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Civics: as Applied Sociology by Patrick Geddes

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are part of the English nation, and that the English nation has shared
in the general historical evolution of Western Europe, it would seem
that the first simplification the question allows of is: What is there
in the historical development of that city that is common to the whole
of Western Europe, and what is peculiar to its position as an English
city? And the second simplification that the problem allows of is to
consider what part of the evolution of a particular city is due to its
peculiar position in that river valley? So that it seems necessary first
to get a general idea of the historical evolution of England and the
West; and then you can proceed to consider what is due to the part
played by the city in that evolution. Thus you have to consider not so
much the city as a result of its immediate environment, but the effect
of its environment in modifying the general course of civilisation as it
affected that city.


[Page: 114] referring to Professor Geddes' remarks on the working
craftsman and the thinking craftsman, said he believed that in a country
like England, where the prevailing tendencies of thought and action were
of an essentially practical nature, many people who now felt contempt
for higher mental ideals would alter their views, if this idea of the
_causal_ relationship between thinkers and workers could be driven home.
If business men and women could be made to realise that in the higher
regions of pure science there were always to be found some thinkers who
belonged to the same craft or trade as they themselves, they would
naturally tend to rely on these thinkers when dealing with problems that
necessitate a wide mental outlook.

Moreover, the thought that students of great mental powers studied the
objects with which working craftsmen were in daily contact, could not
fail to deepen, refine and purify their more practical and, in some
respects, grosser aims; while the knowledge that every science-study had
an industrial as well as a scientific aspect would make the thinking
craftsmen more alive to the needs of everyday existence.

Such conceptions, if spread through all classes of our community, would
inevitably change the feeling of distrust of learning into one of
healthful enthusiasm, and give in addition a unity and direction to our
various life pursuits which might in time generate a true modern
national spirit; for it is precisely this divorce of mental and
physical, of theoretical and practical, class and individual
effort--which such a thinking and working craft theory would
rectify--that destroys our efficiency by creating an unreal chasm
between refined and unrefined, learned and unlearned, where there should
be only a progressive evolution from the lower to the higher, from the
immediate practical to the ultimate ideal.


There was one point that the lecturer made which, I think, might be a
fit and fruitful subject for discussion. He said that we were the
product of the city. To a great extent that is undoubtedly true; but on
the other hand, he advocated an improvement in the conditions of
environment, to be brought about by our own endeavours. Therefore, the
city can be shaped and made by us. What, then, is the exact value to be
given to the seemingly contradictory doctrines that the individual is
the product of the city and also that the city is the product of the
citizen? The establishing of some fixed relation between--or the
adjusting of the relations of--these two causes of social progress would
be, I think, interesting to the philosopher, and useful to the
economist. The problem is [Page: 115] without doubt a difficult one, but
its solution would be of great value. I do not venture to offer any
answer to the question I raise--I merely state it.

MR. A.W. STILL said:

We have been passing through a period in which the city has created a
type of man so wholly absorbed in the promotion of his own individual
interests that he tends almost entirely to forget the social obligations
which ought to make the greatest appeal to him. We may take some hope
from what Professor Geddes has said, that the time is coming when we
shall bring the force of our own characters to bear on our environment,
and endeavour to break away from conditions which have made us the
slaves of environment. I know the lovely little garden city of
Bourneville intimately, and some of the experiments in other quarters.
But in the common expansion of cities, I have seen that as the people
get away from one set of slums, they are creating new areas which will
become as degraded and abominable as those which are left behind. It has
always seemed to me that there is room for good work by some committee,
or some body of men, who would be voluntary guardians of the city's
well-being, who would make it their business to acquire all that
knowledge which Professor Geddes has just put before us in terms so
enchanting, and would use all the ability that they possess in order to
lead the minds of the community towards the cultivation of the best and
highest ideals in civic life. I do not think it need be regarded as
impossible that, from an association of this kind, such a movement as I
have mentioned should spring. I conceive the possibility of each group
developing into a trust, capable of acting in the interests of the city
in years to come, exercising a mighty influence, being relied upon for
guidance, and administering great funds for the common good. If we could
get in each of our populous centres a dozen thoroughly intelligent
broad-minded men, capable of watching all the streams of tendency--all
the developments of civic life, bringing their judgment to bear on its
progress, and urging the public to move in the right direction, a great
service might be rendered. At least once a year, these little groups of
men might meet together at some general conference, and, by the exchange
of their opinions and by the mutual helpfulness of intellectual
intercourse, raise up and perfect civic ideals which would be a boon to
this country. We suffer at present, I think, from the too great
particularisation of our efforts. We get one man devoting himself
exclusively to a blind asylum, another seeming to take no interest in
anything but a deaf-and-dumb institute or the like, and yet another
devoting himself to charity organisation. It is all excellent work, but
the difficulty is to get broad, comprehensive views taken of the common
good. To reduce poverty and to check physical degeneracy, there must be
an effort continuously made to [Page: 116] raise the tone of the
environment in which we live. The home and the city need to be made
wholesome and beautiful, and the people need to be encouraged to enlarge
their minds by contact with nature, and by the study of all that is
elevating and that increases the sum of social responsibility.


