Garden Cities of To-morrow, by Ebenezer Howard

Chapter Eight

Pro-Municipal Work

There will be found in every progressive community societies and organizations which represent a far higher level of public spirit and enterprise than that possessed or displayed by such communities in their collective capacity. It is probable that the government of a community can never reach a higher tone or work on a higher plane than the average sense of that community demands and enforces; and it will greatly conduce to the well-being of any society if the efforts of its State or municipal organizations are inspired and quickened by those of its members whose ideals of society duty rise higher than the average. 1

And so it may be in Garden City. There will be discovered many opportunities for public service which neither the community as a whole, nor even a majority of its members, will at first recognize the importance of, or see their way to embrace, and which public services it would be useless, therefore, to expect the municipality to undertake; but those who have the welfare of society at heart will, in the free air of the city, be always able to experiment on their own responsibility, and thus quicken the public conscience and enlarge the public understanding.

The whole of the experiment which this book describes is indeed of this character. It represents pioneer work, which will be carried out by those who have not a merely pious opinion, but an effective belief in the economic, sanitary, and social advantages of common ownership of land, and who, therefore, are not satisfied merely to advocate that those advantages should be secured on the largest scale at the national expense, but are impelled to give their views shape and form as soon as they can see their way to join with a sufficient number of kindred spirits. And what the whole experiment is to the nation, so may what we term ‘pro-municipal’ undertakings be to the community of Garden City or to society generally. Just as the larger experiment is designed to lead the nation into a juster and better system of land tenure and a better and more common-sense view of how towns should be built, so are the various pro-municipal undertakings of Garden City devised by those who are prepared to lead the way in enterprises designed to further the well-being of the town, but who have not as yet succeeded in getting their plans or schemes adopted by the Central Council.

Philanthropic and charitable institutions, religious societies, and educational agencies of various kinds occupy a very large part in this group of pro-municipal or pro-national agencies, and these have been already referred to, and their nature and purposes are well known. But institutions which aim at the more strictly material side of well-being, such as banks and building societies, may be found here too. Just as the founders of the Penny Bank paved the way for the Post Office Savings Bank, so may some of those who study carefully the experiment of building up Garden City see how useful a bank might be, which, like the Penny Bank, aims not so much at gain for its founders as at the well-being of the community at large. Such a bank might arrange to pay the whole of its net profits or all its profits over a certain fixed rate, into the municipal exchequer, and give to the authorities of the town the option of taking it over should they be convinced of its utility and its general soundness.

There is another large field for pro-municipal activity in the work of building homes for the people. The municipality would be attempting too much if it essayed this task, at least at the outset. To do so would be perhaps to depart too widely from the path which experience has justified, however much might be said in favour of such a course on the part of a municipal body in command of ample funds. The municipality has, however, done much to make the building of bright and beautiful homes for the people possible. It has effectually provided against any overcrowding within its area, thus solving a problem found insoluble in existing cities, and it offers sites of ample size at an average rate of £6 per annum for ground rent and rates. Having done so much, the municipality will pay heed to the warning of an experienced municipal reformer, whose desire for the extension of municipal enterprise cannot be doubted (Mr. John Burns, M.P., L.C.C.), who has said: ‘A lot of work has been thrown upon the Works Committee of the London County Council by councillors who are so anxious for its success that they would choke it by a burden of work.’

There are, however, other sources to which the workers may look for means to build their own homes. They may form building societies or induce co-operative societies, friendly societies, and trade unions to lend them the necessary money, and to help them to organize the requisite machinery. Granted the existence of the true social spirit, and not its mere letter and name, and that spirit will manifest itself in an infinite variety of ways. There are in this country — who can doubt it? — many individuals and societies who would be ready to raise funds and organize associations for assisting bodies of workmen secure of good wages to build their own homes on favourable terms.

A better security the lenders could scarcely have, especially having regard to the ridiculously small landlord’s rent paid by the borrowers. Certain it is that if the building of the homes for these workmen is left to speculative builders of a strongly pronounced individualistic type, and these reap golden harvests, it will be the fault, amongst others, of those large organizations of working men which now place their capital in banks, whence it is withdrawn by those who with it ‘exploit’ the very men who have placed it there. It is idle for working men to complain of this self-imposed exploitation, and to talk of nationalizing the entire land and capital of this country under an executive of their own class, until they have first been through an apprenticeship at the humbler task of organizing men and women with their own capital in constructive work of a less ambitious character — until they have assisted far more largely than they have yet done in building up capital, not to be wasted in strikes, or employed by capitalists in fighting strikers, but in securing homes and employment for themselves and others on just and honourable terms. The true remedy for capitalist oppression where it exists, is not the strike of no work, but the strike of true work, and against this last blow the oppressor has no weapon. If labour leaders spent half the energy in co-operative organization that they now waste in co-operative disorganization, the end of our present unjust system would be at hand. In Garden City such leaders will have a fair field for the exercise of pro-municipal functions — functions which are exercised for the municipality, though not by it — and the formation of building societies of this type would be of the greatest possible utility.

