Cities and Towns
CITIES AND TOWNScoketown
society and class
municipal government and social reform
the reorganization of urban space
the housing question
the promise and danger of city life
During the nineteenth century Europe became a more urban civilization than the world had ever seen. London, Paris, and Berlin grew to be (along with New York) the most populous cities in human history, and as many smaller towns expanded even more rapidly, Europe's urban population increased sixfold in the course of the century. Britain's 1851 census revealed it to be a country with a majority of town-dwellers. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany crossed the same threshold half a century later, most other countries later still, so Europe still had a rural majority in 1914, but it was generally acknowledged that, for better or worse, the future belonged to the cities.
The accuracy of these numbers depends, of course, on the definition of a town. (Rarely does anyone make a firm distinction between larger "cities" and smaller "towns.") Often a minimum population size of two thousand has defined a town; sometimes the population must be five thousand or more. Towns near the bottom end of this category might have remained sleepy places, having little in common with faraway Moscow or Madrid, but most qualified as towns because they were not rural: that is, most residents did not depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In 1789 only a handful of capitals and ports could claim to be truly bustling and cosmopolitan. By 1914 the major cities had become many times as large and some of the smaller ones had been utterly transformed into factory towns as populous as the largest cities had been a century before. In 1800 Europe's twenty-one cities with populations exceeding one hundred thousand were home to less than 3 percent of the Continent's population. A century later, there were 147 such cities, and one European in ten lived in them.
Towns and cities also had to be delineated geographically. The administrative border that divided town from country was usually clearly drawn, and in 1789 it was often clearly visible as well. Many towns were still surrounded by walls and, in some cases, forts and free-fire zones that left a clear gap between the town and any suburbs. These walls were often centuries old and militarily obsolete, and most were demolished in the course of the nineteenth century, but the legal limits of many towns remained marked by gates where travelers and their merchandise were inspected, excise taxes were collected, and soldiers might be posted.
Meanwhile, beyond the city limits, suburbs grew haphazardly. Sometimes they were under the town's jurisdiction, sometimes not, but rarely did they display any of the visible order characteristic of the grandest central districts. Some suburbs developed as comfortable enclaves of well-to-do urban merchants, especially in England, but most suburbanites were poor, often recent migrants from the country who could not afford town dwellings or who practiced trades that were physically repulsive (such as tanning) or legally dubious.
It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage. It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed them selves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of buildings full of windows where there was a rattling and a trem bling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.
Source: Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854).
As cities grew, physical and psychological lines between town and country faded. Urban housing and trades spilled over into the adjoining countryside, and cities annexed parts of it. Meanwhile, migrants from the countryside diluted local identities. In the overwhelmingly rural society of premodern times, town dwellers and their typical occupations—artisans and merchants—had been alien presences in a world of lords and peasants, and they were bound by different laws. Where, as most clearly in Germany before the Napoleonic reorganization, many towns remained largely independent of central state authority, their citizens cultivated a distinct urban identity to accompany their legal status. Even a poor backwater of a thousand souls stood proudly apart from the countryside, with its market streets lined with tall houses, its trades and guilds, and its charter as a free city. Although trade linked town and country, towns might have been said to dominate the countryside in only a few of the most urbanized corners of Europe, such as northern Italy, where city-states had long ruled their hinterlands, and the Netherlands. Legal distinctions between town and country remained important as long as peasants remained in serfdom, as was the case well into the nineteenth century in much of eastern Europe. As the territorial reorganization of central Europe in the decades after 1789 swept away most of these legal distinctions, however, urban identities gradually became subordinated to national ones. Local elites nevertheless cultivated civic pride as a means to unite their communities and to protect their authority.
A rough classification might identify four kinds of towns: administrative centers, especially capitals; merchant and port cities; mining and factory towns; and tourist and leisure towns at spas and seaside or mountain resorts. To a greater or lesser extent, however, all towns were a mixture of types. Most administrative centers developed large commercial sectors; and many merchant towns, in turn, became major industrial centers as well. Some old towns, bypassed by rail lines or dependent on obsolete industries, stagnated, but most grew. Although few of the burgeoning cities were completely new, some had begun the century as tiny market towns or even villages. This was most typical of mining towns or those that developed around a single booming industry. Multi-centered urban regions were most likely to develop where mining areas industrialized. Examples included Lancashire and Yorkshire in England, early in the century, followed by Belgium and, later, Upper Silesia and especially the Ruhr region of Germany.