He found it somewhat difficult to see what was to be the practical
outcome of civics if studied in the way proposed. Would Professor Geddes
consider it the duty of any Londoner, who wished to study sociology
practically, to map out London, and also the surrounding districts, with
special reference to the Thames River Basin, as appeared to be suggested
in both Professor Geddes' papers? Looking at civics in its practical or
ethical aspect, he was bound to confess that, though he had acquired a
tolerable knowledge of the geography of the Thames Basin, he did not
feel it helped him materially towards becoming a better citizen of
London. Would Professor Geddes wish them to study, first, London with
its wealth side by side with its squalor and filth, and then proceed to
study another large town, where the same phenomena presented themselves?
What gain would there be in that proportionate to the labour entailed?
In his own case, so disheartened had he felt by observing that all their
efforts, public and private, for the improvement of their civic
conditions seemed to end in raising considerably the rents of the ground
landlords of London, while leaving the bulk of the population engaged in
a hard struggle for their existence, that he had for years past found it
difficult to take much interest in municipal affairs, so long as the
rates and taxes were--as it seemed to him--put upon the wrong shoulders.
And for the study of civics, he had preferred to turn to those cities
where efforts were being made to establish communal life on what seemed
to him juster conditions. In 1897, he was struck with the title of an
article in the "Daily Telegraph." It was headed, "The Land of Beauty,
Society without Poverty, Life without Care." He found the article was a
description of Durban in Natal. The writer attributed the prosperity of
this town to the fact that the suburbs were kept in the hands of the
community, instead of being handed over to private owners who would
absorb all the unearned increment. Even if this eulogium betrayed
exaggeration still a student of civics might feel that the economic
conditions of that town were worth studying. Similarly, in New Zealand,
the adoption in 1891 of the tax on land values brought prosperity to the
towns, and changed the tide of emigration from New Zealand into
immigration. Again, at home they had Bourneville, Port Sunlight, and
that most interesting of all present-day experiments in this country,
the Garden City, all of these being founded by men with ideals. He could
not help feeling [Page: 117] that a student of civics, possessed of such
a fair working knowledge of the city he lived in as most of them might
reasonably lay claim to, would make more real progress by studying the
success or failure of social experiments, than by entering on the very
formidable task that seemed to be set before them by Professor Geddes.
However, when they left abstract civics, as they had it portrayed to
them in these papers, and turned to the architectural or the historical
side of concrete civics, there should be no better guide than Professor
Geddes, whose labours in Edinburgh, and whose projected schemes for the
improvement of Dunfermline, were becoming widely known.

