Garden Cities of To-morrow, by Ebenezer Howard

Chapter Ten

A Unique Combination of Proposals

‘Human beings, in their present condition, may be likened to bees in the act of swarming, as we see them clinging in a mass to a single bough. Their position is a temporary one, and must inevitably be changed. They must rise and find themselves a new abode. Every bee knows this, and is eager to shift its own position, as well as that of the others, but not one of them will do so until the whole swarm rises. The swarm cannot rise, because one bee clings to the other and prevents it from separating itself from the swarm, and so they all continue to hang. It might seem as if there were no deliverance from this position, precisely as it seems to men of the world who have become entangled in the social net. Indeed, there would be no outlet for the bees if each one were not a living creature possessed of a pair of wings. Neither would there be any issue for men if each one were not a living individual being, gifted with a capacity for assimilating the Christian life-conception. If among these bees who are able to fly not one could be found willing to start, the swarm would never change its position. And it is the same among men. If the man who has assimilated the Christian life-conception waits for others before he proceeds to live in accordance with it, mankind will never change its attitude. And as all that is needed to change a solid mass of bees into a flying swarm is for one bee to spread its wings and fly away, when the second, the third, the tenth and the hundredth will follow suit; so all that is needed to break through the magic circle of social life, deliverance from which seems so hopeless, is that one man should view life from a Christian standpoint and begin to frame his own life accordingly, whereupon others will follow in his footsteps.’ — LEO TOLSTOY, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1893).

In the last chapter, I pointed out the great differences of principle between the project placed before the reader of this work and some of those schemes of social reform which, having been put to the test of experience, have ended in disaster, and I urged that there were features of the proposed experiment which so completely distinguished it from those unsuccessful schemes that they could not be fairly regarded as any indication of the results which would probably follow from launching this experiment.

It is my present purpose to show that though the scheme taken as a whole is a new one, and is, perhaps, entitled to some consideration on that account, its chief claim upon the attention of the public lies in the fact that it combines the important features of several schemes which have been advocated at various times, and so combines them as to secure the best results of each, without the dangers and difficulties which sometimes, even in the minds of their authors, were clearly and distinctly seen.

Shortly stated, my scheme is a combination of three distinct projects which have, I think, never been united before. These are: (1) The proposals for an organized migratory movement of population of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and of Professor Alfred Marshall; (2) the system of land tenure first proposed by Thos. Spence and afterwards (though with an important modification) by Mr. Herbert Spencer; and (3) the model city of James Silk Buckingham. 1

Let us take these proposals in the order named. Wakefield, in his Art of Colonization (J. W. Parker, London, 1849), urged that colonies when formed — he was not thinking of home colonies — should be based on scientific principles. He said (p. 109): ‘We send out colonies of the limbs, without the belly and the head, of needy persons, many of them mere paupers, or even criminals; colonies made up of a single class of persons in the community, and that the most helpless and the most unfit to perpetuate our national character, and to become the fathers of a race whose habits of thinking and feeling shall correspond to those which, in the meantime, we are cherishing at home. The ancients, on the contrary, sent out a representation of the parent State — colonists from all ranks. We stock the farm with creeping and climbing plants, without any trees of firmer growth for them to entwine round. A hop-ground without poles, the plants matted confusedly together, and scrambling on the ground in tangled heaps, with here and there some clinging to rank thistles and hemlock, would be an apt emblem of a modern colony. The ancients began by nominating to the honourable office of captain or leader of the colony one of the chief men, if not the chief man of the State, like the queen bee leading the workers. Monarchies provided a prince of the royal blood; an aristocracy its choicest nobleman; a democracy its most influential citizen. These naturally carried along with them some of their own station in life — their companions and friends; some of their immediate dependants also — of those between themselves and the lowest class; and were encouraged in various ways to do so. The lowest class again followed with alacrity, because they found themselves moving with and not away from the state of society in which they had been living. It was the same social and political union under which they had been born and bred; and to prevent any contrary impression being made, the utmost solemnity was observed in transferring the rites of pagan superstition. They carried with them their gods, their festivals, their games — all, in short, that held together and kept entire the fabric of society as it existed in the parent state. Nothing was left behind that could be moved of all that the heart or eye of an exile misses. The new colony was made to appear as if time or chance had reduced the whole community to smaller dimensions, leaving it still essentially the same home and country to its surviving members. It consisted of a general contribution of members from all classes, and so became, on its first settlement, a mature state, with all the component parts of that which sent it forth. It was a transfer of population, therefore, which gave rise to no sense of degradation, as if the colonist were thrust out from a higher to a lower description of community.’

