An Experiment in Coöperative Living
THERE is developing in England a movement which seems to suggest in an extraordinarily fruitful way the solution of some of the most difficult of urban problems by what might be called the practical application of private socialism. Much has been written about the ‘ garden city ’ in a way which presents the idea as rather in the nature of a fad, of a dilettante effort of a few fortunate people, slightly overdeveloped æsthetically, who wish to surround themselves with flowers and gardens and play at building villages which are sternly impossible to the majority of the great human herd. But an examination of the strands, economic, artistic, and sociological, which are uniquely combined to form such a community as the Hampstead Garden Suburb, for instance, in the north of London, convinces me that there is much more than playing going on here, — that we have rather an experimental laboratory offered in coöperative living which, if successful, is bound to affect profoundly our conceptions of city life, and to make over gradually some of the squalid deserts of English urban communities.
Assuming a certain familiarity on the part of the reader with the ‘gardencity idea,’ as worked out sporadically in England and America, and with the town-planning movement in Germany, it will be my purpose here to analyze the methods by which the effects are brought about which culminate in so beautiful an expression of community life as Hampstead, and to suggest the practicality of the widespread imitation of the socialist and æsthetic principles by which it is built, to the new towns of the future in America or the new environs of the old towns.
For if the English city presents in its congestion, its ugliness, its discomforts, a horrible warning to American life, experiments like this at Hampstead present a hope and an inspiration, and a way of avoiding the urban evils which followed in England the mad deluge of the Industrial Revolution. For the chief value of building beauty into the collective life of a city is that thus the ideas and principles which animate that beauty are given the most effective and dramatic form. Every one can feel the charm of open spaces, of effective vistas and the harmonious grouping of buildings; a village like Hampstead attracts immediate and widespread attention, and becomes the leaven which leavens a broad lump. Though it is the external forms and not the inner spirit and motive which are being copied, already in the countryside about the village are to be seen the inspiration of the model: new building estates are being developed in the frankest imitation of the Hampstead principles, while pioneer rows of unregenerate brick villas stand tenantless, unable to compete with the new ideas. And if a village composed on these principles can permeate its own vicinity so quickly and so completely, it almost guarantees itself as a model and inspiration for the builders of the cities which men of the twentieth century will find fit to live in.
Those principles are partly artistic, partly economic, and partly sociological. It was largely from the artistic side that the proposer of the garden city, Ebenezer Howard, made his appeal, and it is perhaps on account of the overemphasis on this aspect that the whole idea got itself surrounded with a certain dilettante atmosphere. But in the newer villages like Hampstead, the original ‘garden’ idea has coöperated with the very beautiful science of townplanning developed in Germany, and with the copartnership building societies, which owe their origin primarily to workingmen. That the fusion of these strands makes possible a practical city, embracing all classes of the population and all industrial and commercial pursuits, is shown by the experience of the famous town of Letchworth, which is already in successful operation. Many other new building schemes and model villages express these principles partially, — in particular the workmen’s villages of Bournville and Port Sunlight. But these latter, having been built as quasi-philanthropic enterprises by capitalists, differ radically in economic principle from those we are discussing, and do not suggest the step in private socialism which makes Hampstead and Letchworth so peculiarly significant.
The urgent need of finding some solution for the problems of congestion and confusion caused by the haphazard extension of the English industrial cities in the last century, had attracted the attention of English architects to the work of scientific town-planning carried out in German cities like Frankfort and Cologne, and the garden city represents the application of some of the principles there discovered. By the coöperation of the architect and the landscape gardener, the engineer and the urban administrator, and given drastic powers of regulating the purposes for which land shall be used, and even of altering boundaries in the interest of the general scheme, the whole plot may be designed in advance to meet in the highest possible way the sanitary needs, the comfort, and the amenities of the community. What this new attitude means is evident to any one who feels keenly the apparent lack of any really indigenous feeling for civic art in either England or America.
The English cities arc well-known monuments of barrenness, congestion, and discomfort; Boston and New York, with all their artistic possibilities, have very few fine vistas or open spaces, and Washington, designed in the stately French style of the eighteenth century, is distorted from what might have been developed in the spirit of the original plans. On the other hand, the continental towns are full of beautiful vistas and cunningly composed pictures, many of them consciously designed, but many of them also seemingly unconscious, and testifying, it would appear, to some deep-seated social sensitiveness to communal beauty and civil design. There is often a homogeneity of material, a unity of effect, combined with a charming picturesqueness of variety, which makes the town or village as perfect a work of art as the most classic painting or statue. The plans or maps of some of the towns of Germany and Italy show a balancing of parts and a combination of details that make them notable achievements in the way of pure design.