Elsewhere, workshops and factories clustered in the older cities, which usually remained the economic centers for their hinterlands. Although many early factories were built outside of towns, to be near waterpower or coal mines or to be away from guild regulations, urban growth became increasingly inseparable from industry. Factory villages grew into cities, and later in the century factories usually sought out urban locations, where transportation and skilled workers were to be found. Even where factories were not the main source of urban growth, industry fueled it indirectly, as the expansion of trade transformed ports and merchant towns. Cities in less industrialized regions of southern Europe grew more slowly. Notable examples were Constantinople and Naples, two of Europe's four largest cities in 1800, but no longer among the top ten a century later.
Aristocrats played a prominent role in the social and political affairs of some cities, but control typically lay in the hands of a middle-class elite of merchants, bankers, industrialists, and professionals—a group of families, often well acquainted with (if not necessarily well-disposed toward) one another, who saw themselves as responsible for the town's reputation and well-being. These families' wealth ranged from great to modest, but in their villas or flats, which were well staffed with servants, they lived very differently from the poor majority. Men from these families usually took charge of urban affairs, either formally, through local government, or informally, through professional and civic organizations. Social events held at home, as well as many social service organizations, became the responsibility of their wives and sisters.
Even as the economic activities of merchant and industrialist families were reshaping the cities, so, too, were their efforts to bring order to urban space and to spread the moral and cultural principles they cherished. Their presence and their money helped create many urban institutions. For many middle-class men and women, high culture offered far more than pleasure: they saw it as an essential source of moral as well as aesthetic refinement for themselves and their children. They also held out hope that it might improve the degraded lives of the urban poor. They founded museums, theaters, and opera houses in every city, and these became prominent architectural monuments as well as favorite places for socializing. Composers, conductors, and museum and theater directors ranked among the leading citizens, mixing with professors, bankers, merchants, factory owners, physicians, clergymen, and government officials.
Neither aristocratic houses nor rude taverns and inns suited the middle-class elite, so its members patronized new urban institutions such as grand hotels and restaurants as well as their own private clubs. Their wealth also enabled the middle class to purchase goods that most people had to make for themselves or do without. In the most prestigious districts, new shops transformed the streetscape. Elegant shopping later moved indoors to more exclusive spaces, first in enclosed arcades built through the center of city blocks, then in the splendid new department stores that opened after midcentury, first in Paris and then in many other cities. This shift was partly intended to entice well-to-do female shoppers who might wish (or be expected) not to linger on the streets unaccompanied.
The allure of elegant shopping and entertainment districts persisted into the night, which was transformed by the gas street lamps installed in
|Most populous European cities|
|1800||Population (in thousands)|
|sources: Bairoch, "Une nouvelle distribution des populations: villes et campagnes," in Jean-Pierre Bardet and Jacques Dupaquier, eds., Histoire des populations de l'Europe (Paris, 1998), vol. 2, p. 227; Tertius Chandler, Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census, 2nd ed. (Lewiston, N.Y., 1987), p. 540.|
many cities by the 1820s, and even more by the brighter electric lights that came into use at the century' send. Nighttime in the city became a very different experience from night in the country, and the night no longer seemed as lawless as before. Even if night in the brightly lit city centers ceased to hold some of its terrors, however, the rapidly expanding cities frightened many thoughtful Europeans. Many rural aristocrats disdained the urban world of moneygrubbing merchants, but the objects of their scorn often shared their fears about the uprooting of the masses from the old rural order. Even a liberal such as the German social reformer Friedrich Naumann (1860–1919) warned that a new kind of darkness threatened to engulf all civilization in the modern "seas of houses, floods of stone, anthills of millions, where people perch next to one another and atop one another like birds in cages, … where the individual is nothing, a forlorn grain of sand, chaff in the wind, where below a resplendent upper class there lies a dense, dark human mass that is always pushed and pulled about" (quoted in Ladd, p. 243).