J. S. Mill, in his Elements of Political Economy, Book I, chap. VIII, sec. 3, says of this work: ‘Wakefield’s theory of colonization has excited much attention, and is doubtless destined to excite much more. . . . His system consists of arrangements for securing that each colony shall have from the first a town population bearing due proportion to the agricultural, and that the cultivators of the soil shall not be so widely scattered as to be deprived by distance of the benefit of that town population as a market for their produce.’

Professor Marshall’s proposals for an organized migratory movement of population from London have been already noticed, 2 but the following passage from the article already referred to may be quoted:

‘There might be great variety of method, but the general plan would probably be for a committee, whether formed specially for the purpose or not, to interest themselves in the formation of a colony in some place well beyond the range of London smoke. After seeing their way to building or buying suitable cottages there, they would enter into communication with some of the employers of low-waged labour. They would select, at first, industries that used very little fixed capital; and, as we have seen, it fortunately happens that most of the industries which it is important to move are of this kind. They would find an employer — and there must be many such — who really cares for the misery of his employees. Acting with him and by his advice, they would make themselves the friends of people employed or fit to be employed in his trade; they would show them the advantages of moving, and help them to move, both with counsel and money. They would organize the sending of work backwards and forwards, the employer perhaps opening an agency in the colony. But after being once started it ought to be self-supporting, for the cost of carriage, even if the employees went in sometimes to get instructions, would be less than the saving made in rent — at all events, if allowance be made for the value of the garden produce. And more than as much gain would probably be saved by removing the temptation to drink which is caused by the sadness of London. They would meet with much passive resistance at first. The unknown has terrors to all, but especially to those who have lost their natural spring. Those who have lived always in the obscurity of a London court might shrink away from the free light; poor as are their acquaintanceships at home, they might fear to go where they knew no one. But, with gentle insistence, the committee would urge their way, trying to get those who knew one another to move together, by warm, patient sympathy, taking off the chill of the first change. It is only the first step that costs; every succeeding step would be easier. The work of several firms, not always in the same business, might, in some cases, be sent together. Gradually a prosperous industrial district would grow up, and then, mere self-interest would induce employers to bring down their main workshops, and even to start factories in the colony. Ultimately all would gain, but most the landowners and the railroads connected with the colony.’ 3

What could more strongly point than the last sentence of that quotation from Professor Marshall’s proposal to the necessity of first buying the land, so that the most admirable project of Thomas Spence can be put into practice, and thus prevent the terrible rise in rent which Professor Marshall foresees? Spence’s proposal, put forward more than a hundred years ago, at once suggests how to secure the desired end. Here it is:

‘Then you may behold the rent which the people have paid into the parish treasuries employed by each parish in paying the Government its share of the sum which the Parliament or National Congress at any time grants; in maintaining and relieving its own poor and people out of work; in paying the necessary officers their salaries; in building, repairing, and adorning its houses, bridges, and other structures; in making and maintaining convenient and delightful streets, highways, and passages, both for foot and carriages; in making and maintaining canals and other conveniences for trade and navigation; in planting and taking in waste grounds; in premiums for the encouragement of agriculture or anything else thought worthy of encouragement; and, in a word, in doing whatever the people think proper, and not, as formerly, to support and spread luxury, pride, and all manner of vice. . . . There are no tolls or taxes of any kind paid among them by native or foreigner but the aforesaid rent, which every person pays to the parish, according to the quantity, quality, and conveniences of the land . . . he occupies in it. The government, poor, roads, etc. . . . are all maintained with the rent, on which account all wares, manufactures, allowable trade employments or actions are entirely duty free.’ (From a lecture read at the Philosophical Society in Newcastle, on 8th November 1775, for printing which the Society did the author the honour to expel him.)

It will be observed that the only difference between this proposal and the proposals as to land reform put forward in this book, is not a difference of system, but a difference (and a very important one) as to the method of its inauguration. Spence appears to have thought that the people would, by a fiat, dispossess the existing owners and establish the system at once and universally throughout the country; while, in this work, it is proposed to purchase the necessary land with which to establish the system on a small scale, and to trust to the inherent advantages of the system leading to its gradual adoption.