It is an attempt to revive this vanished art which animates the artistic efforts of the builders of our new garden cities, and to that end they have made a careful study of the means by which the effects have been produced in the mediæval models of Europe. For in the towns of Hampstead and Letchworth, which we are taking here as our fittest examples of the movement, it is evident that the designers have been most deeply influenced by the villages of Southern Germany. The extraordinary charm of this countryside lies in the effect which each village makes as a clear-cut unit, separated sharply from the surrounding fields either by a city wall or by a line as sharp as one. The red-roofed and white-walled village, clustering about its oriental church-steeple, and set in a fair and flowing environment of yellow fields, broken only by the dark green cluster of a thick forest of firs, presents the model for the outer visage of the new garden village, which shall express in this tangible, compact way the homogeneity of the social life within it, and not suggest, as does the struggling American town and loose countryside, the sprinkling of feebly coöperating individuals over the land. That charming effect of overlapping and culminating roofs on a flat perspective which the village presents when seen from afar has been reproduced in the English villages with rare fidelity and sensitiveness, though one may feel, looking over Hampstead from a nearby hill, the superiority of unconscious over conscious art. Just something spontaneous seems to be lacking, though the effect of the mounting roofs and the harmony of tones and lines is beautiful enough.
Within the village the streets are found grouped in relation to a central market-place, which is usually closed, so that, though several streets may pass into and out of it, no outlet is visible from the centre. Surrounded by buildings of a homogeneous picturesqueness or dignity, surmounted by the tower of the church or municipal building, the closed place signifies a sort of inner shrine of the community, its social heart. Standing in a marketplace such as that of the Hôtel de Ville at Brussels, one gets an overwhelming sense of social cohesion; this place is not merely a spot where produce is bought and sold, but the centre of a community, with a tenacious interwoven life of its own, ministering to all its members and sufficient unto itself. No house is isolated; each depends for its beauty and meaning upon its grouping with others. The little churchtower of the smallest village attains a dignity of effect, by rising not from its own slender body but from a clustered group of houses. Everything gains by being seen as part of a designed whole
These principles can be applied in our new garden cities because the organization of the village in a central trust or corporation ensures the control of the whole design by one expert. This economic foundation I shall discuss later; just now we are concerned with the artistic benefits which this possibility of prevision insures. The tract of land is laid out according to a prearranged scheme. The direction and width of the streets is regulated according to the volume of traffic. The allotment of open spaces and the restriction of certain buildings, such as factories and shops, to certain areas, the natural existing features of the landscape, the existing trees, and even the direction of the prevailing winds, are taken into account in the designing of the streets and the blocks. In order to insure homogeneity of design, it is stipulated that the individual houses must either be designed by the community architect or approved by him; in this way the harmony of the surroundings is secured, while scope is left for a large measure of individual judgment and taste, to the builder or tenant.
Nothing is perhaps more opposed to the ideas of rapid individualism and callousness to the social appeal, under which our modern cities have grown up, than this central supervision of taste, and yet nothing is more necessary — in default of that instinctive feeling of the past centuries which we seem to-day to have lost — if we are to live in beautiful surroundings. We cannot afford, in this twentieth century, to let men inflict their own depraved artistic taste upon the community, any more than we can afford to let them give expression to their debased moral sense.
Coming a little closer to the details of planning and ornament of the new village, one finds that a walk about a community such as Hampstead is like studying the art of a well-composed picture. It is attended by the delight which comes from seeing any clear operation of intelligence; for what is good art but the expression of a luminous intelligence lighting up and interpreting a stodgy mass of experience which would be worthless and meaningless without the long opening vistas which the touch of the master hand reveals?
In the new village there is none of that checkerboard arrangement of streets that makes our American towns so depressing with their long vanishing perspectives. There is instead a graceful swelling curve, so that one has constantly ahead of the eye a cluster of houses and gardens. Or, if the street happens to be straight, it is closed at the end with a picturesque building or house-corner, so that the vanishing perspective culminates in some arresting figure, and achieves a climax instead of a defeat. There is one street at Hampstead which leads straight up a little slope to the brick clubhouse. Though the houses are monotonous and the street line is without variation, this charming little building with its two plane trees before the door gives character and tone to the entire street, and satisfies the eye which would otherwise roam fruitlessly out into empty sky.
