the study of land values, though in no sense conclusive, are in every way suggestive. The federal government has recently completed an extensive investigation of the lumber industry. The Census Department and the Department of Agriculture both attempt to secure farm values, and a number of cities have instituted systems of separate assessments for land and improvements, which makes a determination of land values in those cities comparatively easy. Therefore, for timber lands, for farm lands and for city land the sources of information merit attention.

Unlike mineral and fuel deposits, timber tracts are susceptible of definite measurement and valuation. Private dealers as well as state and federal authorities were most generous in the cooperation. The information from private sources and from state officials is intended only to corroborate and supplement the excellent body of information compiled by the Bureau of Corporations.

Timber is an anti-social scapegrace. For a generation it has been the leader in the merry race of upward-moving prices. Since 1890, the prices of timber products have risen faster than the prices of any other group of commodities. The latest wholesale price-list issued by the Bureau of Labor (Bulletin No. 99, March, 1912) reports for lumber products a rise in price which is little short of phenomenal. Taking as a basis the price between 1890 and 1899, the price of hemlock lumber rose (1890-1912) from 105.2 to 172.9; of hard maple, from 100 to 129.5; of white oak, from 98.6 to 154.5; of white pine, from 96.4 to 214.2; of yellow pine, from 112.4 to 177.3; of poplar, from 97.2 to 196.4; of spruce, from 113.5 to 169.2; of shingles, from 110.7 to 130.1; of tar, from 122.4 to 176.4; of turpentine, from 122.0 to 203.1; and rosin claps the climax with an increase from 96.1 to 466.5. This series of twenty-two years, therefore, shows a remarkable rise in the wholesale price of timber and timber products. One turns from this extraordinary increase in the price of timber products to inquire into the increase in the value of the lands from which timber comes. Has the rise in the value of the land from which the raw material is derived corresponded with the rise in the value of the raw material?

The inability of officials and of private persons to supply data on the increase in the value of mineral lands was more than offset by their generosity in furnishing information regarding the rise in timber values. The editor of The Lumberman's Review, Frederick J. Caulkins, comments (March 19, 1913):

The sharp upward movement began about 1899, since which time I should say that timber had increased at about the same rate as lumber namely, about one hundred per cent.

A number of private firms wrote interesting letters regarding the movement of prices in their own section. A lumberman from Au Sable, Mich., states (March 5, 1913):

Hard-wood lands from which the pine had been cut were sold (1895) by pine operators, from one to two dollars per acre. Gradually, but steadily, these lands have advanced in value, until at this time they would bring from twenty to sixty dollars, and more, an acre.

A prominent lumber manufacturer from Bay City, Mich., writes (April 3, 1913):

In Minnesota white pine has been sold at from eight to twenty dollars per thousand feet. In Michigan, hard woods, including hemlock, have advanced from five and ten dollars per acre to, in some instances, as high as ninety dollars per acre for especially good tracts of timber.

Another lumberman gives an excellent illustration of a small increase in values (March 24, 1913):

Six years ago I bought a tract of hard-wood timber land in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The average cost was about nine dollars, and the interest, taxes and fire protection brought the investment up to about sixteen dollars an acre. The land could not be sold for over twenty dollars an acre to-day.

Similar letters from other sections of the country show a comparatively wide variation in the extent of the increase in forest lands, but a very obvious increase none the less.

Public officials were also liberal with information. The secretary of the Forest Park Reservation Committee of New Jersey gives it as his opinion that

It is no overstatement to say that forest property in any part of New Jersey is worth at least double what it was worth ten years ago.

The acting state forester of Minnesota believes (January 3, 1913)

that the value of wild lands in the northern part of this state has advanced rapidly in the last ten or fifteen years. I believe that it is safe to say that this increase has been as much as from one hundred to one hundred and fifty per cent.

The Conservation Committee of the State of New York writes that

In 1890 a law was passed providing for the purchase of land for forest preservation purposes, not to exceed one dollar and a half per acre. The lumbermen that operated these lands and removed the spruce down to about twelve inches stump diameter, seemed to be anxious to sell their land at that time for this price. It has often been stated that property which the state acquired at that time for this price is worth from twenty-five to thirty dollars per acre at the present time.

Austin F. Hawes, the state forester of Vermont, believes that

It is safe to say that land covered with good timber has doubled in value within the last fifteen years.

