Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Problem Of The City

( Originally Published 1915 )

PROFESSOR J. S. MCKENZIE says " The growth of large cities constitutes perhaps the greatest of all the problems of modern civilization." While the city is a problem in itself, creating certain biological and psychological conditions which are new to the race, the city is perhaps even more an intensification of all our other social problems, such as crime, vice, poverty, and degeneracy.

The city is in a certain sense a relatively modern problem, due to modern industrial development. While great cities were known in ancient times, the number was so few that the total population affected by city living conditions was comparatively small. Moreover, the populations of ancient cities have often been exaggerated. Probably at the height of its power, the population of Athens did not exceed 100,000; Carthage, 700,000; Rome, 500,000; Alexandria, 500,000; Nineveh and Babylon, i,000,000. All the great cities of the ancient world practically disappeared with the fall of Rome. After Rome's fall, Constantinople was the only large city with over 100,000 population in all Europe for centuries. Down to 1600 A.D., indeed, there were only fourteen cities in all Europe with a population of over 100,000; and even in 1800, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were only twenty two such cities. But at the end of the nineteenth century, in 1900, there were one hundred and thirty-six such cities in Europe, representing twelve per cent of the entire population. Moreover, while in 1800 less than three percent of the total population of Europe lived in cities, in 1900 the total urban population was twenty-five per cent. Again, all of the great European capitals developed their present enormous population almost wholly within the nineteenth century. Thus, the population of London in 1800 was 864,000, while in 1901 it had reached 4,536,000, or in the total area policed, 6,581,000; the population of Paris in 1800 was 547,000, in 1901 it was 2,714,000; the population of Berlin in 1800 was only 172,000, in 1901 it was 1,888,000; the population of Vienna in 1800 was 232,000, in 1901 it was 1,674,000. These figures are cited to show that from four fifths to nine tenths of the growth of the greatest cities of the world has taken place within the nineteenth century.

Dr. Weber in his Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century illustrates the striking difference between the urban development of the nineteenth century and that of the eighteenth century by comparing the population of Australia in 1890 with the population of the United States in 1790. Australia in 1890, out of a population of 3,809,000 had 1,264,000, or 33.2 per cent, living in cities of 10,000 or over; while the United States in 1790, out of a population of 3,929,000 had only 123,000, or 3.14 per cent living in cities. Both countries, it will be noticed, had about the same total population at the two periods and the same area, but Australia in 1890 represented in its population the industrial development of the nineteenth century with its tendency toward urbanization, while the United States in 1790 represented the civilization of the eighteenth century with its predominating rural life.

The Growth of Cities in the United States. A word about census terminology will be helpful before discussing the growth of cities in the United States. According to the United States census, a city is a place with a population of 8000 or over; a small city is a place with a population of 8000 to 25,000; a large city is a place with a population of from 25,000 to 100,000, and a great city is a place with a population above 100,000. These distinctions are necessary in discussing the problems of the city, because the problems of cities change rapidly when the population goes above 100,000. It is mainly the problem of the great city which we shall discuss in this chapter.

In 1800 there were only six cities in the United States with over 8000 population. Philadelphia was the largest of these, with 69,000, and New York second with 60,000. These cities contained a fraction less than four per cent of the population of the United States. In 1900, on the other hand, there were 546 cities in the United States with a population of over 8000. Moreover, over thirty-three per cent of the total population of the United States lived in cities of 8000 and over, while nearly one fifth of the total population lived in the thirty-eight great cities. Between 1890 and 1900 the gain in the urban population of the country was sixty per cent, while the gain in the rural population was only fifteen per cent. During that decade, in other words, the cities grew four times as fast as the country districts in population. Moreover, for that particular decade, the great cities grew faster than the smaller ones, but since 1900 certain state census statistics seem to show that the cities from 25,000 to 100,000 population are growing faster than those above 100,000.

Distribution of the Urban Population of the United States. If the urban population of the United States were distributed relatively uniformly among the several States, perhaps the problem of the city would not be so pressing as it is, but the urban population is largely concentrated in a very few states. Over fifty per cent of the urban population is found in the North Atlantic states alone. The five states of New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Ohio contain also more than half of the urban population of the whole country. If we add to these five states New Jersey and Missouri, then these seven states contain nearly two thirds of the urban population of the United States.