Where the street, however, runs down hill into open country, it is left open, in order that the vista of green fields may block the picture. I shall never forget the vistas at Quebec down the long hill on the east, into sweet glimpses of fields and winding roads studded with white houses. It was the revelations of that day in what is perhaps the only composed and artistic town we have in America, which opened my eyes to this most beautiful of arts, townbuilding.
A large part of the charm of Quebec and the continental towns is due to the fact that the houses are not detached, as in American suburbs, but that the street instead presents a long, connected, if irregular, line. The houses in our new village are thus built in blocks of four or five, and a unity and solidity is given to the village street, which is absent both from the rows of detached boxes in the American town, and from the monotonous sameness of the average English street. For, by building thus in blocks, the building line may be cunningly varied, and combinations of overlapping gables and projecting fronts secured, which increase the effect of pleasing picturesqueness. In some places a block of a dozen houses will be set back at some distance from the road and fronted by a long unenclosed lawn of green turf. Sometimes the houses are built in the form of a stately regular quadrangle about a lawn and surmounted on the street side by an arched gateway.
Much attention is devoted to the street corners, for these are usually the keystones of a vista. Where the streets form an acute angle, a little grassy open space may be left, surrounded with low brick walls upon which climb vines and flowers. Where the angles are less acute, houses are built, not rectangularly in the uncompromising way of cities, but diagonally across the corner, while the triangular space is filled with grass or flowers. And even a right-angled crossing can be made into a centre of considerable dignity and charm, simply by rounding the corners concavely. By these simple devices the corner gives a picture, no matter from what point of the intersecting streets it is seen, and the blank uncertain effect of the ordinary street corner is avoided. And even the unimportant right-angled corner one finds treated here with many a charming little detail, — a small grass-plot indenting the house, or a picturesque gable which relieves the straight corner line. Everywhere the street line is drawn with a skillful hand comparable to the drawing in a picture.
The effect of the street line is, of course, enhanced by the brick walls and hedges and gardens which distinguish the garden city. It is one of the principles of the village that each house shall have its garden plot behind it, bounded by a characteristic English hedge, while in front of the house is a similar courtyard, usually covered with a riot of flowers. The effect of the low, broad,red-roofed, and wide-gabled houses, their white walls covered with nasturtiums or roses, even in November, has a charm almost too great to be conveyed in words.
One of the important officials of the village is the gardener, who provides expert advice as to the selection and arrangement and planting of shrubbery and vines and flowers. The result of this coöperative gardening is that the village at Hampstead, though only six years old, already presents the mellow, well-planted look of an oldsettled community. The small number of houses permitted to the acre allows at the centre of every block a playground or tennis court which is shared in common by the inhabitants of the houses surrounding it. And these recreation grounds are reached by winding footpaths which intersect the block and, besides making communication easier, reduce the number of roads required. From these footpaths one gets the view of the real garden city, — the hedgerows, the flower and vegetable gardens, and the playgrounds, the inner life behind the houses, which are as charming when seen from the rear as from the street.
The central square toward which all the main roads take their trend is placed at the highest point, and at Hampstead, with its two imposing churches facing each other across the little park, affords many a beautiful vista up a long street or over a pile of clustered red roofs. This Hampstead square is to be surrounded eventually by shops and public buildings, toward which a beginning has been made in the way of an Institute. The houses in the vicinity of the square assume the statelier character of the solid Georgian style in red and gray brick, in contrast to the homely white stucco of the ordinary houses, which, with their overhanging eaves and expanse of roof, suggest the old English thatched cottage, modified by a touch of the German. From this commanding square one has charming views of the rolling country of Middlesex, with spires and towns in the misty distance. In another direction one looks out over a tract of land owned by the village trust and destined to be built upon eventually as the village grows from its present population of six thousand to its ultimate twenty-five thousand.
Such are some of the artistic principles in accordance with which the village has been built. Almost every one represents an idea which, though it might have been applied in developing a private estate, is practically unique in its public application. The economic foundation of the village seems no less revolutionary and important.