The state forester of Kentucky writes that

Judging from the experience of Berea College, which owns about five thousand acres of timber land, on the average timber has more than doubled in value in the last ten years.

The State Board of Forestry of Wisconsin fully confirms the estimates made by private lumbermen from that section of the country. The state forester writes (March 4, 1913):

I believe that the following prices are approximately accurate for the state as a whole:
Stumpage 20 Years Ago Stumpage To-day
White pine $3.00 $10.00
Norway pine 1.00 8.00
Hemlock .50 3.00
Birch 2.00 6.00
Basswood 3.00 8.00
Elm 2.00 6.00
Tamarack .50 3.00
Cedar 1.00 3.00
Spruce 2.00 6.00
On specific tracts of pine I know of several instances where the stumpage has increased from $2.00 to $5.00 twenty years ago, up to from $15.00 to $20.00 to-day. Another specific tract of mixed timber was appraised and offered for sale by the state for $425, in 1902, but there was no bidder at this price. This winter we have sold the timber on this tract for $1,860.

The federal government in Part I. in the Report on the Lumber Industry takes up the problem in very great detail. While recognizing the difficulty of making a definite statement regarding the extent to which the timber land has increased in value, the writers of the report are nevertheless struck by the extent of the increase.[2]

The value of timber varies so extremely, according to location, species, quality and stand, that it is impossible to measure accurately the average amount of the advance. For the purpose of this report it is not necessary so to measure it. The comparative figures hereafter given are not intended to represent the average values of any kind of timber or to establish in any sense a timber price.

That the increase has been nothing less than enormous is recognized by the men most familiar with the business. In speaking of the rise of prices in the last twenty years they refer to changes from 12i cents to $4.00 per thousand; from 10 cents to $3.00 a thousand; from $5.00 to $20.00 an acre; 300 per cent, in ten years; from $1.50 to $20.00 an acre; from 50 cents to $3.00 per thousand. These figures are for southern pine. In cypress: from 15 cents to $5.00 a thousand. In the Lake states men in the business similarly speak of increases from "no market value" (hemlock and hardwoods) to $4.00 to $10.00 a thousand; from $2.00 to $6.00 a thousand (hardwoods). In the Pacific-Northwest similar general statements are made of rises in value, such as 15 cents to $2.50 a thousand; 10 cents to $2.50 a thousand; "no market value" to $2.50 a thousand; 75 cents to $2.50 a thousand.

While these statements give no accurate measure of the general rise of stumpage values, they do show that, according to this report of lumbermen, such rise during the last twenty or thirty years has been enormous.[3]

There are obvious difficulties in the way of setting any definite limitation on the increase in the value of timber lands.

The rise in stumpage values is likely to be greatest when a new region or a new species is just beginning to attract attention. When timber is selling by the acre at rates equivalent to ten cents a thousand, it may rise almost at once to fifty cents a thousand. The increase on each thousand feet in such a case is unimportant; yet it is an advance of four hundred per cent.[4]

Eoughly, during the decade ending with 1907 or 1908 (the period immediately before the industrial depression) the federal investigation indicates that "the value of a given piece of southern pine taken at random is likely to have increased in any ratio from threefold to tenfold."[5] The investigators found instances of even greater increases. For example, tracts which sold by the acre at ten or fifteen cents a thousand feet had advanced twenty, or even thirty fold, in ten years; but in general these figures seem to hold fairly true. In the Lake region "the general ratio of advance of timber values during the last ten or twenty years has probably been less than in the south. Perhaps the advance of any given tracts taken at random, in ten years from 1898 was most likely to be between twofold and fivefold." In the Pacific northwest, where the development in lumbering has been comparatively recent, "a tract taken at random is likely to have increased in any ratio from threefold to tenfold in the ten years ending in 1907 or 1908."[6] Here the proportion of extraordinary advances "is probably greater than in the south."

The rise in timber lands would therefore seem to have more than justified the increases in the wholesale price of lumber. Even in the older section, where the timber has been largely cut away, the increases have been rapid. In the newer section, which have recently developed as lumbering regions, the rate of increase in timber land values has been little short of stupendous.

No student can turn away from these records of the increase of timber land values since 1890 without a feeling of profound wonder. Twofold, fivefold, tenfold increases in two decades are immense, even in a developing country. That the price of timber products should have advanced rapidly in view of this tremendous increase in the value of timber land goes without saying.