It will be noticed that these states with a large urban population are the great manufacturing states of the Union. The proportion of urban to rural population indeed is a good index to industrial progress. The states with over half their population urban in 1900 were, Rhode Island, 81 per cent; Massachusetts, 76 per cent; New York, 68.5 per cent; New Jersey, 61.2 per cent; Connecticut, 53.2 per cent. States with more than one fourth of their population urban were, Illinois, 47.1 per cent; Maryland, 46.9 per cent; Pennsylvania, 45.5 per cent; California, 43.7 per cent; Delaware, 41.4 per cent; New Hampshire, 38.6 per cent; Ohio, 38.5 per cent; Colorado, 38.1 per cent; Washington, 31.9 per cent; Michigan, 30.9 per cent; Missouri, 30.8 per cent; Wisconsin, 30.7 per cent; Louisiana, 29.3 per cent; Montana, 27 per cent; Minnesota, 26.8 per cent; Utah, 25.2 per cent. It will be noticed that only one of these states with the population more than one fourth urban is distinctively southern, namely, Louisiana. This is due to the fact that heretofore the South has been largely agricultural in its industries, consequently only a few of the great cities of the country are found within its borders.

There are but few countries in Europe that come up with the most urban of our American states. Certain countries of Western Europe, however, equal the most urban of our states, and the following countries have at least one quarter of their population urban : England and Wales, Scotland, Belgium, Saxony, Holland, Prussia, and France. The most urban of our states, however, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York, surpass all European countries in the number of their population living in cities, with the exception of England and Wales. This again is due to the fact that certain of our states have specialized in manufacturing industries more than any European country, with the exception of England and Wales.

Before leaving the statistics of the growth of cities, it is worth our while to note that certain great urban centers are developing in this country which promise to show, even in the near future, the most extensive urbanization of population known to the world; for example, a line of cities and suburban communities is now developing which will in the near future connect New York and Boston on the one hand and New York, Philadelphia, and Washington on the other hand. Thus in a few years, stretching from Washington to Boston, a distance of five hundred miles, there promises to be a continuous chain of urban communities with practically no rural districts between them. In a sense, this will constitute one great city with a population of twenty millions or upwards. Other urban centers, though not so extensive, are also developing at other points in the United States. At the end of the twentieth century it is safe to say that this country will have at least a dozen cities with a population of over one mil-lion. Moreover, so far as we can see at the present time, there is no end in the near future to this growth of the urbanization of our population; for the causes of this great growth of cities seem inherent in our civilization. Let us see what these causes are.

Causes of the Growth of Great Cities. There may be distinguished two classes of causes of the growth of cities : (I) general or social causes, and (2) minor or individual causes. It is the social causes, the causes inherent in our civilization, which are of particular interest to us. Among these social causes we shall place:

1. The Diminishing Importance of Agriculture in the Life of Man. Once agriculture was the all-embracing occupation. Practically all goods were produced upon the farm. Now, however, man's wants have so greatly increased that the primitive industries of the farm can no longer satisfy these wants, and in order to satisfy them men have developed large manufacturing industries. Moreover, fewer men are needed on the farms to produce the same amount of raw material as was produced formerly by the labor of many. This has come about mostly through labor saving machines. The invention and application of labor saving machines to the industries of the farm has made it possible to dispense with a great number of men. It is estimated that fifty men with modern farm machinery can do the work of five hundred European peasants without such machinery. Consequently, the four hundred and fifty who have been displaced by farm machinery must find other work, and they find it mainly in manufacturing industries. Again, the scientific and capitalistic agriculture of the present has much the same effect as labor-saving machines They have greatly increased agricultural production and at the same time lessened the amount of labor. The opening up also of new and fertile regions which were very productive in the nineteenth century had a similar effect.

Every improvement in agricultural industry instead of keeping men on the farm has tended to drive them from it. Scientific agriculture carried on with modern machinery necessarily lessens the need of a great proportion of the population being employed to produce the foodstuff and other raw materials which the world needs. Hence it has tended to free men from the soil and to make it possible for a larger and larger number to go to the city. There-fore the relatively diminishing importance of agriculture has been one of the prime causes of the growth of the cities in the nineteenth century; and so far as we can see this cause will continue to operate for some time to come.