It was true that in nearly every city a poor majority far outnumbered a wealthy minority. However, it is important to remember that such impassioned descriptions of the faceless urban masses come from outsiders who saw the urban crowd as nothing but a teeming horde of uncultured and alienated paupers. More careful investigation of the urban masses reveals a society that was diverse and often well ordered, if rapidly changing, with as many minute social gradations as the well-to-do knew in their own social circles.
Artisans and small shopkeepers formed the core of the preindustrial urban population, and they remained important in the economy and society of industrial towns. Artisans' places in town economies and, often, government were still protected by guild regulations in much of central and eastern Europe in the early part of the nineteenth century. These regulations, which had been largely abolished in France and Britain before 1800, controlled prices, the quality of goods, training, and entry into a trade, and offered a social safety net to widows, orphans, and the disabled, but they could not guarantee the well-being of weavers or cobblers or bakers in a rapidly changing European economy. During the course of the century, some trades lost out in competition with cheap factory goods, while others thrived. In the face of change, many trades maintained their commercial and fraternal organizations and their traditional neighborhoods, and they continued to play visible roles in town affairs. Sooner or later, however, the guild organization of urban working classes was overwhelmed—by free-trade laws, by the growth of factories, and by poor immigrants, some with usable skills, most without. Many of the immigrants found work in new factories, while others remained dependent on casual labor. Factory towns became home to a burgeoning proletariat, in Karl Marx's sense: a large body of wage laborers who did not own tools or machines.
Much of the urban population growth was due to the natural increase that came with falling death rates, but a great deal was fueled by migration. Most migrants were young, single adults from the surrounding countryside. They usually came in search of work, and they found a whole new world. No doubt many city dwellers prized their newfound freedom, while others despaired of it, but the extent of urban anomie has been exaggerated. Most migrants formed new social networks or re-formed old ones in the cities, often moving into neighborhoods filled with others from their home regions. Most rejoined or formed nuclear families, if they stayed in the city. Many kept their rural ties, returning seasonally or perhaps permanently. In fact, statistics on net migration into the cities, impressive as they are, understate the degree of mobility, since they do not include the many migrants who returned to the country, temporarily or permanently, or the many others who moved within and between cities.
Loyalty to a home region, sometimes reinforced by a distinctive spoken dialect, was one allegiance that helped workers find their place in the city. Religion was another source of identity that set groups apart in some places. Some towns had long been religiously diverse; more became so with immigration. Ethnic and national identities, usually defined and reinforced by language, and sometimes by religion, also created social barriers within cities. In most west European cities, foreign ethnic groups remained distinct if significant minorities, such as the Italians in Marseille, Poles in the cities of the Ruhr, or the Irish in many English towns. Ethnically diverse cities were more typical of eastern Europe, where the gulf between city and country was often all the greater because most city dwellers spoke a different language than did nearby peasants. Thus there were many predominantly German towns in Czech and Polish regions, Polish- and Yiddish-speaking city dwellers surrounded by Lithuanian or Ukrainian peasants, and, farther south, Italian or Turkish towns in Slavic areas. In these regions immigration had long made most cities ethnically diverse. Constantinople was the most diverse of all, a Muslim capital with a Christian majority for much of the nineteenth century, thanks to migrants from the Ottoman Empire's European and Asian territories as well as from western Europe.
In some places, ethnic, class, and even religious identities were largely coterminous. The most maligned minority, the Jews, present the clearest case of a group concentrated in particular trades and, often, particular parts of town. Urban Jews were a minority defined by their religion and, in the case of most east European Jews, by their Yiddish language as well. Cities were also, however, places to change language or identity. Marriages across religious or ethnic lines were not rare, and social mobility was often aided by linguistic assimilation, as when Ukrainians in Kiev or Yiddish-speaking Odessa Jews learned Russian, or Warsaw Jews began to speak Polish. Immigration and rapid growth changed ethnic balances in many cities. For example, an 1867 census showed the population of Riga to be 24 percent Latvian, 43 percent German, 25 percent Russian, and 5 percent Jewish. Until then, the city had no Latvian upper or middle class, so successful ethnic Latvians assimilated into German society. By 1913 a population that had grown from one hundred thousand to four hundred eighty thousand was 39 percent Latvian and only 16 percent German, with Polish and Lithuanian minorities alongside the Russians and Jews. Although Germans still dominated politics and the economy, there was now a Latvian middle class, which made Riga the intellectual center of Latvian nationalism. Similarly, Prague became a Czech city and Budapest became a Hungarian one, whereas Kiev became a hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism even though the proportion of Ukrainian speakers in the city's population fell relative to Russians, Jews, and Poles. Indeed, ethnic diversity did not prevent cities from becoming the centers of national resistance to Russian or Austrian rule.
