First, note the title to this Module. This course is about the politics of local and regional development. But the categories of 'local and regional development' would have been alien to the way people thought and acted during the one hundred and fifty years that ended round about the Second World War. A politics of the urban and of the regional would have been less unfamiliar, however. Certainly people thought about there being an urban question; and they saw that question as linked, at least in part, to what was happening in surrounding regions.
A second caveat to enter here is that of continuity and change. Again, to refer to the title of the Module, it suggests something uniform, coherent about this period, though the insertion of the word 'early' leaves the end of it somewhat vague. There were continuities. But there were also changes. There are no organized political parties of the left till the earlier part of the twentieth century, for example. They are an important outgrowth of what had been happening in the cities of North American and Western Europe in the preceding one hundred years or so. Likewise, towards the end of the period there are quite definite harbingers of what would come to be accepted as the norm, what would lend credence to the idea that there was a distinct politics of local and regional development. In Britain, during the depression, for the first time localities start competing for new investment. In the US likewise, the individual states started establishing their own Departments of Development, though this was a process that would not be completed until the late 'sixties / early 'seventies. Similarly, a clear feature of the contemporary politics of local and regional development is the competition that goes on in metropolitan areas for positions in the spatial division of consumption: the competition between one suburb and another to attract in up-market developments, for example. But again, there are definite straws in the wind in the 'twenties and particularly the 'thirties.
The Urban Question
A major effect of the capitalist development that we associate with the industrial revolution was a drastic transformation of the settlement pattern. Prior to the industrial revolution this was a landscape of central places approximating the ideal pattern defined by Walther Christaller in his classic Central Places in Southern Germany: larger cities spaced further apart, smaller cities spaced closer together, and all deriving their raison d'êtres from serving a dispersed rural population. Towns and cities were, in short, primarily service centers. The industrial revolution changed all that. New industrial settlements sprang up alongside the streams that provided waterpower for textile mills. In areas on the coal measures colliery villages developed either around smaller, agricultural settlements or as totally new creations. The factory, the mine concentrated workers and, given the transportation conditions of the time, people had to live proximate to them. The larger centers, on the other hand, acquired new reasons for being in the form of servicing the industry-specific needs of the surrounding smaller industrial, mining, lumbering, settlements. In England Leeds and Manchester became the big centers for the wholesaling of wool and cotton respectively. London, New York, Boston became major banking centers for their industrial hinterlands as well as ports for the expanding merchandise trade. So many reasons for rapid urban growth, in other words.
This was one effect of capitalist development. Another was to inject sharp antagonisms into the social fabric. This was a period of immense social convulsions: one of an overtly class politics expressed at very local levels in agitation against employers, against landlords, and against the state as workers strove for the extension of the franchise and for the right to organize. As David Harvey has stated: written: "Class warfare between capital and labor and the drive to reproduce the basic class relation of domination became the pivot of urban politics." (The Urbanization of Capital, p.198).
It was not simply a matter of the insecurity of wage labor, the constant threat of unemployment, the inability to make ends meet, the overwork stemming from increases in the length of the workday, the often unhealthy conditions stemming from the geographic concentration implied by urbanization. The capitalist revolution was also a cultural revolution. Workers had to be habituated to a radically different set of meanings. Punctuality and therefore concepts of time were a radical departure from what had been customary in a predominantly agrarian society, for example. In the countryside the appropriation of the common land by a new breed of agrarian capitalist threatened old customs of access for fuel and the hunting of small game.
So unrest and strikes were common, as were the lockouts of the employers. But there was a geography to the militancy. For it was not the biggest urban agglomerations that were most prone. Rather it was the smaller mining settlements, and the new industrial towns. It was in those places that workers found it easiest to organize and create a unity behind their demands. There were important reasons for this. In the first place a unity of interest was much more likely to derive from employment by the same firm than in a larger town, where there would likely be numerous employers. In colliery villages the colliery would be the employer. In many smaller industrial towns as well as some larger ones clustered around iron and steel mills, for instance, there might also be one employer or one dominant one. Likewise given the small size of these settlements face to face relations could be more easily sustained among the residents. And neighbors weren't just neighbors; often they also worked at the same place, had adult children married to the children of co-workers, and those adult children too would work down the pit or in the same copper mine, for the same textile mill and so on.