Timber is in a peculiar position, economically. A hundred years ago it was an obstacle to American progress; to-day it is one of its rapidly vanishing resources. The approaching exhaustion of the timber supply undoubtedly plays a large part in causing the upward trend of prices. Not until the growing of timber is placed on a business basis and the demands of timber users are made commensurate with that business in this country, can a normal adjustment of prices be expected.

Farm land values present no such unusual difficulties as these encountered in the analysis of timber land values. Farming is an established business. The best farm land of the United States is largely under cultivation. If properly pursued, farming does not exhaust the resources of the land—rather it increases them. Hence, the increases in farm land values present an illustration of very normal land value increase.

The material dealing with the increase in farm values is by far the most accessible of all the data on land values in the United States, since the Bureau of the Census makes elaborate returns on the subject. Although these returns are open to some very obvious and often-repeated criticisms, they probably represent, on the whole, a fairly accurate statement of the increase in the value of farm lands in the districts which they cover.

The censuses of 1900 and 1910 give a separate statement of the value of land and buildings. Prior to that time land and buildings were grouped together. The last two censuses therefore furnish as accurate a measure as may be of the extent to which farm land, irrespective of improvements, is increasing in value.

During the decade between 1900 and 1910, the value of all farm lands in the United States increased from $13,058,000,000 to $28,476,000,000—equivalent of 118.1 per cent.[7] Not one of the nine geographical divisions covered by the census shows any decrease in farm land values. The increases, however, vary extremely. The least increase (19.1 per cent.) is shown in the Middle Atlantic States; the greatest increase (313 per cent.) is in the Mountain States. The largest total increase (slightly more than six billions of dollars) occurred in the Middle Western States, which gave a percentage increase of one hundred and fifty-eight.

A further inspection of the figures by states shows that the farm land increases are sectionally rather uniform. For example, in New England three of the states (New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts) have increased between twenty and thirty per cent.; for Connecticut the increase was 37 per cent.; for Rhode Island it was 12 per cent.; and for Maine, 75 per cent. In the Middle Atlantic States, New York shows an increase of 28 per cent.; New Jersey, of 33 per cent.; and Pennsylvania, of 9 per cent. The increase for Pennsylvania is the smallest increase in agricultural land values shown by any state in the country between 1900 and 1910. The increases among the East North Central States vary from 45 per cent. (Michigan) to 104 per cent. (Illinois). In the West North Central States, however, the variation is considerably greater—from 82 per cent. (Minnesota) to 377 per cent. (South Dakota). Of the South Atlantic States, four (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia) show increases of less than one hundred per cent. In this same class fall Kentucky and Tennessee from the East South Central Group, and Louisiana from the West South Central Group. All of the other Southern States have increases of over one hundred per cent., and Florida (204 per cent.) and Oklahoma (334 per cent.) lead all of the others in their ratios of increase. Among the Mountain and Pacific States, only three show increases in land values of less than two hundred per cent. They were Utah (147 per cent.), Nevada (165 per cent.) and California (108 per cent.). The increase in Montana was 130 per cent.; in Idaho, 319 per cent.; in Colorado, 301 per cent.; in New Mexico, 470 per cent.; and in Washington, 421 per cent.

The total increase in the value of farm land from 1900 to 1910 for the whole United States was fifteen and a half billions of dollars, more than thirteen billions of which is credited to the territory lying west of Pennsylvania, north of the Mason and Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi. In short, the great farm land value increases occurred in that section of the country from which most of the necessary farm products are derived. An examination of the figures in the preceding paragraph shows that of the 22 states outside of this area, none reports increases of more than two hundred per cent., while only eight show increases of more than one hundred per cent. Within the area (west of Pennsylvania, north of the Mason and Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi), of the 27 states, seven report increases of more than two hundred per cent., while 19 of the 27 report gains of more than 100 per cent.

There is, to be sure, a partial explanation of these immense western increases in the increase in acreage. The number of acres devoted to farming purposes is greater in 1910 than in 1900. This increase is not, however, considerable. Although the population west of the Mississippi increased 30 per cent, between 1900 and 1910, the total number of farms increased only 18 per cent., the total acreage in farms increased only 9 per cent., and the total amount of improved land in farms increased only 29 per cent. If the reader will bear in mind the fact that the northeastern section of the United States is increasingly dependent upon the West for its food supply, the increase in the amount of farm land west of the Mississippi is less than might have been expected.