For most city dwellers, life was organized around long hours of manual labor in factories, shops, docks, rail yards, or warehouses. Many women, especially, worked in others' homes as servants, or in their own, for example as seamstresses. For nearly everyone, wages were low and employment insecure. The workplace was usually not far from home, with the immediate neighborhood offering all the amenities workers had access to. Numerous dwellings might be interspersed with shops and businesses within the confines of a single alley or court, or even a single building. The writer Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904–1991) later recalled the excitement of his family's move into "a new house with gas lights and toilets" in Warsaw in 1914. Number 12 Krochmalna Street was
like a city. It had three enormous courtyards. The dark entrance always smelled of freshly baked bread, rolls and bagels, caraway seed and smoke. Koppel the baker's yeasty breads were always outside, rising on boards. In No. 12 there were also two Hasidic study houses, the Radzymin and Minsk, as well as a synagogue for those who opposed Hasidism. There was also a stall where cows were kept chained to the wall all year round. In some cellars, fruit had been stored by dealers from Mirowski Place; in others, eggs were preserved in lime. Wagons arrived there from the provinces. No. 12 swarmed with Torah, prayer, commerce, and toil. (Singer, pp. 226–227)
Many churches and synagogues remained important neighborhood institutions but, especially in the larger cities, they usually did not become the centers of community life that they typically were in the country. Statistics on church attendance bear out the contemporary belief that city dwellers often drifted away from organized religion. More than the church, the corner tavern or café became the typical gathering place for working-class men. The streets and courtyards themselves were the places where children played, women exchanged news, and peddlers and street entertainers made their rounds. Larger entertainment venues—for sporting events, music, stage shows, and later the cinema—drew crowds from farther afield. As literacy became widespread, mass-circulation newspapers emerged as the new media that linked city dwellers in a common discourse of sports, gossip, sensation, and politics.
Control of the streets was nearly always contested. Everywhere in Europe, the wealthier classes regarded the crowded neighborhoods with suspicion and fear. The events of Paris in 1789 and 1830 and of many cities in 1848 were enough to convince the authorities that the seething discontent of the urban crowd was a threat to the established order. However, the authorities often failed to distinguish between the visible disorder represented by transients, petty criminals, beggars, and the homeless on the one hand and the more respectable but potentially better-organized working classes on the other. Crime was indeed a problem in the cities, but statistics suggest that, contrary to popular belief at the time, it was generally no worse in cities than in the country. Threats to the political order were another matter.
The poor, in turn, often mistrusted the police, the most visible representatives of higher authority. They expected that their very poverty—clearly visible in their clothes, perhaps also in their demeanor and poor nutrition—would make them targets of harassment by policemen pursuing the routine vices of the city: gambling, drinking, prostitution, and rowdy entertainment, including traditional festivals. Violence was a normal part of popular culture, whether in the organized collective fist-fights of Russia or the cockfights and dogfights of England, and it often threatened to get out of hand. In the teeming streets, a minor altercation would quickly draw a crowd and could easily turn into a major crisis. Conversely, protests against high rents or food prices might escalate into violence. Mob violence might be directed against representatives of authority, against shops, or against minority groups. Toward 1900 Russian cities saw an upsurge of murderous mob attacks on Jews.
The police were also charged with enforcing whatever regulations restricted political meetings, mass demonstrations, and labor-union activities. Sometimes these assemblies were explicitly illegal, especially in eastern Europe; in other circumstances, general laws on public order and the flow of traffic might be applied against them. Even in times and places where most political activity was legal, such as in Britain and France in the latter part of the nineteenth century, an undercurrent of fear and suspicion accompanied working-class organizational life in all its forms. With the industrialization of the cities, labor unions and other workers' organizations increasingly loomed as the most serious challenge to the economic and political order. Often they were rooted in the social networks of the working-class neighborhoods as well as in the workshops and factories. The earlier workers' organizations, most visible in Paris, grew out of the city's many small shops. The later growth of large labor unions and socialist parties was more characteristic of newly industrialized centers dominated by large factories, notably in German cities and, later, in Russia. By 1900 St. Petersburg embodied social change at its most rapid and disruptive: enormous new factories, massive migration, divided families, grinding poverty, and atrocious housing conditions. Out of this lethal brew arose the radical Russian socialist movement and the 1905 and 1917 Russian revolutions.