Some smaller settlements were company towns and these generated their own distinct grievances, adding to the overt class nature of the politics of the time. Company towns were ones in which the employer owned the housing, the retail facilities and often the chapels, saloons and the like. They were typically set up where there was no pre-existing settlement but where there were compelling reasons for locating a factory or a mine. But in order to operate workers would be needed close by. As a result housing and retailing - typically a company store - had to be provided for them. The fact that there was one single employer who owned the housing and the retail facilities easily lent itself to abuse. Since workers had no other employers they could turn to for work in the area, they were subject to intensified exploitation. In the mines where they were often employed on piece rates, the coal they produced would be systematically under-weighed at the surface. Employers would also use their control of housing to impose conditions of work that were to their advantage rather than to that of the workers. Adding to the oppressions was the common payment of the wage in the form of 'scrip' that had to be spent at the company store, so that the employer could take back what he had paid the workers in the form of overpricing of groceries and other consumer goods.
In the bigger cities things were different. This wasn't just the absence of the company town structure. Rather the major cities were too spread out to facilitate organization around a common agenda, and there would be multiple employers. The fact of multiple employers mitigated workplace oppression to some degree in that workers could play one employer off against another. Likewise neighbors would less likely be fellow workers as would be the case in a colliery village or mill town and this made the communication and intensification of a sense of grievance more difficult.
Nevertheless the bigger cities did have their own distinctive politics. Much of this revolved around housing. Compared with smaller towns there was less owner occupancy, and less company owned housing and much more private rental. Private rental was less common in smaller, single-employer towns since the risks for landlords were too high. If the major employer went bankrupt then they would be left holding houses for which it would be difficult to find new tenants. The prevalence of private renting generated a different politics from that of the larger towns. As cities grew the money to be made out of rents was huge. Tight limits on commuting distances intensified demand at the same time as the taking of land for civic improvements, for railway lines and railway stations diminished the supply. The interest on the part of landlords in making the flow of rents not just continue but swell gave them a major stake in city politics. With respect to the British case Rosemary Mellor has written: "… state intervention (into urban housing) did not challenge the basic principle of urban development - property owners had the right to treat the urban resource system as income. For the urban middle classes, status and security through a life cycle was consolidated in urban rents. The urban bourgeoisie had to be nudged, cajoled and eventually required to moderate the extortion … It is not surprising that the manifesto of the Labour Representation Committee a the general election of 1900 declaimed its objective as 'the emancipation of labor from the domination of capitalism and landlordism…'" (1989: 585) In Britain this interest was intensified by the fact that it was the landlords who paid the so-called 'rates' or property taxes. Rates went to fund poor relief for the unemployed and otherwise indigent
High rents, moreover, stimulated overcrowding as people doubled up. In consequence one of the ways the housing problem manifested itself was in the form of high rates of contagious disease. This was intensified by the absence of clean water and water borne sewerage. The concerns of the middle class about the spread of disease into their more salubrious parts of the city stimulated the movement for reform in this area, but it had to do battle with the interests of the landlords in keeping the rates low, for it was out of rate income that the necessary civic improvements would be financed.
There were other attempts at solving the problem but for the most part they simply moved the slum around. Inspecting houses for overcrowding might reduce the problem in one neighborhood but people would simply double up elsewhere. Other approaches involved the construction of so called 'model housing'. Land would be cleared and housing built using money borrowed at a rate subsidized by the government and the resultant apartments then rented out. But in order to recoup the expense of the land, even with subsidized finance rents had to be set at a level which only the most affluent of the working class - a very thin stratum - could afford. Moreover, such renewal typically resulted in lower residential densities than formerly. So where were the displaced to go? Engels nicely characterized what was going on when he referred to: "…the practice, which has now become general, of making breaches in the working-class quarters of our big cities, particularly in those which are centrally situated, irrespective of whether this practice is occasioned by considerations of public health and beautification or by the demand for big centrally located business premises or by traffic requirements, such as the laying down of railways, streets, etc. No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the most scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-glorification by the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success, but - they appear again at once somewhere else, and often in the immediate neighborhood" (The Housing Question. Progress Publishers, 1975, p.71). And he continues a couple of pages later on: "The breeding places of disease, the infamous holes and cellars in which the capitalist mode of production confines our workers night after night, are not abolished; they are merely shifted elsewhere! The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place produces them in the next place also" It would be moved around / shifted elsewhere because wage levels and chronic unemployment put a strict ceiling on what they could afford to rent. Only by doubling up, living in cellars, putting themselves in situations therefore where disease could multiply could they afford to remain proximate to work or to the chance of work.