2. The Growth and Centralization of Manufacturing Industries. This is perhaps the most vital cause of the growth of cities. The great city, as we have already said, is very largely the product of modern industrialism. Improved machinery, improved transportation, and enlarged markets, together with the increased wants of men, not only have made possible a great growth of manufacturing industries, but also these same factors have tended to centralize manufacturing industries in the cities. Let us note briefly why it is that manufacturing industries are grouped together in great cities rather than scattered throughout the rural communities. In centralizing manufacturing plants in cities, certain industrial economies are secured, such as: (I) economy in motor power, whether it be water or coal; (2) economy in machinery it is not necessary to duplicate machines; (3) economy in wages one superintendent, for example, can oversee a large plant; (4) utilization of by-products when many factories are grouped together by-products, which are sometimes more valuable than the main products, can be better utilized. (5) There is economy in buying raw material and in selling finished products when many factories are grouped together. For all these reasons, along with the further reason that those who labor in factories must live close to them, manufacturing has been a prime cause of the modern city, and, so far as we can see, will continue to further urbanize our population in the future.

3. The Increase of Trade and Commerce. Between different communities there developed during the nineteenth century, upon the growth of better transportation, a great increase of trade and commerce, for along with the better transportation went a specialization in industry, on the part of both communities and classes. The modern city is often largely a product of modern transportation. We find all the great cities located at natural breaks in transportation. The cities of the Middle Ages were largely centers of trade and commerce where goods were distributed to various minor centers. The modern city has not lost this characteristic through developing into an industrial center. On the contrary, the status of the city in trade and commerce makes it at the same time a valuable center for the development of manufacturing industries. The break between land and water transportation is particularly favorable to the development of large cities. Thus, we find New York located where goods shipped to Europe must be transferred from land to water transportation; Chicago, located at the head of the water transportation of the Great Lakes; St. Louis, at the head of the navigation of the Mississippi River. Only Denver and Indianapolis among the great cities of the United States in 1910 are not located on a river or some other navigable water.

Minor Causes. These are the chief social causes of the growth of cities, and, as we have seen, they are wholly industrial in their nature. Undoubtedly the modern city is a product of modern industry. Certain non-economic factors may also enter into the growth of cities, but these are of but slight importance; such are the greater intellectual and educational advantages which the city offers, the great opportunities for pleasure and amusement in the city and the like. Such minor and individual causes have had but little part in the growth of the great cities of the present.

Social and Moral Conditions of City Life. Certain social conditions in our cities are worthy of attention in order that we may understand the effect of the city upon social and racial evolution.

1. City Populations have a Larger per Cent of Females than Rural Populations. All of our fifteen largest cities, except three, contain a larger per cent of females than the states in which they are located. Thus New York state has 50.37 per cent of its population female; New York city, 50.56 percent; Pennsylvania, 49.29 percent of its population female; Philadelphia, 51.18 per cent; Missouri, 48.38 per cent of its population female; St. Louis, 49.51 per cent. In towns of the United States of more than 2500 population the per cent of females is 50.03, while the rural districts of the United States have only 48.08 per cent of their population female. The cause of this is perhaps to be found in the fact that in cities there is always a larger infantile mortality among males than among females, and that in towns there is a larger proportion of female children born than in the rural districts.

2. People in the Active Period of Life, from Fifteen to Sixty-five Years of Age, predominate in the City. According to Dr. Weber, out of every 1000 individuals in the United States as a whole there are 355 under fifteen years of age, 603 between fifteen and sixty-five, and 29 above sixty-five years of age. But in the great cities there are only 299 under fifteen years of age, and only 29 above sixty-five years of age, while 668 are of the age between fifteen and sixty-five years. (In both cases the age of three in a thousand was unknown.) The cause of the predominance of those in the active period of life is undoubtedly due to the immigration into the cities from the country districts. This makes the life of cities more energetic and active, more strenuous than it would otherwise be.

3. The Great Cities in the United States have over twice as many Foreign-born in their Population as the United States as a whole. This has been sufficiently discussed under the head of immigration.

4. The Birth Rate is higher in the Cities than in the Rural Districts. This is primarily due to there being more women of child-bearing age in the cities. In the United States it is also due to the presence of so many foreign-born in the cities. The marriage rate is also higher in the cities than in the rural districts. The following statistics based on a thousand population show the relative difference between the cities and the rural districts of the New England States in marriage rate, birth rate, and death rate for 189495.