The nineteenth century saw the consolidation of national governments at the expense of smaller units, including formerly self-governing towns. At the same time, however, urban elites across Europe sought and gained greater powers of self-government. Urban government reforms created far more elected mayors and city councils by the end of the century than at the beginning. Most were elected by a limited franchise. There was, in fact, less variation across Europe in local than in national voting rights. Whereas Germany had universal suffrage in national elections after 1871, for example, most municipal elections remained limited to property owners or taxpayers; while in Russia, cities acquired a similar, if more restrictive, franchise in 1870 long before there were any national elections at all. Elsewhere the widening of the municipal franchise largely paralleled the expansion of national voting rights.
The extent of local government powers was a matter of endless dispute, with central governments especially keen to maintain control over urban police forces. Fear of the cities was, however, often accompanied by practical efforts to improve conditions in them. Although municipal governments could and often did serve the interests of the wealthy few to the detriment of the disenfranchised majority, they also provided a forum for the middle class to demonstrate its commitment to the civic community. In some countries, notably Germany, cities offered middle-class liberals political authority that they could not attain at the national level. Some social reforms were initiated by national governments, but many municipalities became more active laboratories of social reform in the decades before World War I. Paternalist concern, pressures from the poor majority, and fear of the crowd all contributed to the expansion of municipal government services. A particularly open appeal to taxpayers' self-interest is apparent in a Russian call for municipal action in 1896: "Hundreds of thousands become corrupted by begging, commit crimes, threaten public safety, and ultimately land in prison and cost several times more than the most expensive cases of relief " (quoted in Brower, pp. 137–138).
Poor relief was typically guided by a belief that the middle class could offer moral instruction that would help the destitute improve their lot. This kind of charitable work had once been left to the churches, but increasingly the municipal governments mobilized volunteers, often middle-class women, to administer relief. Sooner or later, the scope of urban woes also galvanized new factions of urban reformist liberals committed to government social programs, even those that required intervention in the workings of the free market. In cities where at least some workers could vote, their representatives—often socialists—supported some of the same reforms. Activist mayors came to power in many cities and the scope of municipal government grew rapidly. The quadrupling of Budapest's municipal budget between 1892 and 1912 was not unusual. Birmingham, England, was a city that acquired a reputation for innovative programs under its mayor in the 1870s, Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), before he moved on to national politics. In the following decades, German cities were widely admired for their civic ethos, professional management, and innovative provision of services.
Among the largest municipal budget items were schools, hospitals, and poor relief. The construction of grand new streets, squares, and public buildings also put a visible stamp on the cities, but public works and sanitation projects more fundamentally altered the way the cities functioned. These included the lighting, paving, and cleaning of streets, trash collection, the construction of municipal slaughterhouses, the creation of parks, and, most important, the construction of sewers and waterworks.
Clean drinking water was a rare commodity in the growing mid-nineteenth-century cities, with piped water available in few places and wells increasingly contaminated. Although some older cities had sewer pipes in 1800, the pipes drained only small parts of town and were quickly over-whelmed by growth. In most cities, for much of the century, human waste was stored in cesspools and disposed of in buckets or in open sewers, often running down streets and into rivers. The stench was inescapable. But it was the fear of disease that brought about change. The most frightening scourge of the century was cholera, unknown in Europe until it arrived in 1830. New epidemics returned every few years throughout the century, each time sweeping through the cities and killing thousands, rich and poor alike. Year after year, however, even more people died from endemic diseases such as typhoid (spread, like cholera, by contaminated water) and tuberculosis. Theories tracing disease to contaminated air, water, and soil were widely accepted even before scientists identified the cholera and tuberculosis bacilli late in the century.