An appeal to the census table showing the value of farm land per acre bears out the suggestion that the increase in western farm land values can not be attributed to increased acreage. The percentage of increase in the value per acre of all farm land between 1900 and 1910 was 108 per cent. In the New England, Middle Atlantic, East North Central and East South Central States, this increase in value per acre was less than one hundred per cent. For the other groups of states, namely, for those lying west of the Mississippi, the increases ranged from 1-46 per cent, for the Pacific States to 222 per cent, for the Mountain States. An examination of the figures for individual states shows that among the 14 New England, Middle Atlantic and East North Central States (lying east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason and Dixon Line), only one state (Illinois, 105 per cent.) shows an increase of over one hundred per cent. Among the 22 West North Central, West South Central, Mountain, and Pacific States, only two states, Minnesota (73 per cent.) and Louisiana (85 per cent.), show increases of loss than one hundred per cent, in farm values per acre; while nine states show increases in the value per acre of between two hundred and three hundred per cent., and one state (Arizona) shows an increase of 476 per cent. Among the eastern states the increases in farm land value per acre are therefore comparatively small—less than one hundred per cent, in all but two instances. Among the states west of the Mississippi, on the other hand, the increase in value per acre has been immense—more than one hundred per cent, in twenty out of twenty-two cases, more than one hundred and fifty per cent, in fifteen out of twenty-two cases, and more than two hundred per cent., in ten out of twenty-two cases.

The total figures showed that the bulk of the increase in the farm land values in the United States between 1900 and 1910 occurred west of the Mississippi. The figures for increases per acre lead inevitably to the same conclusion, namely, that the farm land in the states lying west of the Mississippi has increased, during the past decade, between one hundred and three hundred per cent, in value.

The same movement for the increase in farm land values has apparently been going on steadily for sixty years. Although the census figures prior to 1900 gave the value of land and buildings together, the value of farm land predominates to such an extent that the figures for land and buildings are indicative, though not conclusive, for the increase in the value of the land.[8]

The acreage increases between 1850 and 1910 were so extensive in the states west of the Mississippi that it would scarcely be fair to cite increases in total farm land values. It is interesting, however, to note that during these six decades the total number of farms in the entire United States increased from one and a half to six millions; that the total land in farms increased from 294 millions of acres to 879 millions of acres; and that the total improved land in farms increased from 113 millions of acres to 478 millions of acres. Thus the total number of farms increased fourfold, the total acreage in farms threefold and the total improved land in farms fourfold, while the total population increased slightly less than fourfold. Meantime, the total value of all farm property rose from 3,967 million dollars to 40,991 million dollars (an increase of tenfold); and the value of farm land and buildings rose from 3,272 million to 34,801 million dollars (an increase of elevenfold).

The increase in the value of farm land and buildings between 1850 and 1910 is distributed very irregularly over the different sections of the country. For the entire United States the increase in the value per acre was from $11 to $40; in New England the increase was from $20 to $36; in the Middle Atlantic States, from $29 to $57; in the East North Central States, from $13 to $75; in the South Atlantic States, from $6 to $23; and in the East South Central States, from $6 to $21. West of the Mississippi the increases in value per acre were, for the "West North Central States, from $6 to $50; for the West South Central States, from $6 to $19; for the Mountain States, from $6 to $21; and for the Pacific States, from $1.55 to $48. A comparison over so long a period is really unfair, because up to 1890 the agricultural land of the Far West was a negligible quantity in so far as its value was concerned. These figures do show, however, the immense increase which has occurred.

The really important material on the increase in farm values is available only between 1900 and 1910. The other data are, however, of considerable significance. The whole body of information indicates that in those sections of the United States from which the food products of the country are chiefly derived, the land values during the last few decades have increased at a very rapid pace, culminating in the decade between 1900 and 1910 with an increase for ten years of double, treble or quadruple their 1900 values.

For manifest reasons, the increases in the values of lumber lands were prodigious, yet in many instances they are insignificant when compared with the increases in agricultural land values, which should yield an essentially stable value over so short a period as ten years. Instead agricultural land has fairly leaped into the field of rising values.