Housing, overcrowding, rental levels, were all major issues in the big nineteenth century city. It was in this context that Henry George found fertile ground for his single tax proposals. What George argued was that the property tax - the major source of revenue for local government - should be converted from a tax on both improvements and land to a tax purely on land. Not only that. The tax should equal the rent that the land would otherwise produce. In this way George believed that the owners of land would have an increased incentive to develop it rather than leave it idle, and to develop at higher densities, since only by developing and receiving a rent from tenants would they be able to pay the tax on land and have revenue to spare. So while Engels emphasized demand George stressed the role of supply and the obstacles to it.
There was, however, to be no mitigation of the problem until the beginning of the century and for diverse reasons. It was then that worker organization was sufficiently strong to pressure governments into imposing rent control, though this was very spotty in the United States. The private landlord also received increasing competition in Western Europe from the growth of publicly owned housing which benefited from various subsidies. Increasing incomes during the 'twenties and 'thirties, despite the depression, also had positive effects as did improvements in personal mobility which opened up the urban periphery to new development and so an expansion in the supply of housing .
'Solving' the Urban Question
But to go back to the nineteenth century, just how did governments, entrepreneurs try to solve the urban question. It was certainly something that occupied their minds for unrest threatened them both. Interestingly geography loomed large in their conceptions of an appropriate response. This was because 'community' and its importance was a touchstone of their consciousness. There was a widespread sense in the nineteenth century in both North America and Western Europe, though particularly in the latter, of a world that had been lost: a rural world of close, intimate ties between people, of strong communal feeling that cross-cut any sense of class that might be present. Religion was important in the lives of people. Deference went hand in hand with noblesse oblige. Those of status felt a sense of obligation to their workers and tenants providing charity and knowing them on an intimate, first name basis. This gemeinschaft, as it was called by the sociologiest Toennies, was contrasted with the new gesellschaft of individualism, social fragmentation and class polarization. Gemeinschaft or what was to become known to a later generation of sociologists as 'traditional' society had been predominantly a rural form of society; the gesellschaft or 'modern' society which was replacing it was predominantly urban. The transformation from one to the other was one that obsessed nineteenth century thinkers and was reflected in how people thought about mitigating the crisis of the cities.
Consider in this regard the idea of the model community of which there are numerous examples in Western Europe, like Saltaire, Port Sunlight and Bournville and also some in North America, the most well-known of which was Pullman on the outskirts of Chicago. Through the model community employers aimed to bring the worker into close intimate ties with himself, expose him and her to the moralizing influences of the church which many believed had been lost as a result of urbanization and keep away demoralizing influences like the saloon. Through geography, therefore, employers aimed to re-create a world that had been lost. Disraeli, the British Prime Minister of the mid-nineteenth century was very aware of what was going on and wrote approvingly of it. In his novel Sybil or The Two Nations he explores ways of mitigating the relation between the two classes (hence the alternative title). In the following passage he describes the activities of the industrialist Trafford on behalf of his two thousand or so workers: "When the workpeople of Mr.Trafford left his factory they were not forgotten. Deeply had he pondered on the influence of the employer on the health and content of his workpeople. He knew well that the domestic virtues are dependent on the existence of a home, and one of his first efforts had been to build a village where every family might be well lodged. Though he was the principal proprietor, and proud of that character, he nevertheless encouraged his workmen to purchase the fee (the property): there were some who had saved sufficient money to effect this; proud of their house and their little garden and of the horticultural society, where its produce permitted them to be annual competitors. In every street there was a well; behind the factory were the public baths; the schools were under the direction of the perpetual curate of the church, which Mr. Trafford, though a Roman Catholic, had raised and endowed. In the midst of this village, surrounded by beautiful gardens, which gave an impulse to the horticulture of the community, was the house of Trafford himself, who comprehended his position too well to withdraw himself with vulgar exclusiveness from his real dependents, but recognized the baronial principle, reviving in a new form, and adapted to the softer manners and more ingenious circumstances of the times.