Public-health reformers such as Edwin Chadwick (1800–1890) in England argued that the most urgent projects were the construction of water and sewer systems. Despite the immense cost, most cities built them after midcentury. Clean water was the higher priority, with the sewer system typically coming soon after, since the introduction of abundant piped water encouraged the installation of flush toilets, which over-whelmed the old drainage gutters. (Even the combination of water and sewers often transferred the problem only as far as a nearby river, since little sewage was treated before the twentieth century. One early product of London's new drainage system was the "Great Stink" of 1858, when the dry Thames was overwhelmed by effluent.) Some early water systems supplied unfiltered water, as was apparent in the dirt and occasional small fish that came out of the tap, but filtering soon became the norm, especially after it became clear that filtered water did not spread cholera. The last European cholera epidemics, just before and after 1900, struck only cities with unfiltered water, notably Hamburg, Naples, and Russian towns.
In most places, rapid urban growth first led to increases in death rates. Later the construction of water and sewer systems, along with other public health measures, led to a marked drop in urban disease and mortality rates. Many cities became, statistically speaking, healthier places than the countryside.
City streets were a feast for the senses: the lights and signs; the ceaseless motion and murmuring of the crowd; the shouts of the hawkers and the clatter of horses and wagons; the aromas of food for sale and the less pleasant stench of garbage and sewage. Some people reveled in the cacophony, while others, disturbed by it, sought to bring some order to the cities. The dramatic effects of sanitary reforms might have been apparent to the nose, but not necessarily to the eye. More visible projects included new streets, grand public buildings, and comprehensive plans for urban expansion.
As cities grew and urban land became more valuable, old buildings were replaced with taller ones, new wings filled former courtyards and gardens, and structures encroached on the street when the authorities turned a blind eye. Paris in 1850 was an extreme but hardly unique case of the relentless density of European cities. Few streets were more than fifteen feet wide, and few ran in a straight line or for very far. With more people, commerce, goods, and wagons, streets became all but impassable for much of the day. Only infrequently did cities amass the necessary powers to cut new thoroughfares through the labyrinth. Much admired examples from early in the century were Regent Street in London and Napoleon I's (r. 1804–1814/15) creation of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
At midcentury, the more systematic work of Napoleon III (1808–1873) and his prefect of Paris, Georges-Euge'ne Haussmann (1809–1891), set a model for the rest of France and beyond. It was easy to see the virtues of the wide, straight streets they tore through the old city. By providing space for the circulation of people, vehicles, and fresh air, the new boulevards eased acute problems of traffic and sanitation, opened the city center to redevelopment, and enhanced the authorities' ability to oversee and control the densely populated neighborhoods. However, the cost and disruption caused by these projects made them controversial and hard to imitate elsewhere. Cities that began the century smaller than Paris or London were more likely to bypass the tangled old quarters and lay out new extensions with wide streets. The grandest plans were possible where fortifications were removed. Two influential examples from the 1850s were Vienna and Barcelona, where the freed-up land beyond the old town walls was transformed into showcase districts with grand apartment buildings and boulevards for shopping and entertainment.
In general, East looked to West for urban models. Germans and Austrians often admired Paris (in the eighteenth century they had frequently imitated Versailles); Russians looked to Germany, if not beyond; and Vienna was the model for Balkan towns. Opinion on the Continent was divided about the virtues of England's more sprawling, low-rise urban development, but few considered it a viable model for their own towns.
Even the grandest plans barely kept up with growth. The imposition of order in the city center, as in Paris, often merely pushed the visible disorder to corners of the city that mattered less to civic leaders. A planned royal capital such as St. Petersburg might retain its elegant center, but smoking factory chimneys, visible from almost everywhere in the city, were an inescapable reminder of the capitalist mayhem of more remote districts.
Even as growth brought increased density of buildings and populations, then, it also led to the reorganization and segregation of urban space. In 1789 only a fortunate few could afford taxis or private carriages. Everyone else got around cities on foot, assuring that they would live, work, and play in close proximity to everyone else. Merchants and professionals lived and worked in their townhouses, and even factory owners often built their villas next to their mills. The poor majority lived near at hand, on upper floors or in adjoining courts and alleys.