But would not the amount of capital required for the building of the dwelling-houses of a town of 30,000 be enormous? Some persons with whom I have discussed the question look at the matter thus. So many houses in Garden City at so many hundred of pounds apiece, capital required so much. 2 This is, of course, quite a mistaken way of regarding the problem. Let us test the matter thus. How many houses have been built in London within the last ten years? Shall we say, at the very roughest of guesses 150,000, costing on an average £300 apiece — to say nothing of shops, factories, and warehouses. Well, that is £45,000,000. Was £45,000,000 raised for this purpose? Yes, certainly, or the houses would not have been built. But the money was not raised all at once, and if one could recognize the actual sovereigns that were raised for the building of these 150,000 houses, one would often find the very same coins turning up again and again. So in Garden City. Before it is completed, there will be 5,500 houses at, say, £300 apiece, making £1,650,000. But this capital will not be raised all at once, and here, far more than in London, the very same sovereigns would be employed in building many houses. For observe, money is not lost or consumed when it is spent. It merely changes hands. A workman of Garden City borrows £200 from a pro-municipal building society, and builds a house with it. That house costs him £200, and the 200 sovereigns disappear so far as he is concerned, but they become the property of the brickmakers, builders, carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, etc., who have built his house, whence those sovereigns would find their way into the pockets of the tradesmen and others with whom such workmen deal, and thence would pass into the pro-municipal bank of the town, when presently, those 200 identical sovereigns might be drawn out and employed in building another house. Thus there would be presented the apparent anomaly of two, and then three, and then four or more houses, each costing £200, being built with 200 sovereigns. 3 But there is no real anomaly about it. The coins, of course, did not build the houses in any of the supposed cases. The coins were but the measure of value, and like a pair of scales and weights, may be used over and over again without any perceptible lessening of their worth. What built the houses was really labour, skill, enterprise, working up the free gifts of nature; and though each of the workers might have his reward weighed out to him in coins, the cost of all buildings and works in Garden City must be mainly determined by the skill and energy with which its labours are directed. Still, so long as gold and silver are recognized as the medium of exchange, it will be necessary to use them, and of great importance to use them skilfully — for the skill with which they are used, or their unnecessary use dispensed with, as in a banker’s clearing-house, will have a most important bearing upon the cost of the town, and upon the annual tax levied in the shape of interest on borrowed capital. Skill must be therefore directed to the object of so using coins that they may quickly effect their object of measuring one value, and be set to work to measure another — that they may be turned over as many times as possible in the year, in order that the amount of labour measured by each coin may be as large as possible, and thus the amount represented by interest on the coins borrowed, though paid at the normal or usual rate, shall bear as small a proportion as possible to the amount paid to labour. If this is done effectively, then a saving to the community in respect of interest as great as the more easily demonstrated saving in landlord’s rent may probably be effected.

And now the reader is asked to observe how admirably, and, as it were, automatically, a well-organized migratory movement to land held in common lends itself to the economic use of money, and to the making of one coin serve many purposes. Money, it is often said, is ‘a drug in the market’. Like labour itself, it seems enchanted, and thus one sees millions in gold and silver lying idle in banks facing the very streets where men are wandering workless and penniless. But here, on the site of Garden City, the cry for employment on the part of those willing to work will no more be heard in vain. Only yesterday it may have been so, but to-day the enchanted land is awake, and is loudly calling for its children. 4 There is no difficulty in finding work — profitable work — work that is really urgently, imperatively needed — the building of a home-city, and, as men hasten to build up this and the other towns which must inevitably follow its construction, the migration to the towns — the old, crowded, chaotic slum towns of the past — will be effectually checked, and the current of population set in precisely the opposite direction — to the new towns, bright and fair, wholesome and beautiful.

1 ‘Only a proportion of each in one society can have nerve enough to grasp the banner of a new truth, and endurance enough to bear it along rugged and untrodden ways. . . . To insist on a whole community being made at once to submit to the reign of new practices and new ideas which have just begun to commend themselves to the most advanced speculative intelligence of the time — this, even if it were a possible process, would do much to make life impracticable and to hurry on social dissolution. . . . A new social state can never establish its ideas unless the persons who hold them confess them openly and give them an honest and effective adherence.’ Mr. John Morley, On Compromise, Chap. v.

2 The position was so stated by Mr. Buckingham in National Evils and Practical Remedies, see Chap. X.

3 A similar line of argument to this is very fully elaborated in a most able work entitled The Physiology of Industry, by Mummery and Hobson (Macmillan & Co.).

4 Mr. A. J. Balfour, M.P., on migration into the towns: ‘There could be no doubt that when there was agricultural distress, migration into the towns must increase, but do not let any Member suppose that if agriculture were as prosperous now as it was twenty years ago, or as the dreams of the greatest dreamers of dreams would make it, you could by any possibility stop this immigration from the country. It depends upon causes and natural laws which no laws we can pass can permanently modify. The plain fact is, that in a rural district there is and can be only one investment for capital, and only one employment for labour. When prosperity in agriculture increases, immigration into towns diminishes, no doubt: but however prosperous agriculture may be, a normal point must be reached when no more capital can be applied to the land, and no more labour can be applied, and when you have reached that point it does, of necessity, happen that if marriages occur with the frequency with which they occur at the present time, and if families are as large as they are at the present time, there must be an immigration from the country to the town, from the place where there is only one kind of employment of labour, strictly limited by the natural capacity of the soil, to another place where there is no limit whatever to the employment of labour, except the limit set by the amount of capital seeking investment, and the amount of labour capable of taking advantage of that capital. If that were an abstruse doctrine of political economy, I should be afraid to mention it in this House, where political economy has become a bye-word and reproach. But it is really a plain statement of a natural law which I most earnestly advise every man to take to heart.’ Parliamentary Debates, 12th December 1893.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/howard/ebenezer/garden_cities_of_to-morrow/chapter8.html

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