Writing some seventy years after Spence had put forward his proposal, Mr. Herbert Spencer (having first laid down the grand principle that all men are equally entitled to the use of the earth, as a corollary of the law of equal liberty generally), in discussing this subject, observes, with his usual force and clearness:

‘But to what does this doctrine that men are equally entitled to the use of the earth, lead? Must we return to the times of un-enclosed wilds, and subsist on roots, berries, and game? Or are we to be left to the management of Messrs. Fourier, Owen, Louis Blanc & Co.? Neither. Such a doctrine is consistent with the highest civilization, may be carried out without involving a community of goods, and need cause no very serious revolution in existing arrangements. The change required would be simply a change of landlords. Separate ownership would merge in the joint-stock ownership of the public. Instead of being in the possession of individuals, the country would be held by the great corporate body — society. Instead of leasing his acres from an isolated proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the nation. Instead of paying his rent to the agent of Sir John and His Grace, he would pay it to an agent or deputy agent of the community. Stewards would be public officials instead of private ones, and tenancy the only land tenure. A state of things so ordered would be in perfect harmony with the moral law. Under it all men would be equally landlords; all men would be alike free to become tenants. A., B., C. and the rest might compete for a vacant farm as now, and one of them might take that farm without in any way violating the principles of pure equity. All would be equally free to bid; all would be equally free to refrain. And when the farm had been let to A., B., or C., all parties would have done that which they willed, the one in choosing to pay a given sum to his fellow men for the use of certain lands — the others in refusing to pay the sum. Clearly, therefore, on such a system the earth might be enclosed, occupied, and cultivated in entire subordination to the law of equal freedom.’ (Social Statics, Chap. IX, sec. 8.)

But having thus written, Mr. Herbert Spencer at a later period, having discovered two grave difficulties in the way of his own proposal, unreservedly withdrew it. The first of these difficulties was the evils which he considered as inseparable from State ownership (see Justice, published in 1891, Appendix B, p. 290); the second, the impossibility, as Mr. Spencer regarded it, of acquiring the land on terms which would be at once equitable to existing owners and remunerative to the community.

But if the reader examines the scheme of Spence, which preceded the now-withdrawn proposals of Mr. Herbert Spencer, he will see that Spence’s scheme was entirely freed (as is the one put forward in this little book), from the objections which might probably attend control by the State. 4 The rents were, under Spence’s proposals, as in my own, not to be levied by a Central Government far removed from contact with the people, but by the very parish (in my scheme the municipality) in which the people reside. As to the other difficulty which presented itself to Mr. Herbert Spencer’s mind — that of acquiring the land on equitable terms, and of yet making it remunerative to the purchasers — a difficulty which Mr. Herbert Spencer, seeing no way out of, rashly concluded to be insuperable — that difficulty is entirely removed by my proposal of buying agricultural or sparsely settled land, letting it in the manner advocated by Spence, and then bringing about the scientific migratory movement advocated by Wakefield and (though in a somewhat less daring fashion) by Professor Marshall.

Surely a project, which thus brings what Mr. Herbert Spencer still terms ‘the dictum of absolute ethics’ — that all men are equally entitled to the use of the earth — into the field of practical life, and makes it a thing immediately realizable by those who believe in it, must be one of the greatest public importance. When a great philosopher in effect says, we cannot conform our life to the highest moral principles because men have laid an immoral foundation for us in the past, but ‘if, while possessing those ethical sentiments which social discipline has now produced, men stood in possession of a territory not yet individually portioned out, they would no more hesitate to assert equality of their claims to the land than they would hesitate to assert equality of their claims to light and air’ 5 — one cannot help wishing — so inharmonious does life seem — that the opportunity presented itself of migrating to a new planet where the ‘ethical sentiments which social discipline has now produced’ might be indulged in. But a new planet, or even ‘a territory not yet individually portioned out’, is by no means necessary if we are but in real earnest; for it has been shown that an organized, migratory movement from over-developed, high-priced land to comparatively raw and unoccupied land, will enable all who desire it to live this life of equal freedom and opportunity; and a sense of the possibility of a life on earth at once orderly and free dawns upon the heart and mind.