Factories and railroads were the agents of change, with the placement of rail lines and stations often dictating the direction of later growth. The first stations at midcentury were typically built at a city's edge. New commercial quarters sprang up around them, often drawing banks, offices, hotels, and theaters out of the old town center. Factories lined up along rivers, canals, and rail lines, and they in turn attracted residential construction nearby. The presence of a labor force might then attract even more factories and workshops, since few workers could afford public transit before the end of the nineteenth century.
For most of the century public transport within the cities was limited to horse-drawn buses and streetcars, which were used mainly by the middle class. A dramatic increase in mobility came in the 1890s with the rapid spread of electric streetcars, which could carry far more passengers and do so more quickly and cheaply. They, along with the rapid-rail lines built above and below ground in a few of the largest cities, helped make cities much more bustling places. The increased mobility enabled those who could afford the transport services (at first a small minority) to live farther from work. As a result, purely residential districts could develop, while at the same time the resident population of city centers dropped as homes were displaced by offices and workshops. By the end of the century, the rich and the poor were also less likely to live next to each other, although often they still did. Workers still usually lived near factories, while much of the middle class, able to afford transportation, moved to quiet suburbs or to spacious flats or townhouses in exclusive residential neighborhoods, such as those created by reconstruction projects in Paris and Vienna. Thus areas of both the city center and the urban fringe became increasingly segregated by class and by use. The separation of home from work was most pronounced for the suburbanizing middle class of England, and it most affected women, who were subsequently less likely to be around and involved with shops and other family businesses.
With larger, more segregated cities came the idea of slums, frightening no-go zones where respectable people rarely ventured. These might be found in the tangled lanes of the old town centers after the middle class had moved out, or in newly built tenement districts. The relatively few prosperous visitors to working-class districts recoiled at the filth and misery in which the urban poor were living. In 1843, for example, a magazine article lamented the conditions in the Old Town of Edinburgh, where
the houses are often so close together, that persons may step from the window of one house to that of the house opposite—so high, piled story after story with the view of saving room, that the light can scarcely penetrate to the court beneath. In this part of the town there are neither sewers nor any private conveniences whatever belonging to the dwellings; and hence the excrementitious and other refuse of at least 50,000 persons is, during the night, thrown into the gutters, causing (in spite of the scavengers' daily labors) an amount of solid filth and fetid exhalation disgusting to both sight and smell, as well as exceedingly prejudicial to health. (quoted in Engels, 1958, p. 43)
The writer's conclusion was typical: "Can it be wondered that, in such localities, health, morals, and common decency should be at once neglected?" (p. 43). The living conditions of the urban working classes became a focal point for middle-class reformers worried about disease; about the immorality that they thought was breeding in the dark, damp, crowded conditions; about the violence that seemed endemic to the slums; and about the revolutionary potential of these concentrations of poverty, misery, and vice.
The rapidly growing cities faced chronic housing shortages. Housing construction was a major industry, with construction crews and half-built houses the typical sights at the city's edge. The lifting of many feudal regulations on the sale and ownership of land helped create a speculative housing market. Enterprising builders did a remarkable job of tapping sources of cheap capital, acquiring plots of land and covering them with as many new dwellings as the law permitted. Even as city populations doubled and tripled within a few years, most British and German cities (among others) largely kept up with the demand for housing. Not so in Russia, where self-built shantytowns dominated the urban fringe.
Real-estate developers adapted local architectural traditions and building materials to their own needs and those of renters. In England, the Low Countries, and a few parts of northern France and northwestern Germany, builders continued to produce variations on the attached row house. These usually had only two stories, but when they were packed around narrow alleys and courts, living conditions could be stiflingly dense. In large cities farther south and east, but also in Scotland, five- and six-story apartment buildings became typical. Many middle-class reformers could not conceive of a decent existence in a building with a hundred or more residents, as became typical in major cities from Berlin and Vienna eastward.
Even when they found housing, the poor usually could afford little space for themselves. After spending (typically) half their incomes on food, families pinched pennies on rent, their second-largest household expenditure. An inability to pay the rent was the main reason why families moved very frequently within the cities. Most working-class housing was extraordinarily crowded. A population of several people per room was all too common across Europe; in St. Petersburg, it was the norm. Even when a family had its own one- or two-room apartment, it might take in lodgers, young men who often paid only for use of a bed. Middle-class observers found their presence in the home particularly distressing, fraught as it was with (as they saw it) danger to the sexual purity of women and children.