From one point of view the land system of the new village— and this is the case not only at Hampstead and Letchworth, but at all the smaller estates organized on copartnership principles — is simply an extension of the joint-stock company. But few people realize how extremely socialistic an institution the joint-stock company or corporation is; and as a joint-stock company, the economic organization of the village represents a radical experiment in the purely socialistic ownership of land. For none of the land is owned privately. The freehold is held by a trust, which is itself a joint-stock company, and the land is leased by it to building companies or individuals.
These building companies are, most of them, organized on what is called the copartnership plan. The tenants of the village, or of the tract which the company has leased, do not hold the lease, but hold stock in the company. Each prospective tenant must become a shareholder in the company and subscribe to a certain amount of stock, — in the Hampstead companies, fifty pounds. The shareholders elect the board of management, but no individual may hold more than two hundred pounds’ worth of shares. In this way an approximately equal distribution of wealth and power is insured. The tenant pays a fixed rent, but receives—out of the surplus profits of the company, after sums have been set aside for sinking fund, interest on shares and loans, repairs, upkeep, and administration — a rent-dividend which in 1910 amounted to one shilling sixpence in the pound in one of the Hampstead companies.
When the tenant moves away, he disposes of his stock to the new tenant investor, and thus the coöperative landlord system is kept intact. It is true that at Hampstead the trust will lease to individuals, and the companies will receive investments from nonresident investors. But in practice, most of the land is held by the copartnership companies, and the shares in the companies are practically all held by tenants, so that the application of the socialistic principle is for once more rigid than the theory. And though in theory the tenant may continue to hold his stock after he moves away, he receives for it only a minimum of interest, while the new tenant receives the rent-dividend out of the company’s surplus.
Now it is evident that we have here something approximating the socialistic ownership of land on what may be called a private scale. For the village represents a federation of companies in each of which the tenants hold equal rights of ownership in the land, represented by shares in a joint company which possesses the legal title. The important economic advantage which the tenant-owner derives is that he shares as a member of his group in the increasing value of the land; the unearned increment does not pass away into the hands of non-resident landlords to be lumped together into a landed fortune, but remains as a social value to be expended by the group in public utilities, or to be returned to the tenant in the form of rent-dividend. Such a system of organization evidently represents a long step toward the application of socialistic principles to land-ownership. To the Englishman it suggests little more than the extension of coöperation — which has been so successful in England wdth societies of consumers — in the ownership of land and the building of homes.
To the American it will suggest inevitable affinities with the single-tax idea of Henry George; but it differs of course from this in the fact that his system involved the coörganization of the land-owning group with the governmental powers, so that rent and taxes should be synonymous. But in England there is no attempt yet to give the new village political powers, though it seems inevitable that a complete city like Letchworth, when it attains its full development, will demand urban organization; then perhaps some approximation to the single-tax would be made. It is rather from the socialistic point of view that this copartnership of land and building is so important. For the difference between private unrestricted ownership of capital and coöperative ownership by actual users, represents almost the totality of the contrast between the individualistic and socialistic ideals.
Besides the economic advantages derived from the social ownership of the land increment in the copartnership village, there are economies due to the building of a large number of houses by one builder and under the supervision of one architect; these are said to be between five and ten per cent. Actual economic advantage flows to the tenant-owner from the limitation of the number of houses to the acre — an important feature of all townplanning and garden-city schemes. By limiting this number to an average of from twelve to twenty per acre, not only are all the artistic details and open spaces made possible, but the saving in the cost of the roads is enormous. So much less land is required for roadspace that tenants living on land supporting only twelve houses to the acre actually pay rent on a lower expenditure of capital than if the same land were laid out in straight rows of houses set back to back, fifty-six to the acre, and involving the use of a third or more of the land for expensive roads, laid out in accordance with the demands of the English by-laws. And the townplanner is enabled to make still greater economies of road-space by employing footpaths and narrow carriage roads where little traffic passes; whereas the ordinary builder, with long lines of houses on both sides of each street to serve, must make his roads all equally serviceable and complete.
