Characteristics of the City
Towns and cities that first appeared along river valleys, such as Ur, Nippur and Mohenjodaro, were larger in scale than other human settlements. Ancient cities could develop only when an increase in food supplies made it possible to support a wide range of non-food producers. Cites were often the centres of political power, administrative network, trade and industry, religious institutions, and intellectual activity, and supported various social groups such as artisans, merchants and priests.
Cities themselves can vary greatly in size and complexity. They can be densely settled modern-day metropolises, which combine political and economic functions for an entire region, and support very large populations. Or they can be smaller urban centres with limited functions.
Industrialisation and the Rise of the Modern City in England
Industrialisation changed the form of urbanisation in the modern period. However, even as late as the 1850s, many decades after the beginning of the industrial revolution, most Western countries were largely rural. The early industrial cities of Britain such as Leeds and Manchester attracted large numbers of migrants to the textile mills set up in the late eighteenth century. In 1851, more than three-quarters of the adults living in Manchester were migrants from rural areas.
London can be an ideal example of development of a city. By 1750, one out of every nine people of England and Wales lived in London. It was a colossal city with a population of about 675,000. Over the nineteenth century, London continued to expand. Its population multiplied fourfold in the 70 years between 1810 and 1880, increasing from 1 million to about 4 million.
The city of London was a powerful magnet for migrant populations, even though it did not have large factories. ‘Nineteenth century London,’ says the historian Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘was a city of clerks and shopkeepers, of small masters and skilled artisans, of a growing number of semi skilled and sweated outworkers, of soldiers and servants, of casual labourers, street sellers, and beggars.’
Apart from the London dockyards, five major types of industries employed large numbers: clothing and footwear, wood and furniture, metals and engineering, printing and stationery, and precision products such as surgical instruments, watches, and objects of precious metal. During the First World War (1914-18) London began manufacturing motor cars and electrical goods, and the number of large factories increased until they accounted for nearly one-third of all jobs in the city.
As London grew, crime flourished. We are told that 20,000 criminals were living in London in the 1870s. We know a great deal about criminal activities in this period, for crime became an object of widespread concern. The police were worried about law and order, philanthropists were anxious about public morality, and industrialists wanted a hard-working and orderly labour force. So, the population of criminals was counted, their activities were watched, and their ways of life were investigated.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Henry Mayhew wrote several volumes on the London labour, and compiled long lists of those who made a living from crime. Many of whom he listed as ‘criminals’ were in fact poor people who lived by stealing lead from roofs, food from shops, lumps of coal, and clothes drying on hedges. There were others who were more skilled at their trade, expert at their jobs. They were the cheats and tricksters, pickpockets and petty thieves crowding the streets of London.
In an attempt to discipline the population, the authorities imposed high penalties for crime and offered work to those who were considered the ‘deserving poor’.
Employment Among Women:-
Factories employed large numbers of women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With technological developments, women gradually lost their industrial jobs, and were forced to work within households. The 1861 census recorded a quarter of a million domestic servants in London, of whom the vast majority were women, many of them recent migrants. A large number of women used their homes to increase family income by taking in lodgers or through such activities as tailoring, washing or matchbox making. However, there was a change once again in the twentieth century. As women got employment in wartime industries and offices, they withdrew from domestic service.
Apart from them large number of children were pushed into low-paid work, often by their parents. It was only after the passage of the Compulsory Elementary Education Act in 1870, and the factory acts beginning from 1902, that children were kept out of industrial work.
Older cities like London changed dramatically when people began pouring in after the Industrial Revolution. Factory or workshop owners did not house the migrant workers. Instead, individual landowners put up cheap, and usually unsafe, tenements for the new arrivals.
Although poverty was not unknown in the countryside, it was more concentrated and starkly visible in the city. In 1887, Charles Booth, a Liverpool shipowner, conducted the first social survey of lowskilled London workers in the East End of London. He found that as many as 1 million Londoners (about one-fifth of the population of London at the time) were very poor and were expected to live only up to an average age of 29 (compared to the average life expectancy of 55 among the gentry and the middle class). These people were more than likely to die in a ‘workhouse, hospital or lunatic asylum’.