The third proposal which I have combined with those of Spence and Mr. Herbert Spencer, of Wakefield and Professor Marshall, embraces one essential feature of a scheme of James S. Buckingham, 6 though I have purposely omitted some of the essential features of that scheme. Mr. Buckingham says (p. 25): ‘My thoughts were thus directed to the great defects of all existing towns, and the desirability of forming at least one model town which should avoid the most prominent of these defects, and substitute advantages not yet possessed by any.’ In his work he exhibits a ground plan and a sketch of a town of about 1,000 acres, containing a population of 25,000, and surrounded by a large agricultural estate. Buckingham, like Wakefield, saw the great advantages to be derived by combining an agricultural community with an industrial, and urged: ‘Wherever practicable, the labours of agriculture and manufacture to be so mingled and the variety of fabrics and materials to be wrought upon also so assorted as to make short periods of labour on each alternately with others produce that satisfaction and freedom from tedium and weariness which an unbroken round of monotonous occupation so frequently occasions, and because also variety of employment develops the mental as well as physical faculties much more perfectly than any single occupation.’

But though on these points the scheme is strikingly like my own, it is also a very different one. Buckingham having traced, as he thought, the evils of society to their source in competition, intemperance, and war, proposed to annihilate competition by forming a system of complete or integral co-operation; to remove intemperance by the total exclusion of intoxicants; to put an end to war by the absolute prohibition of gunpowder. He proposed to form a large company, with a capital of £4,000,000; to buy a large estate, and to erect churches, schools, factories, warehouses, dining-halls, dwelling-houses, at rents varying from £30 a year to £300 a year; and to carry on all productive operations, whether agricultural or industrial, as one large undertaking covering the whole field and permitting no rivals.

Now it will be seen that though in outward form Buckingham’s scheme and my own present the same feature of a model town set in a large agricultural estate, so that industrial and farming pursuits might be carried on in a healthy, natural way, yet the inner life of the two communities would be entirely different — the inhabitants of Garden City enjoying the fullest rights of free association, and exhibiting the most varied forms of individual and co-operative work and endeavour, the members of Buckingham’s city being held together by the bonds of a rigid cast-iron organization, from which there could be no escape but by leaving the association, or breaking it up into various sections.

To sum up this chapter. My proposal is that there should be an earnest attempt made to organize a migratory movement of population from our overcrowded centres to sparsely settled rural districts; that the mind of the public should not be confused, or the efforts of organizers wasted in a premature attempt to accomplish this work on a national scale, but that great thought and attention shall be first concentrated on a single movement yet one sufficiently large to be at once attractive and resourceful; that the migrants shall be guaranteed (by the making of suitable arrangements before the movement commences) that the whole increase in land values due to their migration shall be secured to them; that this be done by creating an organization, which, while permitting its members to do those things which are good in their own eyes (provided they infringe not the rights of others) shall receive all ‘rate-rents’ and expend them in those public works which the migratory movement renders necessary or expedient — thus eliminating rates, or, at least, greatly reducing the necessity for any compulsory levy; and that the golden opportunity afforded by the fact that the land to be settled upon has but few buildings or works upon it, shall be availed of in the fullest manner, by so laying out a Garden City that, as it grows, the free gifts of Nature — fresh air, sunlight, breathing room and playing room — shall be still retained in all needed abundance, and by so employing the resources of modern science that Art may supplement Nature, and life may become an abiding joy and delight. And it is important to notice that this proposal, so imperfectly put forward, is no scheme hatched in a restless night in the fevered brain of an enthusiast, but is one having its origin in the thoughtful study of many minds, and the patient effort of many earnest souls, each bringing some element of value, till, the time and the opportunity having come, the smallest skill avails to weld those elements into an effective combination.

1 I may, perhaps, state as showing how in the search for truth men’s minds run in the same channels, and as, possibly, some additional argument for the soundness of the proposals thus combined, that, till I had got far on with my project, I had not seen either the proposals of Professor Marshall or of Wakefield (beyond a very short reference to the latter in J. S. Mill’s Elements of Political Economy), nor had I seen the work of Buckingham, which, published nearly fifty years ago, seems to have attracted but little attention.

2 Chapter III.

3 The project of one large London manufacturer transferring his works from the east end of London to the country is the chief theme of a story entitled Nineteen Hundred?, by Marianne Farningham (London, 1892).

4 Though Mr. Herbert Spencer, as if to rebuke his own theory that State control is inherently bad, says, ‘Political speculation which sets out with the assumption that the State has in all cases the same nature must end in profoundly erroneous conclusions.’

5 Justice, Chap. xi, p. 85.

6 Buckingham’s scheme is set forth in a work entitled National Evils and Practical Remedies, published by Peter Jackson, St. Martins le Grand, about 1849.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:42