And what was the influence of such an employer and such a system of employment on the morals and manners of the employed? Great; infinitely beneficial. The connexion of a laborer with his place of work, whether agricultural or manufacturing, is itself a vast advantage. Proximity to the employer brings cleanliness and order, because it brings observation and encouragement. In the settlement of Trafford crime was positively unknown, and offences were very slight. There was not a single person in the village of a reprobate character. The men were well clad; the women had a blooming cheek; drunkenness was unknown; while the moral condition of the softer sex was proportionately elevated." (1926: 185-186).
In other words, through urban design, it was believed that social peace could be achieved: a message that had important effects later on with the emergence of a city planning profession. Undoubtedly these early experiments which Disraeli represented here in fictional form had important influences on subsequent planning practice.
But even if there were no model communities per se, paternalism was, from the standpoint of the owner, a common form of mitigating the harshness of the employment relation and inculcating the loyalty of the worker to the firm. In this way it could be insulated from worker agitation. In his book Work, Society and Politics (1980) Patrick Joyce describes how this worked in Lancashire mill towns in England. Employers cultivated quasi-familial relations with their employees. They knew them each by name and made a habit of cultivating a detailed knowledge of their private lives so that they could engage with them in friendly conversation. Birthday cards were sent. There would be tea evenings at the employer's home and annual days out to the employer's residence in the countryside, if he had one. There would be works dinners and treats. The factory was converted into something more than a place of work. It became also a part of the worker's living place. There would be libraries, reading rooms, baths, gymnasia, and lectures given. So much of daily life - reading a newspaper, playing in a brass band - took place within the factory. Mills had their own social committees, organizing trips, mill socials and sports days, factory football and cricket. Whole families would be hired, father, mother and older children, but the cash relationship would be with the father; a relation between patriarchs, in other words, and a symbolic expression of the way the employer wanted the worker to believe about the organization of society - that it was in terms of families rather than capital and labor. Larger employers might also provide for the townspeople in general through the provision of public libraries, parks and the construction of town halls.
Yet the days of paternalism were numbered. By the end of the nineteenth century the joint stock company and the employment of specialized managers were undermining it as Lloyd Warner made clear in his discussion of Newburyport (Yankee City). The joint stock company ushered in the multi-locational firm so that there was more indifference to the state of labor relations in particular branches of the firm. A professional managerial class lacked the same material incentives to get to know the worker since the chances were they would be moving on to greener pastures sooner or later.
There were also attempts to limit the growth of large cities; to keep the worker in the countryside where she could continue to be part of a rural fabric and exposed to the beneficial, conservative influence of the church. As Mandel has described it, this was policy in the Flanders region of Belgium. Through low cost government loans workers would be encouraged to build houses in the rural areas, while low cost workers' fares on the extensive railroad system would permit them cheap and easy access to work in the cities .
This is by no means exhaustive of the techniques deployed in an attempt to solve the urban question. A common middle class construction of it was that it was a moral question: that poor people were poor, unable to pay the rent, running out of money before the next payday, unable to find work, by virtue of moral deficiencies. 'Improvidence' was a popular diagnosis, failure to plan for the future, but so too were the evils of drink and gambling. Men wasted their money on beer and betting and it was this which kept their families poor. The temperance movement, so strong both in late nineteenth century Britain and in the United States - and continuing in the latter well into the nineteen-thirties - was one response to this. There were also interesting forerunners of what was to become the social worker. Charities doled out money to the indigent but on condition that they demonstrated the right moral qualities. Middle class ladies often did the visiting that allowed the necessary judgments to be made and would use the occasion to encourage the right 'habits'.
An Evolving Politics
While social historians have often focused in their work on the vexed state of employer-worker relations in the nineteenth century, the fact remains that ruling classes in the face of this resistance, remained quite obdurate. Particularly in the larger cities, as I pointed out earlier, one might reasonably have expected greater popular opposition to high rents, unemployment, the lowering of wages by employers than actually occurred. So how is one to explain it?