London, he concluded ‘needed the rebuilding of at least 400,000 rooms to house its poorest citizens’. For a while the better-off city dwellers continued to demand that slums simply be cleared away. But gradually a larger and larger number of people began to recognise the need for housing for the poor.
Causes of Need for Housing
The vast mass of one-room houses, occupied by the poor, were seen as a serious threat to public health: they were overcrowded, badly ventilated, and lacked sanitation. Apart from this there were worries about fire hazards created by poor housing. Additionally there was a widespread fear of social disorder, especially after the Russian Revolution in 1917. Workers’ mass housing schemes were planned to prevent the London poor from turning rebellious.
A variety of steps were taken to clean up London. Attempts were made to decongest localities, green the open spaces, reduce pollution and landscape the city. Large blocks of apartments were built, akin to those in Berlin and New York – cities which had similar housing problems. Rent control was introduced in Britain during the First World War to ease the impact of a severe housing shortage.
The congestion in the nineteenth-century industrial city also led to a yearning for clean country air. Many wealthy residents of London were able to afford a holiday home in the countryside. Demands were made for new ‘lungs’ for the city, and some attempts were made to bridge the difference between city and countryside through such ideas as the Green Belt around London.
Architect and planner Ebenezer Howard developed the principle of the Garden City, a pleasant space full of plants and trees, where people would both live and work. He believed this would also produce better-quality citizens. Following Howard’s ideas Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker designed the garden city of New Earswick. There were common garden spaces, beautiful views, and great attention to detail. In the end, only well-off workers could afford these houses.
Between the two World Wars (1919-39) the responsibility for housing the working classes was accepted by the British state, and a million houses, most of them single-family cottages, were built by local authorities. Meanwhile, the city had extended beyond the range where people could walk to work, and the development of suburbs made new forms of mass transport absolutely necessary.
Transport in the City
A public transport system became need of the time, which would enable people to live in far off suburbs and commute to their workplaces. The London underground railway partially solved the housing crisis by carrying large masses of people to and from the city.
The very first section of the Underground in the world opened on 10 January 1863 between Paddington and Farrington Street in London. On that day 10,000 passengers were carried, with trains running every ten minutes. By 1880 the expanded train service was carrying 40 million passengers a year. At first people were afraid to travel underground.
Yet the Underground eventually became a huge success. By the twentieth century, most large metropolises such as New York, Tokyo and Chicago could not do without their well-functioning transit systems. As a result, the population in the city became more dispersed.
Better-planned suburbs and a good railway network enabled large numbers to live outside central London and travel to work. These new conveniences wore down social distinctions and also created new ones.
Social Change in the City
In the eighteenth century, the family had been a unit of production and consumption as well as of political decision-making. The function and the shape of the family were completely transformed by life in the industrial city.
Ties between members of households loosened, and among the working class the institution of marriage tended to break down. Women of the upper and middle classes in Britain, on the other hand, faced increasingly higher levels of isolation, although their lives were made easier by domestic maids who cooked, cleaned and cared for young children on low wages.
Women who worked for wages had some control over their lives, particularly among the lower social classes. However, many social reformers felt that the family as an institution had broken down, and needed to be saved or reconstructed by pushing these women back into the home.
Men, Women and Family in the City
The city no doubt encouraged a new spirit of individualism among both men and women, and a freedom from the collective values that were a feature of the smaller rural communities. But men and women did not have equal access to this new urban space. As women lost their industrial jobs and conservative people railed against their presence in public spaces, women were forced to withdraw into their homes. The public space became increasingly a male preserve, and the domestic sphere was seen as the proper place for women.
Most political movements of the nineteenth century, such as Chartism (a movement demanding the vote for all adult males) and the 10-hour movement (limiting hours of work in factories), mobilized large numbers of men. Only gradually did women come to participate in political movements for suffrage that demanded the right to vote for women, or for married women’s rights to property (from the 1870s).
By the twentieth century, the urban family had been transformed yet again, partly by the experience of the valuable wartime work done by women, who were employed in large numbers to meet war demands. The family now consisted of much smaller units. Above all, the family became the heart of a new market – of goods and services, and of ideas. If the new industrial city provided opportunities for mass work, it also raised the problem of mass leisure on Sundays and other common holidays.