The sanitary problems endemic to over-crowded apartments were exacerbated by the lack of sunlight reaching many courtyard and alley dwellings. Worst of all, and cheapest, were damp cellar apartments, numerous in many towns. In addition, many residents long had to face the dangers and indignities of courtyard wells and privies. Even where water and sewer connections were in place, few apartments had bathrooms, while toilets were often located outside apartments and shared with other tenants.
At the dawn of the industrial age most building codes put only the most limited restrictions on the size and density of housing, although fire
regulations contributed to brick and local stone largely supplanting wood as an urban construction material, except in Scandinavia and Russia. Late in the century reformers pushed through revised codes requiring better access to light and air, and cellar dwellings were prohibited in some places. Efforts to reduce crowding made little headway, however, in the face of high rents and housing shortages, despite the efforts of many civic activists engaged with the "housing question." A few employers built model housing for their workers, but that was rare in cities. More important were nonprofit housing societies and cooperatives that sprang up to build model tenements. Some reformers proposed government-sponsored housing, but most cities built little or none before World War I.
An industrial boomtown like Manchester in 1840 inspired awe. The hulking factories and warehouses, the smoke and clamor, the crowds of workers streaming in and out—visitors had seen nothing remotely like it. The magnificent cotton exchange and the splendid villas hinted at the extent of the fortunes being made by the families molding this new urban world, while the slums and their inhabitants bore witness to the unequal distribution of the new wealth. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) declared, "Here humanity attains its most complete development and its most brutish. Here civilization works its miracles and civilized man is turned back almost into a savage." "Rightly understood," wrote the novelist and politician Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881), "Manchester is as great a human exploit as Athens." After tramping its back streets, the young German socialist Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) came away with a darker view of a town sharply divided between factory owners and their armies of workers: "Once I walked with one of these middle-class men into Manchester. I spoke to him about the shabby, unhealthy construction and the disgraceful condition of the workers' districts. I declared that I had never seen such a badly built town. He listened patiently and, at the corner of the street at which he left me, he remarked: 'And yet there is a great deal of money made here. Good morning, Sir."' (Engels, 1844, p. 489).
Cities laid bare the dangers of a turbulent and materialistic age. The evils Charles Dickens (1812–1870) displayed in his fictional Coketown only began with its repellent ugliness and filth. The inescapable poverty of the slums seemed all the worse in light of the deadening monotony of life and the dissolution of old social bonds, apparent in the reduction of the relation between master and men to a mere "cash nexus," as well as in the presence of so many beggars, prostitutes, and criminals. (As a percentage of the population, they were probably not much more numerous than in the countryside, but their visibility made them seem so.) Dickens was one of many people who became convinced that something had to be done about the seething urban cauldrons—to transform them or somehow get rid of them—before they exploded in a revolution that would destroy everything modern Europe had achieved.
At the same time cities embodied the hopes of a dynamic new world. Out of the factories, banks, and exchanges poured hitherto unfathomable riches. The heady excitement of urban life and the great achievements of the talents collected in the cities added to the ever growing allure of the great capitals—Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin—but were also ever more apparent in the Manchesters and Düsseldorfs. Sooner or later even these provincial towns could boast stately new buildings, grand boulevards, and elegant crowds utterly unlike anything they had known before. Arguing against the prevailing Romantic ideal of pastoral beauty, which saw the cities as crimes against nature, some commentators insisted on the grandeur of the metropolis. Cities might dissolve old social bonds, but, as pioneer sociologists argued, the resulting freedom gave men and women the chance to build a new society that honored individual achievement. Even fierce critics of capitalist splendor such as Engels and his colleague, Karl Marx (1818–1883), looked to the cities to fulfill their hopes for a successful revolution that would enable everyone to share the bounties of industry, while more moderate reformers continued to believe that industrial Europe had only begun to realize the promise of city life.
See alsoAthens; Barcelona; Berlin; Class and Social Relations; Crime; Disease; Factories; Housing; Industrial Revolution, First; Industrial Revolution, Second; Paris; Professions; Prostitution; Public Health; Race and Racism; St. Petersburg; Vienna.
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"Cities and Towns." Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe 1789-1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cities-and-towns
"Cities and Towns." Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe 1789-1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire. . Retrieved June 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cities-and-towns
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