The sociological possibilities of a community organized on such artistic and economic foundations are evident. For not only is there the esprit arising from the possession of so novel and notable a dwelling-place, which attracts visitors and strangers and wins almost unstinted praise, — this popularity and pride would be sufficient to create a public spirit, even if the social institutions did not cultivate it, — but there is also the permanent gain in central control and in social wealth which enables public enterprises to be developed from the beginning. In the original scheme at Hampstead, for instance, the Club and the Institute took an important place. The Club, which is democratically open to all the residents, provides a meeting-place for all social gatherings, sports, dances, exhibitions, and so forth. The Institute provides classes in practical arts and languages, lectures, concerts, public conferences and conversation groups, kindergarten, dramatic societies, amateur orchestra, and public readingroom.
These interests are not imposed, but are offered freely; one cannot but feel the immeasurable advantage of the common social ownership and initiation of these institutions, in contrast with those poor halting ones of the ordinary individualistic community, which must wait, not only until some group has felt the need of some cultural interest, but until it has persuaded a very much larger body around it to give it financial support. Instead of waiting until the clash of private interests has settled into an equilibrium, the socialistic community can incorporate these interests in the very body and life of the society from the start.
Coöperative living is in operation, too, along the most practical lines at Hampstead. A large quadrangle of small apartments, built primarily for intellectual workers of small means, possesses a common kitchen and dining-room and domestic staff. This plan seems very simple and practicable, but when thought of in connection with the mania for privacy which afflicts the Anglo-Saxon, and with the derided Utopias in which this very form of cooperative living has figured largely in the past, the idea appears little short of revolutionary. Organized in a somewhat similar fashion is the Orchard, a quadrangle of apartments built in the most charming way around a lawn and walks which were rioting with nasturtiums in November, and intended particularly for elderly people or people living alone. Outside galleries run all around both stories of the low brick quadrangle, and the life suggested is rather that of an Oxford college than of a series of separate homes. And the houses of workingmen’s flats, charmingly situated on the edge of the open country, with their broad unfenced allotment gardens stretching behind them, suggest similarly a more closely unified communal life than even the centred English village, and so infinitely much more than the ordinary English workingmen’s district, that one feels almost a different civilization. The thorough application of these principles of coöperative living, I feel sure, would produce a different one.
I have scarcely had time to do more than sketch the outlines of this new and beautiful sociological movement which finds its best expression in such a garden village as Hampstead. The three coöperating strands, — the garden-city idea of a community of cottages surrounded by open spaces and flowers; the town-planning idea, involving the designing of the entire territory to be built on, and now made possible by the Parliamentary act of 1909 to all the municipal authorities of Great Britain and already in process of adoption by more than a hundred of them; and the copartnership-tenants idea, which, beginning as a workingmen’s building society, has proved so popular and feasible that there are now over forty societies in Great Britain, with over eight thousand houses already built, — brought together in such a community, present an experiment in private socialism of the utmost importance.
The immeasurable superiority of this scientific provision and design, the artistic details, the collective ownership, the social spirit, expressed in such a community, is evident when comparison is made with the work of the building-and-loan societies which are so popular in the United States. Valuable as they have been in providing families of small means with homes, they are inferior at practically every point to such organizations as these in England. Building individually, they are wasteful economically, and lack all the artistic and social advantages of the cooperative community. It will not do to say that they do provide the artisan with a home, while the garden city is only for the wealthier man. The first copartnership society was composed of artisans and developed its small estate at Ealing in the thoroughly orthodox and benighted way; but the new ideas were adopted immediately on their appearance, so that Ealing today stands as a practical object-lesson of the feasibility of the garden city for workingmen.
It would greatly enrich American life, if some means were found of making over the building-and-loan society into a copartnership society, working on the lines sketched out above. There would be little purpose in sketching them if one did not believe that institutions which already exist for providing thrifty persons with homes could be made infinitely more valuable if they were to be socialized and permeated with a true coöperative and artistic spirit.
I have called it an experiment, because the experience of seven or eight years does not of course put the final seal of approval upon success. One can hardly doubt, however, the soundness of the principles involved, or the ability of the managers in charge of the societies and communities. The latter include distinguished publicists and social workers in England; behind the communities are responsible associations for publicity and financial aid. The copartnership societies of the kingdom are strongly federated into a central council, which exercises supervision and gives advice and organizes new societies. The garden cities and town-planning associations keep in touch with the movement in other countries by means of conferences and congresses, and issue literature of real scientific value. One feels one’s self in the presence of a big idea which has caught hold in the world, and which if it does not prove the entering wedge of a new civilization, at least cannot fail immensely to fertilize and beautify the life of the old.