5. The Death Rate in Cities is also higher than in the Rural Districts, as the above table has just shown. This is undoubtedly due to the poor sanitary and living conditions of large cities.

6. The Physical Condition of City Populations. Measurements by Dr. Beddoe and others show that the stature and other measurements of men of the great cities of Great Britain are far below those of the rural population. The latest English commission to investigate the conditions of city life also reports that the population of the British cities a t least shows marked signs of physical deterioration.

7. Mental and Moral Degeneracy in our Cities. (I) A larger number of insane are found in our cities than in the rural districts. In the United States as a whole there were in 1890 seventeen hundred insane per million of population, while in the cities of over 50,000 there were 2429 insane per million.

(2) The suicide rate is much higher in the cities than in other districts. In general the suicide rate in the United States seems to be two or three times as high in our large cities as in the rest of the country.

(3) Poverty and pauperism are much more common in our cities than in rural districts. About one third of the population of great cities may safely be said to live below the poverty line, while in such cities as New York and Boston from ten to twenty per cent of the population require more or less charitable assistance during the year.

(4) The amount of crime in the cities is about twice as great as in the rural districts.

(5) Illegitimacy in the cities is from two to three times as great as in rural districts, and it is well known that vice centers very largely in our cities.

All these facts show that mental and moral degeneracy is much more common in our urban population than in our rural populations, and that the biological and moral aspects of our city life present pressing problems.

8. Educational and Religious Conditions in Cities. We have already seen that illiteracy for the native white population is much less in our cities than in the rural districts. This is undoubtedly due in the main to the better facilities for education in our cities, and it is here chiefly that we find the bright side of city life; for the cities are not only centers of the evil tendencies of our civilization but are also the centers of all that is best and uplifting. The urban schools in general are open much longer than the rural school, the attendance in them is better, and the teaching is much more efficient. In 1890 the urban schools held 190 days in the year, while the rural schools held only 115 days. The attendance in the urban schools was seventy per cent of the enrollment, while in the rural schools it was only sixty-two per cent. Besides the schools, of course, must be mentioned many other educational facilities to be found in our cities, such as in connection with social settlements, lecture and concert halls, theaters, libraries, art galleries, and museums, all of which the city has practically exclusively.

The census of 1890 included a religious census, and it seemed to show that on the whole religious conditions were better in our cities than in the country districts. In cities above 25,000 the church membership was 37.9 per cent of the population, while it was only 32.85 per cent of the total population. Again, in cities above 100,000 it was 39.1 per cent of their total population, although in the four largest cities New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis it was only 35.6 per cent of the total population.' Some recent studies, however, while not extensive enough to justify a conclusion, seem to indicate that in some of the largest cities the church is losing its hold, and that more and more the population of our largest urban centers is becoming churchless, if not without religion. Even if this is so, however, it also remains a fact that the various religious denominations put forth their best efforts in these largest urban centers, and that more is being done for the people religiously and morally in these centers than perhaps for any other portion of the world's population.

Proposed Remedies for the Evils of City Life. The pro-posed remedies for the evils of city life are well worth attention, not only that we may understand the problem of the city better, but also that we may understand social conditions in general better. Of the remedies which we shall discuss it may be said that four are foolish and two are wise. The foolish ones are those that try to check the growth of the cities; the wise ones are those that recognize that the cities are here to stay and must be dealt with as permanent and even increasingly important factors in our civilization.

(1) The first remedy is to make agriculture more attractive and remunerative. This is a good thing in itself, but, as we have seen, it will not check the growth of the cities; rather, every improvement in the conditions of agriculture in the way of making it more productive and remunerative will drive more to the cities.

(2) A second remedy, akin to the first, is to make village life more attractive. Like the first remedy, this is good in itself, but it is hardly probable that it will stop the growth of cities; rather, it might be urged that village improvement will give people a taste of the higher comforts and conveniences to be found in cities and will tend to send them to the city.

(3) The third proposed remedy is to colonize the poor of the cities in the country. This has been especially advocated by General Booth and other leaders of the Salvation Army. This plan, however, cannot do much toward helping solve the problem of the city. It is a difficult thing to get the poor in the city adjusted again to rural life, and the probability is that in many cases they would be worse off in the country than in the city. Moreover, the vacant places they left would soon be filled by others, and in general the whole plan seems to be against man's instincts as well as against the social forces of the time.