One reason was the very high level of mobility. This made organization and uniting around a common cause more difficult than it would otherwise have been. There was lots of moving around within the major cities as people out of work sought new jobs / looked for cheaper housing. Given the lack of cheap, speedy means of transportation people had to live close to the workplace, so a change of job often necessitated a change of residence. At the same time there were many newcomers from the countryside and they too meant that the social complexion of particular neighborhoods would be continually changing. Organization was easiest, people were easier to mobilize, where they formed part of a working class community with strong social links among its members: where workers were neighbors and their children married the children of neighbors. As I have noted above, this was more feasible in small, single industry towns than it was in the larger cities.
In addition there was a considerable amount of temporary migration. While the United States received huge numbers of immigrants from Europe during the nineteenth century a surprising number of them always intended to go back rather quickly. Rather they often came merely to accumulate some money that could then be invested in a small farm or business 'back home'. For such people the attractions of striking for benefits which they might not see since they would long since have departed, were minimal. As Herbert Gutman (1977) has written in talking about the apparent lack of protest in the face of quite appalling conditions: "The great Carnegie Pittsburgh plants employed 14,359 common laborers, 11,694 of them South and East Europeans ... A staggering accident rate damaged these and other men: nearly 25% of the recent immigrants employed at the Carnegie South Works were injured or killed each year between 1907 and 1910, 3,723 in all. But … these men rarely protested in collective ways, and for good reason. They did not plan to stay in the steel mils long. Most had come to the United States as single men (or married men who had left their families behind) to work briefly in the mills, save some money, return home, and purchase farmland"(p.30) He adds significantly: "The First World War and its aftermath blocked the traditional route of overseas outward mobility, and the consciousness of immigrant steelworkers changed. They sparked the 1919 steel strike. The steel mill had become a way of life for them and was no longer the means by which to reaffirm and even strengthen older peasant and village life styles" (pp.31-32)
In contrast to the mobility and general residential instability, however, there were more stable elements in the population: shopkeepers, tavern owners, the owners of the ethnic newspapers, undertakers, insurance and real estate agents, some homeowners but they were the more affluent elements. It was from these strata that leadership was drawn but inevitably it was a conservative leadership. Liquor dealers, tavern keepers, undertakers, real estate and insurance agents, for example, often required public licenses or dealt with semi-legal matters. They therefore had links to the larger world beyond the ethnic / working class enclave and so furnished its first leaders. Their propertied nature inevitably made them suspicious of more radical demands. Aggressive labor unions might bend the storeowners and saloon keepers to their cause on pain of taking their patronage elsewhere. But in the absence of strong working class communities the mass of the population was more easily influenced.
Even in the ostensibly radical mining communities leadership was often assumed by the more conservative forces. In his study of some Durham mining communities in England, Robert Moore (1974) has explored the role of the Methodists. They were especially strong in the trade union movement in the area and were a force that tended to slow down the rise of the Labour Party there. The Methodists, along with other nonconformist religious groups, like the Congregationalists and Baptists, had been the backbone of the Liberal Party, which had adopted conciliatory attitudes towards management - its primary antagonist had been Britain's landed interest - and combined them with the stern abjuration of alcohol that was a hallmark of nonconformists everywhere. More locally, moreover, these conservative forces were reinforced by the way in which leadership in the chapels tended to devolve to the 'better class' of miner and to small shopkeepers and officials. The common laborer was very underrepresented.
Apart from problems stemming from the constant moving around it also has to be borne in mind that until the closing years of the nineteenth century there was no means of political expression, no means of bringing pressure directly to bear on the state. Only then do the workers' parties emerge in Western Europe, though this lateness is partly due to the slowness with which the franchise was granted. But by the late nineteenth century mobility was slowing down. In Britain, the Low Countries and Germany the big migrations from the countryside to the towns are coming to an end. What starts to emerge in both Western Europe and North America are more stable working class communities, sometimes ethnic in character and including more middle class elements - the same shopkeepers, saloon owners, newspaper owners, small businesspeople and employers we referred to earlier. These are communities in which the conjunction of worker / neighbor / kin that had often been characteristic of small mining and industrial towns in the earlier part of the nineteenth century begins to become more of the norm even in the larger cities: among the dockworkers of East London, for example. These are communities characterized by mutual aid, lending on the part of local shopkeepers at times of serious unemployment, strongly inward looking and united in defense of employment there. They are also ones in which norms of individualism, of upward mobility are suppressed. To be upwardly mobile is to undermine the ability of the family to carve out a decent standard of living for itself, to deprive the parents of the golden years when they could look forward to adult children living with them and contributing to the household budget. And once married the adult children would stay in the same neighborhood to look after the parents in their declining years.