For wealthy Britishers, there had long been an annual ‘London Season’. Several cultural events, such as the opera, the theatre and classical music performances were organised for an elite group of 300-400 families in the late eighteenth century. Meanwhile, working classes met in pubs to have a drink, exchange news and sometimes also to organise for political action. Many new types of large-scale entertainment for the common people came into being, some made possible with money from the state. Libraries, art galleries and museums were established in the nineteenth century to provide people with a sense of history and pride in the achievements of the British. At first, visitors to the British Museum in London numbered just about 15,000 every year, but when entry was made free in 1810, visitors swamped the museum: their number jumped to 127,643 in 1824-25, shooting up to 825, 901 by 1846. Music halls were popular among the lower classes, and, by the early twentieth century, cinema became the great mass entertainment for mixed audiences.
British industrial workers were increasingly encouraged to spend their holidays by the sea, so as to derive the benefits of the sun and bracing winds. Over 1 million British people went to the seaside at Blackpool in 1883; by 1939 their numbers had gone up to 7 million.
Politics in the City
In the severe winter of 1886, when outdoor work came to a standstill, the London poor exploded in a riot, demanding relief from the terrible conditions of poverty. Alarmed shopkeepers closed down their establishments, fearing the 10,000-strong crowd that was marching from Deptford to London. The marchers had to be dispersed by the police. A similar riot occurred in late 1887; this time, it was brutally suppressed by the police in what came to be known as the Bloody Sunday of November 1887. Two years later, thousands of London’s dockworkers went on strike and marched through the city.
These are good example of how large masses of people could be drawn into political causes in the city. A large city population was thus both a threat and an opportunity. State authorities went to great lengths to reduce the possibility of rebellion and enhance urban aesthetics. Better town planning was carried out with lots of greenery and open spaces to induce a sense of calm. This was believed to help produce more responsible citizens.
In the seventeenth century, Bombay was a group of seven islands under Portuguese control. In 1661, control of the islands passed into British hands after the marriage of Britain’s King Charles II to the Portuguese princess. The East India Company quickly shifted its base from Surat, its principal western port, to Bombay. At first, Bombay was the major outlet for cotton textiles from Gujarat. Later, in the nineteenth century, the city functioned as a port through which large quantities of raw materials such as cotton and opium would pass. Gradually, it also became an important administrative centre in western India, and then, by the end of the nineteenth century, a major industrial centre.
Work in the City
Bombay became the capital of the Bombay Presidency in 1819, after the Maratha defeat in the Anglo-Maratha war. The city quickly expanded. With the growth of trade in cotton and opium, large communities of traders and bankers as well as artisans and shopkeepers came to settle in Bombay. The establishment of textile mills led to a fresh surge in migration.
The first cotton textile mill in Bombay was established in 1854. By 1921, there were 85 cotton mills with about 146,000 workers. Only about one-fourth of Bombay’s inhabitants between 1881 and 1931 were born in Bombay: the rest came from outside. Large numbers flowed in from the nearby district of Ratnagiri to work in the Bombay mills. Women formed as much as 23 per cent of the mill workforce in the period between 1919 and 1926. After that, their numbers dropped steadily to less than 10 per cent of the total workforce. By the late 1930s, women’s jobs were increasingly taken over by machines or by men.
Bombay dominated the maritime trade of India till well into the twentieth century. It was also at the junction head of two major railways. The railways encouraged an even higher scale of migration into the city. For instance, famine in the dry regions of Kutch drove large numbers of people into Bombay in 1888-89. The flood of migrants in some years created panic and alarm in official circles.
Worried by the influx of population during the plague epidemic of 1898, district authorities sent about 30,000 people back to their places of origin by 1901.
Housing and Neighbourhoods
Bombay was a crowded city. While every Londoner in the 1840s enjoyed an average space of 155 square yards, Bombay had a mere 9.5 square yards. By 1872, when London had an average of 8 persons per house, the density in Bombay was as high as 20.
From its earliest days, Bombay did not grow according to any plan, and houses, especially in the Fort area, were interspersed with gardens. The Bombay Fort area which formed the heart of the city in the early 1800s was divided between a ‘native’ town, where most of the Indians lived, and a European or ‘white’ section.
A European suburb and an industrial zone began to develop to the north of the Fort settlement area, with a similar suburb and cantonment in the south. This racial pattern was true of all three Presidency cities.
