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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter XIII. — The Example of Germany.—Supremacy of the Civic Function.—how the Growth of Cities is Controlled and Directed

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Chapter XIII.

The Example of Germany.—Supremacy of the Civic Function.—how the Growth of Cities is Controlled and Directed.

After the gloomy splendour and ponderous architecture of London, and the succession of black dirty centres that focus industrial activities in Britain, the German city bursts upon one white and clean, pictured by domes and spires reaching to the blue above tree-lined avenues and splendid parks. It is a creation of beauty and brightness, of fine public buildings grouped into orderly perspectives, of wide and convenient thoroughfares, of modern shops and palatial officer, and of suburban areas winding through trees and gardens that know no crowding.

In permitting towns and cities to expand without direction or control, in the failure to provide that expansion went on in a manner beneficial to the community and the health of its inhabitants, in the making of miles of insanitary, overcrowded areas of brick and mortar and terrible housing conditions for millions of people, England exemplifies the errors of the nineteenth century. In the realisation of, and the effort to remedy, those errors, to direct the growth of her cities into well ordered streets, open spaces, to secure lighting, air, and bright, healthy surroundings, Germany leads the world.

The hub of her social progress is the municipality. Nowhere have the powers and the possibilities of the civic machine been so quickly recognised, so widely developed; nowhere are the results more instructive or convincing. It is true that up to the closing years of the last century the German cities had not been eager to apply the teaching of science. The example of Paris, which was the pioneer of municipal progress in Europe, stimulated the great awakening that began in 1870. Since that year there have been two powerful factors which accentuated in the cities the problem of overcrowding—a large increase in population and a rapid transference of national activities from agriculture to manufacture and commerce. Germany, in short, repeated the process that went on in England in the early and mid-Victorian periods, when she deserted agriculture for industry. That process materialised for the Teutonic cities almost identically the same problems in overcrowding and defective housing conditions which wrought such havoc in England. The national spirit of cleanliness embodied in the German housewife, however, was an antiseptic, to some of the evil effects the English cities suffered through the insanitary habits that were imported from the country to the cities with the influx of the agricultural population. Moreover, prior to the realisation of a united empire, many of the German towns had been the seat of government of the head of petty principalities. These potentates, following a conventional ambition, frequently preserved large areas for private gardens and pleasure grounds, and laid out a few broad tree-lined avenues approaching the royal residence, or palace. Many of the towns were encircled by a ring of fortifications. These appointments proved of great value as they became absorbed in the municipal process. Fortifications were razed to make new thoroughfares, page 79 whilst royal grounds and avenues were treated largely as communal possessions. In spite of this, however, many of the cities had the legacies of medieval congestion in their midst, whilst the demand for housing accommodation that came with the influx of population resulted in extraordinary congestion. The fact that the tenement dwelling or "flat" running to five stories in height was the standard type of habitation accentuated the overcrowding. They were run up in blocks and built so closely that frequently there was only a narrow courtyard to depend upon for air and lighting to the homes of dozens of families.

It was all the result of an extraordinarily rapid growth. The immense modern impetus that has transformed European cities in the last thirty years has only its parallel in the rise and growth of American cities. In the ten years preceding 1890 the rate of expansion of the German cities was even faster than those of the western world, with the exception of Chicago. If one ventures to suggest that colonial cities are not up-to-date in their administration and facilities, the reply is almost certain to be it is because they are younger communities. But in many of their problems and "municipal activities, they are relatively no younger than many of the German cities. They are not burdened, moreover, with a loss in productive energy and wealth by emigration, or with compulsory military service, whilst individual prosperity is nothing like so great. These observations can but serve to emphasise the disadvantages under which the German cities have wrestled with the problems in their midst and produced solutions "that are a striking example to any community with civic ideals.

Although there are in existence to-day overcrowded and unwholesome areas, in nearly all parts that have been built on, in recent years every care has been taken to secure wide streets, to arrange that very wide tree-planted avenues occur at no great distance from each other among the ordinary streets, that there are strips of pleasant gardens and larger park-like plots at frequent intervals. "It is no exaggeration to say," says Mr. T. C. Horsfall, of Manchester, a leading authority on housing and town planning in Europe, "that in all German towns which are known to me, the very poorest parents, in whatever part of the town they live, have far pleasanter places near their homes in which they can seek fresh air and beautiful surroundings for themselves, and space for the exercise of their children, than the richest people who live in any part of Manchester. If we take the physical conditions of the inhabitants of a town as an index to the efficiency of the system of municipal government in the case of Germany, then we shall certainly be compelled to say that the German system is far superior to ours. For the inhabitants of the large German towns are far more robust in appearance, and are, on the average, taller and broader than are the inhabitants of our large towns."