While farm values constitute the chief concern of the territory west of the Mississippi, the northeastern section of the United States is interested primarily in city land values. Did the census officials devote even a tithe of the effort to the determination of city land values that were lavished upon farm values, there would be collected a body of data valuable in the extreme. No such procedure has been adopted, however, hence the unfortunate seeker after the truth of changes in city land values is compelled to rely on the little information that may be culled from private sources.

Most American cities have no record at all of the increase in the value of land separate from improvements. Indeed, a prominent landvaluation expert goes so far as to write:

I do not believe that any authentic information concerning the increase of city land value exists. Until assessments are made by the same method everywhere, there will be little in the way of statistics that will exhibit the information you desire.[9]

In one sense this statement is perfectly correct. The data which have been collected on land values are neither authentic nor scientific. They are, however, indicative of a certain tendency which Mr. Richard M. Hurd, president of the Lawyers' Mortgage Company, characterizes by saying.

In general land values have increased enormously in the best part of the leading American cities; the land is now selling, in many sections, from two to three times the figures given in my book.[10] (Published in 1903.)

Innumerable instances might be cited to support the contention that city land values have risen. For example, the New York City Commission on Congestion of Population cites the increase in the cost of lands purchased for school purposes. On the Island of Manhattan, the land in connection with School No. 14, at No. 33 Greenwich Avenue, cost, in 1849, 79 cents per square foot; in 1851, 84 cents per square foot; in 1890, $8.40 per square foot.; in 1897, $9.56 per square foot; and in 1905, $12.37 per square foot. In the Bronx, School No. 18, on Cortland Avenue between College Avenue and 148th Street, secured land in 1848 for 3 cents per square foot; in 1885 for $1.07 per square foot; and in 1896, for $2.18 per square foot. School No. 34, in Brooklyn, at Norman, Eckford and Oakland Streets, purchased land in 1867 for 23 cents per square foot; in 1904, for $3.16 per square foot; and in 1906, for $7.16 per square foot.[11]

A very effective study was made by the New York City Club (Homer Folks, chairman of the transit committee) regarding the increase in land values resulting from the construction of the rapid transit lines. Along the route of the new subway, assessment values, as given by the Department of Taxes and Assessments, were taken for the year 1900 on vacant lots. These were compared with the assessment values of 1907, the figures in each case representing one hundred per cent, valuation.

To ascertain the proportion of the increase in land value attributable to the building of the subway, it was necessary to deduct from the total rise what might be termed a normal rise, or the increase that would have taken place through the natural growth of the city, without added stimulus of a new transit line.

This normal rise was determined by taking the increase from 1893 to 1900 on the same territory. The study shows that up to 110th Street the increase in land values between 1900 and 1907 was about forty-five per cent. This equaled the normal rise previously determined. The Subway apparently made no difference in this land, because excellent elevated connections already existed. Between 110th Street and 129th Street the increase "was much more noticeable, averaging about seventy per cent." The location of Columbia University at this point rendered the calculations of little value. From 135th street northward the problem appears stripped of complications. "The aggregated rise in this land from 135th Street to Spuyten Duyvil was about $69,300,000." The estimated normal rise of $20,100,000 was therefore exceeded by $49,800,000 "apparently due to the building of the subway." This increase is one hundred and four per cent, increase on the value of 1900. A similar rise in the land values of the Bronx was shown. Between the Harlem River and Bronx Park the increase in land values due to the building of the subway was $31,300,000.

The report goes on to state that, while the increase in land values above 135th Street, due to the building of the subway, was $39,200,000, the cost of building the subway from this point to 230th Street was $7,375,000, or but 15 per cent of the actual rise caused by the new line. Similarly, the increase in the Bronx land values of more than thirty million dollars was caused by subway construction costing $5,700,000.[12]

These instances are typical of the land value increases which are so apparent in New York City. Other great centers of population, however, show similar conditions. Mr. C. B. Fillebrown, in his "The A-B-C of Taxation," cites some interesting illustrations of increases in the land value of Boston. For example, the land values irrespective of improvements,

on both sides of Winter Street, including the estates on the Tremont and Washington Street corners were in 1898, $61.57 per square foot; in 1907, $97.50 per square foot.[13]. . . The land in Winter Street, which was assessed at less than four dollars per square foot, in 1850, was assessed in 1907 at one hundred and thirty dollars per square foot. During the fifty-seven years intervening, the income, above taxes, from the land, in rent and appreciation has amounted to an average of one hundred and fifty per cent, annually on the investment of 1850.[14]

Similar illustrations might be cited in endless detail, showing the rise of land values in American cities. Even the casual observer must admit the very obvious facts of land value increase. The one thing needful is some accurate measure of their extent.