(4) Administrative decentralization may be mentioned as a plan adopted by some state legislatures to prevent the growth of cities, that is, to scatter the state institutions through the rural sections of the state instead of locating them in the cities. On the whole, this is a foolish plan. The cities will not be checked in their growth by this, while on the other hand it is the cities which most need the presence of the state institutions.

(5) The most important remedy for the cure of the evils of the cities, and one which meets these evils on their own ground, is what has been called " improved municipal house-keeping "; that is, the supervision and control by the city of all those things which are used in common by the people. The idea is that the city is not in its social conditions comparable to the rural community; rather it is more like one big household, and it is necessary, therefore, that there be collective housekeeping, so to speak, in order to keep those things which the people use in common at least in good order. This has also been called " municipal socialism." It is not socialism, however, in the strict sense, for it does not advocate the ownership in common of all capital, but rather municipal control of public utilities. We cannot enter into this large subject, upon which many books have been written; to a few of these the student will find references at the end of this chapter. Here it is only necessary to say that all of this civic improvement implies that the city must own or control adequately its sewer system, its water supply, its streets; that it must control the housing of the people, the disposal of garbage, the smoke nuisance, general sanitary and living conditions; that it must provide adequate protection against fire, an adequate park system, an adequate free school system, with public playgrounds for children, free libraries, free art galleries and museums, municipal theaters, public baths, and gymnasiums.

All of this is of course a species of socialism in the sense that it is collective control of the conditions of living together. It advocates, however, that the city should take over only those things that are used in common. The trouble with this so-called municipal socialism is that it presupposes a pretty high degree of intelligence on the part of people. Whether or not a municipality shall own and operate its own street railways, electric light and gas plants, is largely a question of the development of the social consciousness and intelligence in that particular community. In some communities such municipal undertakings have been made a success; in others they have failed. But it is evident that with a large mass of people living together the common conditions of living must be subject to intelligent collective control if human life and character are to have a proper environment in which to develop.

(6) The last remedy proposed for the evils of the city is the development of the suburbs through rapid transit. This is already being rapidly accomplished in many of our larger cities. The solution of the mechanical problem of rapid transit will probably, in other words, tend greatly to relieve automatically the present congestion which we find in many of our large cities. Probably the best form of such rapid transit is underground electric roads, or subways. Transportation upon these roads must be made cheap enough to enable workingmen to live at a distance from their labor. With the solution of the problem of rapid transit it should be possible to scatter a city's population anywhere within a radius of thirty miles. But it would be a mistake to think that rapid transit alone will solve the problems of city communities. Stringent regulation by law of sanitary and housing conditions and, as has just been said, of all the things used in common, is necessary to put order and healthfulness into that vast household which we call a modern great city.

In conclusion we would emphasize again that the era of the city is just beginning; that a larger and larger proportion of our population must come to live in the cities, and that, therefore, the city will dominate the society of the future. Hence, humanity must solve the problem of the city if social progress is to continue. And the problem is by no means insoluble. Man is not yet adjusted to city life. The city is so new even to civilized man that he has carried into it the habits which he practiced in isolated rural communities. These are the sources of trouble in our cities, and., as we have already seen, new adjustments have to be made by individuals in order to secure harmonious social relationships under the crowded conditions of the city. The city requires, therefore, a higher degree of intelligence on the part of the individual than the rural social life, and a great part of the solution of the problem of the city must come through the development of such higher intelligence and morality by means of education. At any rate, it is foolish to decry the city or to attempt to stop its growth. That is impossible and, we think, undesirable. The ideal social life of man has never been the isolated life of the rural community. The city has always been in a sense man's ideal, as is shown by the fact that nearly all at-tempts to depict a perfect human society have been pictures of cities. Man's ideal, as Dr. Weber says, is not the city or the country, but the city and the country blended, and this is what the city of the future should become. No doubt the time will come when present cities will be looked back upon with horror, as we look back on eighteenth-century cities. The city of the future need not present any of the hideous, disagreeable, and unwholesome aspects of our present cities. The city can be made, through science and morality, a place in which human beings may find their ideal society.

Home | More Articles | Email: