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THE SOCIAL FAILURE OF THE CITY.
BY MRS. EMMA WINNER ROGERS.
A FRENCH novelist has called our modern civilization a "varnished barbarism," and we recognize the truth of this most when we know intimately the great cities. The barbarian hordes within their boundaries, of various tongues and temperaments and customs; the struggle for life and place; the primitive methods of lying, stealing, and killing confirm one's impression that civilization has not struck much below the surface as yet. One can talk of the city only in paradoxes, and it has been well described as the birthplace of civilization and the deathplace of the human race. But for the constant influx of sound and sane humanity from the hamlet and the country, physical and moral degeneracy would overtake the city in a few generations.
Potent influences both for good and for evil center in the city; pure and unselfish types of character develop side by side with debased and sordid types. Here we find the widest difference in conditions. Immense wealth and abject poverty, broad culture and dense ignorance, unbounded opportunity and grinding deprivation, mark the social conditions of the dwellers in cities and make the problem of the city the delight and the despair of the student of society. Woodrow Wilson in the Atlantic Monthly, writ ing of the fact that life in big cities is actually inhumane in its rush and grasping turmoil, asks: "Why should not the city seem infinitely more human than the hamlet? Why should not human traits the more abound where hu
man beings teem millions strong?" And he replies to this very pertinently: "Because the city curtails man of his wholeness, specializes him, quickens some powers, stunts others. . . . Men have indeed written like human beings," he says, "in the midst of great cities, but not often when they have shared the city's characteristic life. . . . There are not many places that belong to a city's life to which you can 'invite your soul.' Its haste, its preoccupations, its anxieties, its rushing noise as of men driven, its ringing cries, distract you. It offers no quiet for reflection; it permits no retirement to any who share its life. It is a place of little tasks, of narrowed functions, of aggregate and not of individual strength."1
It is doubtful if the conditions of life in our large cities will permit the development of a great literature, a great art, or great character. These grow where the clamor of trade and labor do not drown out the voices of God and nature and humanity. A certain serenity, a sufficient leisure for vision and human fellowship, contact with beauty and goodness, are in some measure the conditions in which the highest human achievement and development occur. Silver and gold and houses and lands can be won in the hasting and wasting conflicts of the modern city. Wonderful piles of brick and mortar and iron rise toward the sky, and every device of skill and energy on the material side of life make up the environment of the dwellers in our great cities. Only the man himself is dwarfed amid this superb development of material things. "The men we see are whipped through the world," as Emerson tells us: they are harried, wrinkled, anxious; they all seem the hacks of some invisible riders, .. there are no divine persons with us, and the multitude do not hasten to be divine.” 2
1 Art. "On Being Human," Atlantic Monthly, Sept. 1897.
2 Emerson's Essays, Domestic Life, p. 103.
If the city fails to develop the highest and best in men of culture and leisure, it fails still more grievously to promote the physical and moral welfare of the common man, whose kind make up the great mass of urban dwellers. While all the citizens are directly or indirectly affected by the social conditions in the city, it is the poor, and the working-classes so called, who are the helpless victims of these conditions. And these classes are estimated to constitute from one-half to three-fourths of the population of the great cities. It is significant of the immense numbers of workingmen in our cities that the last New York City directory is said to have omitted five hundred thousand names of hod-carriers and day-laborers, in order to make the volume of reasonable or usable size.
Bear in mind, then, that in discussing the social failure of the city our contention is that the city, the American city, fails to meet the physical and social needs of the majority of its population-the common people. That it fails also to stimulate and develop the highest type of character and achievement, or to provide an ideal environment for the leisured classes, is of infinitely less account. The excuse is sometimes offered that our cities have grown so rapidly as to make it impossible for their municipal governments to provide adequately for this rapid development. But the growth of American cities is matched by that of European cities and these last have seldom failed to provide for their expanding needs. Berlin has grown more rapidly than New York,' and Hamburg than Boston, and twice as fast as Buffalo, and Leipsic than St. Louis or San Francisco. A score of European cities might be named, the growth of which has kept pace or distanced the same number of our most rapidly growing American cities.
"In Europe," says Albert Shaw, "the honesty and general efficiency of municipal government are not seriously 1This does not apply to the Greater New York.
in question anywhere. Municipal government from Scotland to Hungary is exalting the bacteriologist and the sanitary inspector, fostering the kindergarten and the technical school, and inquiring anxiously about the housing of the people." Social conditions in the city are largely a direct result of the management or government of the city. They stand related as cause and effect. When we concede, therefore, that municipal government in the United States is a failure, we grant the fact of the social failure of our cities. This failure of municipal government has long since been conceded; and I offer the testimony on this point of a distinguished American and an Englishman of equal note, only to refresh our memories as to the extent of the failure of our city governments. Andrew D. White declares: "Without the slightest exaggeration, we may assert that with very few exceptions, the city governments of the United States are the worst in Christendom, the most expensive, the most inefficient, and the most corrupt." And Mr. Bryce says: "There is no denying the fact that the government of cities is the one conspicuous failure of the United States." There is perhaps no severer commentary on our city governments than the fact that they are being obliged to abandon representative government, and to lodge absolute power in the mayor,—an undemocratic and un-American measure, only justified by the fact that the taxpayers find that boards of aldermen cannot be trusted with the government of cities.
It may not be without interest to point out certain specific instances of the social failure of our cities, and later to suggest one or two possible means for bringing a better state of things to pass. Mr. Bryce, in "The American Commonwealth," says: "Two tests of practical efficiency may be applied to the government of a city: What does it provide for the people, and what does it cost the people." Ap1 1 Municipal Government in Europe. 2 Vol. i. p. 607; 1st ed.
plying these tests to our American cities, we find their governments do not provide an honest, intelligent, or efficient administration. City legislation is often bought and sold; the rights of the people in valuable franchises are generally set aside, and these figure in adding to the private gains of members of the city government. The tax system is unjust and demoralizing.
But the benefit
City and suburban transit has undergone a progressive revolution in recent years, and few are so poor as not to have benefited from this in some measure. has been comparatively small in the case of the wageearning people who make up the majority of the city's population. One of the sights of our great cities is to watch at morning or evening the endless stream of working men and women going to or from their work on the long avenues leading to the poorer quarters of the city. Ten cents a day for street-car fares is too great a tax on a poor man's small earnings, and he must walk to and from his work unless it is very remote. For the same cause few working-people can afford to live in the suburbs. They are tied to the crowded tenement and the slum neighborhood by their poverty, although every interest of the city is opposed to this massing of the poor in the central districts of the city. An efficient city government might readily secure for its working-people special rates, during certain hours, on street and steam cars as one item of compensation in exchange for the many rights and privileges granted the transit companies. But the cities have failed to do this, except in rare instances.
Clean streets and alleys are a sanitary necessity, but in most of the large cities the death-rate, especially of the poorer wards, is frightfully increased by the filthiness of the thoroughfares. New York, fortunately, has reformed in this particular; and with amazing sense and sympathy, began the reform in the tenement districts where it was