It is communities such as these which came to form the backbone of left wing political parties in Western Europe and, to a lesser degree of the Democratic Party as it reformed itself in the United States during the nineteen thirties. Through their agency the aim was to protect these working class communities. Working class solidarity was a solidarity with people who had the same community-oriented goals for it was through the community that it was believed living standards could be safeguarded.
The rise of the labor movement brought important changes in its wake, changes which laid down crucial conditions for the politics of local and regional development that was to blossom in the period after WWII. In the first place it lent its weight to the evacuation of much of class politics from the local level to the national level. Looking after the unemployed, caring for the aged through pensions, became a matter for central branches of the state rather than for the more local branches. The working class solidarity for which the new parties of the left stood required that solutions be national and not local and that there be an element of equality in the way in which people were treated: an equality which would be difficult to achieve if provision was left up to the various local governments. This joined with the desire of the local well-to-do to shift responsibility away from themselves. In Britain, local property owners had been agitating for a long time for the elimination of the poor law which made them responsible for funding relief of the poor and unemployed, for example. Already at the beginning of the century the foundations of the future welfare state were being laid, at least in Western Europe: old age pensions were introduced, a start was made on public housing and on systems of national insurance against unemployment. Henceforth these would no longer be matters of local government and a space was being cleared for what would be: the politics of local and regional development.
David A Corbin (1981) Life, Work and Rebellion in the Coalfields. Urbana, Ill: University of Illinois Press.
Friedrich Engels (1975) The Housing Question. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
John Foster (1979) "How Imperial London Preserved Its Slums". International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 3:1, 93-113.
Caroline Golab (1977) Immigrant Destinations. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1977
Herbert Gutman (1977) Work, Culture and Society in Industrializing America. New York: Vintage Books.
Eric Hobsbawm (1987) "Labor in the Great City". New Left Review No.166, 39-52.
Patrick Joyce (1980) Work, Society, and Politics. Hassocks: Harvester Press.
Ernest Mandel (1963) "The Dialectic of Class and Region in Belgium". New Left Review No.20, 5-31.
Rosemary Mellor (1975) "The British Experience: Combined and Uneven Development". Pp.99-135 in proceedings of the conference on Urban Change and Conflict, Center for Environmental Studies, London.
Rosemary Mellor (1989) "Transitions in Urbanization: Twentieth-Century Britain" International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 13:4, 573-596.
Robert Moore (1974) Pit-Men, Preachers and Politics. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press.
Richard Simon (1980) "The Labor Process and Uneven Development: The Appalachian Coalfields, 1880-1930" International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 4:1, 46-71.
Olivier Zunz (1982) The Changing Face of Inequality: Urbanization, Industrial Development, and Immigrants in Detroit, 1880-1920. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1982
 Mellor (1975: 123-24) has written about the British case: “At 1939 one-third of the housing stock was less than twenty years old and investment in housing as a proportion of GNP had risen from rates of 1.2 percent – 1.7 percent in the period 1900/1914 to an average of 3.3 percent, 1930/38 . The 1930s was a period of unprecedented prosperity for the majority of the population: excluding building, industrial production is estimated to have risen by about 50 per cent between 1924 and 1937, and industrial output per head by a similar amount … Living conditions were transformed … Two important elements in this were an improvement in the terms of trade at the height of the recession 1929-34, which brought cheaper food, and a marked reduction in the cost of living index, and cheaper housing”. And she adds that one of the reasons for the cheapness of housing was the cheapness of land on the periphery. Landowners were willing to sell at low prices because of the depression that had gripped British agriculture from the 1870s on and which was not to be over until wartime drastically reduced food imports.
 Keeping the workers in thrall to traditional institutions is a common theme in attempts to limit their urbanization. Concerns about detribalization, for example, are a common thread in the policies of successive white governments in South Africa aimed at limiting the permanent African presence in the city