The German municipality alone determines the manner in which its confines and suburbs shall spread. To that end building plans are prepared of all the districts into which the extension of the city is likely to proceed. These plans are compiled by the highest experts in the land, and set forth amongst many things the roads, the open spaces to be preserved, sites required for public buildings and purposes, the building lines on which sites may be built, the mode of building, the distance of buildings from the street lines, the height of buildings, etc. They make every provision for security from fire, the amount of public traffic which is to be expected, the configuration of page 80 the land, an adequate supply of sunshine to every habitation to be erected in the area, the kind of building that shall be allowed, and whether factories and workshops can be erected according to the existing character of a district—in fact, for every possible contingency or need that is likely to arise. The object of the building plan is to prevent overcrowding, to secure the extension of a city so that it conforms to the best principles of modern town planning, to promote beauty in conformity with utility, and secure to residential areas those natural features and surroundings that an enlightened age demands. The amount of thought, trouble, and experience that is brought to bear in thus designing the future areas of the city is as astonishing as it is admirable. It is characteristic of the thoroughness and the scientific method that is identified with practically all the activities of the German municipality. The architects, wherever it is possible, consult the needs and wishes of the private land owners and commercial interests, and before the building plan is finally adopted every individual is given the opportunity of demonstrating any injury that might be caused. Once the details are completed and confirmed, a city can only spread along the lines of that plan. The method of cutting up private lands for speculative purposes by individuals familiar to the colonies is not permitted. It is, in fact, held to be a first cause of the evils that accumulate as the city expands.

With suburban tendency as the keynote to modern municipal development, the importance of these plans cannot be too often emphasised. They secure continuity of design between city and suburb, direct avenues for quick transit, and in regard to the ruinous process of street widening, compensation, etc., give practical effect to the axiom, "Prevention is better than cure." Most colonial cities in design resemble the checkerboard pattern of the American centres. The German ground plan is much more flexible, representing a combination of the radial and the concentric with the rectangular and parallel—a system that is in every way more convenient.

When agricultural land is being transformed into building land, owners are often led by consideration of their own pecuniary interests, to effect exchanges with each other for the purposes of forming more convenient building plots, But it sometimes occurs that the obstinacy or the stupidity of a single owner makes all agreement impossible. The consequence is that buildings have to be adapted to inconvenient sites, with the result that they are unfavourable to the health and welfare of the inhabitants. The recognition of this difficulty gave practical shape to a remarkable system known as the "lex Adickes" for the consolidation and redistribution of separate plots of land. The system is, in effect, the corollary to the building plan. When agricultural land is cut up into suburban allotments, owners have to set apart certain areas for roads and footpaths. By the German building plan, the municipality decides the area and the location of those areas. Under the "lex Adickes" private owners make over their plots of land to the town. The town retains a part of the land thus surrendered, and uses it for streets and open spaces. The rest of the ground is planned into building plots suitable for building on according to the needs of the individual owner. Each owner receives back the area of his original holding, less the percentage deducted for streets. The new plot is given as near as possible to the old plot, and the questions of corner sites and other special claims are carefully taken into account. It is invariably found that the smaller plot of land is more valuable when returned to the owner than his original holding was.

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Part of a German township before redistribution under the Frankfurt law "Les Adickes."

Part of a German township before redistribution under the Frankfurt law "Les Adickes."

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The same area after redistribution. The plots returned to the owners less deduction for roads, become much more valuable than before.

The same area after redistribution. The plots returned to the owners less deduction for roads, become much more valuable than before.

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Thus briefly is the elaborate and highly specialised method by which the German has evolved a practicable method of setting the site of his town in order before he commences to build it. But the process does not only apply to new districts. It is used in inhabited districts in such a way as to give a town—if it makes a street through an unhealthy district for the improvement of housing conditions or forms a public square in such a district—the right not only to obtain by compulsion the plots of land and houses needed for the street or the square, but also to expropriate and pull down the unwholesome houses in the neighbourhood. The "lex Adickes," which was brought about by the Oberbuergermeister of Frankfurt-am-Main, Dr. Adickes, became law in 1902, after endless difficulties. It only applies to Frankfurt, so far, though it is quite certain to be extended later to other towns, inasmuch that its operation has proved a practicable and remarkable success.

The German system of municipal government has been shaped by the belief that the work of controlling and governing a city requires the highest experience and the devotion of long periods of service by its civic heads. The Mayor, therefore, who is required to he very competent, and in many respects technically proficient, is appointed for extended periods, varying from six to twelve years, and is paid a high salary. With him are elected several councillors or adjoints, distinguished by professional attainments in municipal science, who also retain their seats for long periods, and are paid good salaries. Every mayor and adjoint knows that he will probably hold office for many years, and is therefore encouraged to think out the best policy for the welfare of the community, The system has resulted in a high degree of civic efficiency. The expert chiefs of departments that are found in the English and Colonial systems, in Germany become "the city fathers." The paid elements in the municipality come from the civil service of other German cities where they have made a record and are noted for their expert qualifications. They include legal officers, financial directors, architects, civil engineers, school administrators, and other experts. It is quite understood that these men, including the Mayor, will be reappointed at the end of their terms. Their tenure is practically for life, unless the position is forfeited by misconduct or incompetence. But the largest proportion of members are unpaid.