MR. TOMKINS (_of the London Trades Council_) said:

If before any person was allowed to serve on our different public
bodies, he should be required to attend a course of lectures such as
those given by Professor Geddes on civics, that would surely be a means
of developing his social interests, and would tend to eliminate that
self-interest which too often actuated public men. There was nothing
more difficult than for workmen to-day to be able to take larger views.
The workman's whole business was now so different from what is was in
the days of the arts and crafts guilds of the Middle Ages; they now
found him ground down into some little division of industry, and it was
quite impossible for him to work in his own way. Thus he got
narrow-minded, because concentrated on some minor process. He was kept
at work with his nose to the mill the whole time, and it became too
exhausting for him to try and take these larger views of life. He often
thought of the amount of talent and energy and practical beauty which
was wasted in our workshops to-day. Referring to the Garden Cities of
this country and the United States, Mr. Tomkins said the idea of getting
great Trusts to use their money in a social spirit, and not merely to
get the workers tied to their mills, was really something which opened
out a vista of grand possibilities in the future; but if any movement
was to be successful it would be necessary to teach the great masses of
workers, and to create a real sound social public opinion amongst them.


Professor Geddes, in replying to the discussion, said he entirely agreed
with the point made by Mr. Swinny, and he should just like to correct
what he had said in his lecture by reference to what he meant by a civic
museum. In Edinburgh, he had in his museum a large room, with a
geographical model [Page: 118] of the old town with its hill-fort, and
so on; and he hung round this maps and diagrams of historical and
geographical details. On the opposite side of the room, he had a symbol
of the market-cross, which stood for the centre of its municipal life,
of its ideals and independence of environment. Around it was grouped
what represented the other side of the city; and here he might answer
another point, and say that they could never settle the great
philosophical controversy of determinism and free-will. They would
always incline when young to the novel of circumstance, and later, to
the novel of character, but they should always feel that life was a game
of individual skill with interfering circumstances. These diagrams of
his were only the page split. On the one side, he meant to push to the
extreme the idea that the place makes us, and on the other side, that we
make the place. By what process do men struggle towards the selection of
their ideals? They find themselves within the grasp of their
environment, their whole heritage of culture, of good and ill, the whole
tradition of the past; but they must select certain elements of
these--the elements that seem to them good, and so they might escape
from the manner of the city. Pointing to a drawing of the old Scotch
bawbee, Professor Geddes said it was not a very dignified symbol of the
coinage of the world, but let them mark how it had on the one side the
hammerman at his work, with his motto "_Beat deus artem_," and, on the
other side, a larger legend, with the eagle of the empire and the lamb
of Saint John.

To return to his civic museum: the room below the one he had described
was the larger museum for Scotland, and in the room below that, again,
the museum for England, Ireland and America, the whole English-speaking
world--not the Empire only. And the whole stood on a museum and library
representing that larger evolution of the occidental civilisation which
showed them they were merely children of the past. Professor Geddes
pleaded for museums in which every city displayed its own past and
present, but related itself to the whole of Europe and the whole

One or two practical questions of great importance had [Page: 119] been
raised; but, with all respect, he submitted that they could consider
what was practical and practicable without requiring to go into the
question of taxing land. That was a matter of political opinion. It was
as if they were discussing the geology of coal, which they could do,
without reference to coal royalties. Mr. Weymouth was with them on the
subject of preserving old buildings; and he thought there was a great
deal to be learned, if Mr. Weymouth would descend the valley of the
Thames once more. It was of great importance if he found a great city at
the tidal limit. Going down the Thames and the Tay, they would find, at
the last ford of one, the old Abbey of Westminster, and at the last ford
of the other, the old Abbey of Scoon. The kings of England and Scotland
were crowned there because these were the most important places--a point
of great historic interest. As a matter of practical interest, he might
mention that Scoon and Westminster alike passed out of supreme
importance when bridges were built across the river below; and he would
next point out how just as Perth became of subordinate importance when
the great Tay Bridge was built, so it became a tremendously important
question to London, as it might in turn be much affected by the making
of a great and a new bridge much further down the stream. This study of
the descending river had real and practical, as well as historical
importance. He had been about considerably in the great cities of the
United States, and had been struck by the amount of good endeavour
there. It was not, however, by denouncing Tammany that they could beat
it, but by understanding it. They must understand the mechanism by which
the Celtic chieftain ruled his clan, and they must deal with these
methods by still other methods; and they might often find it more
satisfactory to re-moralise the chieftain than to destroy him.

Professor Geddes concluded by saying that he appreciated the admirable
suggestion of Mr. Still towards the evolution of civic unions. He was
sure Mr. Still had there an idea of great significance which might be

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