There are a few American cities in which a careful assessment of land independent of improvements has been made. In New York City, for example, the land and improvements have been separately assessed since 1906. The Report of the Commissioners of Taxes and Assessments for 1912 (pages 20-23) gives the land value assessments in considerable detail. The value of the land alone for Greater New York was, in 1906, 3,367 million dollars, and in 1912, 4,563 million dollars. This represents an increase in the per capita value of land from $811 in 1906 to $898 in 1912. Incidentally, the total value of all improvements in 1912 was only two billion, seven hundred and sixteen millions, or about three fifths of the total land value.

The boroughs separately show a considerable divergence in the ratio of increase. In the Borough of Manhattan, for example, the increase in the value of the land between 1906 and 1912 was from $1,196 per capita to $1,296 per capita. This represents a total increase in land value of more than five hundred million dollars. In the Borough of Bronx the per capita land value fell from $771 to $657. This decrease was due primarily to the fact that during these six years the population of Bronx was almost doubled. For this borough, the total land value increased sixty per cent. For the Borough of Brooklyn, the per capita valuation rose from $325 to $450. The population increased less than twenty per cent, and the land value rose from 456 millions to 786 millions. The Borough of Queens, which is the least developed in Greater New York, shows an increase in per capita land value from $388 to $862, an increased 60 per cent, in population and an increase in the total land value from 81 millions to 278 millions. The problem in the Borough of Richmond is very similar to that in Brooklyn.

Although the land valuations in New York extend over only six years, they show that during that time the total increase in the value of the city's land was about 40 per cent., while in the newer sections of the city, notably in the Bronx and in Queens Borough, the increase was about 60 per cent. Neither in their totals nor in their proportions do these increases compare with the increases in timber land values or in farm land values. If the increase in New York land values is compared with the increase in the farm land values of the richest agricultural states, or of the best timber lands, they are comparatively small.

The land of Boston has been assessed separately for the improvements, at "the full and fair cash valuation" since 1887. There has been no material addition to the area of the city of Boston during this time; in fact, the number of square feet of land taxed decreased from eight hundred and ninety-six million in 1876 to eight hundred and fifteen million in 1912. This decrease was due to the taking of land for streets and other public purposes. It is interesting to note in this connection that between 1896 and 1911 two of the twenty-five wards in Boston show a decrease in land value; one shows an increase of one hundred dollars; one shows an increase of twelve thousand dollars; while twenty show increases varying from one million to twenty millions of dollars.[15]

The value of all land in Boston between 1887 and 1911 has increased steadily.[16] There is no year during the period that shows a decrease. In 1887, the land valuation was 322 millions. For the next two decades it was:

1890 $365,548,000 1905 $618,642,000
1895 443,695,000 1910 672,100,000
1900 532,934,000 1911 685,484,000
 

Twenty-four years show a total increase of slightly more than 100 per cent.

The land values of Boston are therefore increasing at less than half the rate of those of New York. During the years for which comparison may be made (1906-1911) the land values of New York rose 38 per cent., while those of Boston rose less than 8 per cent.

Two other cities in the East make separate assessments of land and improvements. The increase for these cities is:

Trenton, N. J.[17] Newark, N. J.[18]
 
1906 $21,866,000 1907 $122,904,000
1907 21,707,000 1908 121,465,000
1908 21,735,000 1909 125,515,000
1909 21,866,000 1910 129,469,000
1910 22,140,000 1911 134,764,000
1911 23,530,000 1912 141,059,000
1912 23,561,000

Although the period covered in both cases is short, the rate of increase is very similar to that of Boston for a similar period. The seven years in Trenton show an increase of slightly less than one tenth and in Newark of one seventh.