The numbers of paid and unpaid members respectively are represented in the following typical instances:—Dreaden, 14 paid, 18 unpaid; Leipsic, 12 and 15; Munich, 16 and 20; Breslau, 13 and 11; and Frankfurt, 9 and 8. Stuttgart, the most conservative of all the German cities, until recently paid its Mayor alone. Under these circumstances, it may happen that a Mayor may come from another centre, just as a city engineer or town clerk may do. Thus the late Dr. Forckenbeck, Mayor of Berlin, originally established his qualifications in Breslau. The cost of salaried Mayors and Adjoints, who secured to German municipal government its efficiency, is comparatively small. Mannheim, for instance, which has a population approaching pays its Mayor £1000 a year, its deputy-Mayor £600, and two Adjoints respectively £525 and £500. The Mayor of Stuttgart, which has a population of receives £750 per year, whilst two Adjoints are paid £460 each. In Germany civic dignity is the ambition of all classes, and for that reason the municipality draws some of the finest and ablest men of the day.

In addition to the Council itself, the services of a large number of citizens are enlisted to serve as associates on committees, who are entrusted with the page 82 care of parks, open spaces, schools, charitable aid and sanitary services. It is considered an excellent system in, in that it secures to the city the co-operation and the public service of unofficial members of the community, and promotes a public spirit and ambition worthy of the best traditions of civic unselfishness.

Under legal edict and accepted belief it is considered necessary that every city should have an abundant amount of land of its own. German municipalities have, beside English communities, secured wide areas for every conceivable public purpose, including the erection of large numbers of dwellings. The municipal house is quite a feature of German life. A great deal of support, however, is given to building societies to provide residential quarters in preference to the municipality, The latter grants loans at cheap rates to these societies, and is permitted to take some of their shares or become security for them. The municipality further assists these societies of public utility by allowing them the use of the land it has acquired at cheap rentals.

In an edict issued in April, 1901, the Saxon Ministry of the Interior, says: "The evils which prevail in the housing system, at least so far as large and growing towns are concerned, have one of their chief sources in unsound excessive speculation in land and buildings, speculation which often uses very ignoble means. A community can find no more effective way of keeping this speculation within the limits of justifiable business than that of itself exercising a moderating influence on the land market. Hence, towns on the one hand should increase their holding of land to the fullest possible extent by well-timed purchases, and on the other hand, they must abstain from dealing with their land on strictly commercial principles and seeking only to make profit, the gaining of which ought to be subordinated to higher aims."

On March 19th, 1901, the Prussian Ministers representing trade, commerce, the interior, religion, and agriculture, issued a joint decree on the housing question, in which the following appears: "It is advisable that the towns themselves should build the houses either by their own workpeople or by employing contractors. Towns will promote the provision of an increased supply of small, wholesome, cheap dwellings for the poorer classes, if, whenever the housing conditions are unsatisfactory, they give as much support as possible to building societies of 'public utility,' It should be a condition for receiving help from the community that the building societies are bound to provide wholesome and suitably arranged dwellings at low rents; that the dividends payable to the members be restricted to not more than four per cent on the amount of their shares, and that in case of liquidation not more than the nominal amount of the shares be payable to the shareholders, any surplus being used for public services."

These two excerpts are the keynote of municipal ideals in regard to habitation. "The liberty of the subject is an unknown cry in Germany. "The good of the community and the welfare of the people" is the popular sentiment that has found extensive recognition from State and municipality and the people. It might be supposed that the advanced legislation which Germany offers in contrast to England, is the result of Socialistic propaganda. Mr. Fairlie, in his work on "Municipal Administration" (1901), discusses this very point, and says the advance is not the result of any political propaganda, but is a gradual development of their own experience." Mr. Albert Shaw, in his "Municipal Government in Continental Europe" (1895), after referring to the activity of Socialists in municipal politics in France, says: "Already the German cities would appear page 83 from the viewpoint of other countries to be far advanced in Socialistic undertakings; yet it must not be forgotten that the municipal ideals of a thrifty burgher collectivism and those of the social democracy in German cities may tend as far asunder as those of the burgeoisie and the proletariat in France. As yet the German city governments are in the hands of the educated and the thrifty classes. What social overturning will some day give these splendid business machines into the keeping of the working classes is a speculative topic that may be suggested here, but need not be discussed."

This briefly and imperfectly is an outline of one or two main features of Germany's civic progress. Whether they are of practical application to colonial cities is a matter for experts and experience, but nobody can resist the extraordinary example they offer, the deficiencies they suggest in our own surroundings or the results they show in practice. There are in the German conception of city government no limits to municipal functions. It is their business to promote in every practical way the welfare of the municipality and the well-being of the burgeses. When will Australasia recognise this truth in its entirety?

[The End.]

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