The records of some western cities furnish a striking contrast in this ratio of land value increase. Milwaukee in the Middle West assessed land in 1890 at $52,386,000. For succeeding years the assessment was:[19]

1895 $74,229,000 1905 $85,961,000
1900 75,816,000 1910 99,502,000

For 1911 and 1912, the basis of assessment was increased from 60 per cent, to 100 per cent. The 1912 valuation was $193,799,000. The rate of increase for Milwaukee is somewhat greater than for Boston, though not so great as for New York. (Between 1891 and 1912, the area of Milwaukee was increased from 21 to 24 square miles.)

The three far western cities for which separate land assessments were secured[20] (Dallas and Houston, Texas, and Seattle) report far more rapid rates of increase.

City of Dallas[21] City of Houston[22] Seattle[23]
1907 $16,477,000 1904 $19,787,000 1905 $ 70,038,000
1908 21,300,000 1905 20,588,000 1906 125,735,000
1909 21,356,000 1906 23,682,000 1907 155,751,000
1910 38,530,000 1907 30,353,000 1908 178,427,000
1911 44,468,000 1908 30,486,000 1909 184,737,000
1912 44,605,000 1909 36,533,000 1910 205,309,000
1910 36,627,000 1911 212,014,000
1911 46,916,000 1912 212,929,000
1912 61,389,000
 

There has been no considerable increase in the acreage of Dallas or Houston during the period under consideration. The acreage of Seattle, however, has increased from 29 to 60 thousand acres, between 1905 and 1912. The table is therefore worthless for comparison.

Many Canadian cities make separate assessments of land and improvements. Though they are outside the strictest limits of the discussion, they are probably typical of the rapidly growing towns in the western states. It is at least worth noting that the land values in Vancouver more than trebled between 1895 and 1909, that the increase in Victoria is approximately the same, while in the newer cities like Winnipeg the increase in valuation is even more rapid.

City land values are increasing—slowly in the east, more rapidly in the west. Each decade sees from twenty per cent, to one or two hundred per cent, added to the value. Still the rate of increase does not compare with that for forest or agricultural lands.

The increase in the land values throughout the entire United States has been immense during recent years. Particularly since 1896, timber and farm land values have advanced rapidly in price. City land values, though less rapidly, have risen none the less surely. What the future may hold in store for a nation whose timber lands treble, and whose farm lands double, in value during a single decade, the student of statistics may not venture to prophesy. The matter is at least worthy of serious consideration.

  1. Report of the Wisconsin Tax Commission, 1910, Madison, Wis., 1911, p. 16.
  2. "The Lumber Industry, Part I., Standing Timber," Washington, Government Printing Office, 1913.
  3. Ibid., p. 25.
  4. Ibid., p. 214.
  5. Ibid., p. 214.
  6. Ibid., p. 215.
  7. All of the figures in this section are taken from the abstract of the 1910 census.
  8. In 1910 the total value of the farm land alone was 28 billion dollars; of the farm buildings the value was 6 billions, or about a sixth of the total value of farms and buildings combined. The proportion was approximately the same in 1900—land value, 13 billions; buildings, 31/2 billions.
  9. A personal letter, December 23, 1912, from E. W. Doty.
  10. "A personal letter, December 24, 1912.
  11. Report of the New York City Commission on Congestion of Population, February 28, 1911. New York, Lecouver Press Company, pp. 56-57.
  12. "Building of Rapid Transit Lines in New York City." A memorandum addressed to the Board of Estimate and Appropriation by the City Club of New York, October 2, 1908.
  13. C. B. Fillebrown, "The A-B-C of Taxation," New York, Doubleday, Page and Company, 1912, p. 56.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Annual Report of the Assessing Department for the Year 1911, City of Boston Printing Department, 1912, p. 46.
  16. Supra, p. 16.
  17. Letter from Commissioners of Assessment of Taxes, December 18, 1912.
  18. Letter from the Board of Assessment and Revision of Taxes, December 27, 1912.
  19. Letter from the Deputy Tax Commissioner, December 31, 1912.
  20. The facts for San Francisco are likewise available, but are rendered very inconclusive because of the fire. The land assessments then were:
    1905-06 $304,135,000 1910-11 $288,095,000
    1906-07 237,038,000 1912-13 301,196,000
    1908-09 258,652,000

    (Annual Financial Statement of San Francisco, 1911-12, p. 156.)

  21. Letter from the Commissioner of Finance and Revenue, April 8, 1913.
  22. Letter from the chairman of the Board of Appraisement, December 20, 1912.
  23. Letter from the County Treasurer, April 1, 1913.