With the rapid and unplanned expansion of the city, the crisis of housing and water supply became acute by the mid-1850s. The arrival of the textile mills only increased the pressure on Bombay’s housing.
Like the European elite, the richer Parsi, Muslim and uppercaste traders and industrialists of Bombay lived in sprawling, spacious bungalows. In contrast, more than 70 per cent of the working people lived in the thickly populated chawls of Bombay.
Since workers walked to their place of work, 90 per cent of millworkers were housed in Girangaon, a ‘mill village’ not more than 15 minutes’ walk from the mills.
Chawls were multi-storeyed structures which had been built from at least the 1860s in the ‘native’ parts of the town. Like the tenements n London, these houses were largely owned by private landlords, such as merchants, bankers, and building contractors, looking for quick ways of earning money from anxious migrants. Each chawl was divided into smaller one-room tenements which had no private toilets. Many families could reside at a time in a tenement.
The Census of 1901 reported that ‘the mass of the island’s population or 80 per cent of the total, resides in tenements of one room; the average number of occupants lies between 4 and 5 …’ High rents forced workers to share homes, either with relatives or caste fellows who were streaming into the city. People had to keep the windows of their rooms closed even in humid weather due to the ‘close proximity of filthy gutters, privies, buffalo stables etc.’ Yet, though water was scarce, and people often quarrelled every morning for a turn at the tap, observers found that houses were kept quite clean.
The homes being small, streets and neighbourhoods were used for a variety of activities such as cooking, washing and sleeping. Liquor shops and akharas came up in any empty spot. Streets were also used for different types of leisure activities.
Caste and family groups in the mill neighbourhoods were headed by someone who was similar to a village headman. Sometimes, the jobber in the mills could be the local neighbourhood leader. He settled disputes, organised food supplies, or arranged informal credit. He also brought important information on political developments.
People who belonged to the ‘depressed classes’ found it even more difficult to find housing. Lower castes were kept out of many chawls and often had to live in shelters made of corrugated sheets, leaves, or bamboo poles.
If town planning in London emerged from fears of social revolution, planning in Bombay came about as a result of fears about the plague epidemic. The City of Bombay Improvement Trust was established in 1898; it focused on clearing poorer homes out of the city centre. By 1918, Trust schemes had deprived 64,000 people of their homes, but only 14,000 were rehoused. In 1918, a Rent Act was passed to keep rents reasonable, but it had the opposite effect of producing a severe housing crisis, since landlords withdrew houses from the market.
Expansion of the city has always posed a problem in Bombay because of a scarcity of land. One of the ways the city of Bombay has developed is through massive reclamation projects.
Land Reclamation in Bombay
The seven islands of Bombay were joined into one landmass only over a period of time. The earliest project began in 1784. The Bombay governor William Hornby approved the building of the great sea wall which prevented the flooding of the low-lying areas of Bombay. Since then, there have been several reclamation projects.
The need for additional commercial space in the mid-nineteenth century led to the formulation of several plans, both by government and private companies, for the reclamation of more land from the sea. Private companies became more interested in taking financial risks. In 1864, the Back Bay Reclamation Company won the right to reclaim the western foreshore from the tip of Malabar Hill to the end of Colaba. Reclamation often meant the levelling of the hills around Bombay. By the 1870s, although most of the private companies closed down due to the mounting cost, the city had expanded to about 22 square miles.
As the population continued to increase rapidly in the early twentieth century, every bit of the available area was built over and new areas were reclaimed from the sea. A successful reclamation project was undertaken by the Bombay Port Trust, which built a dry dock between 1914 and 1918 and used the excavated earth to create the 22-acre Ballard Estate. Subsequently, the famous Marine Drive of Bombay was developed.
Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar shot a scene of a wrestling match in Bombay’s Hanging Gardens and it became India’s first movie in 1896. Soon after, Dadasaheb Phalke made Raja Harishchandra (1913). After that, there was no turning back. By 1925, Bombay had become India’s film capital, producing films for a national audience. The amount of money invested in about 50 Indian films in 1947 was Rs 756 million. By 1987, the film industry employed 520,000 people.
Most of the people in the film industry were themselves migrants who came from cities like Lahore, Calcutta, Madras and contributed to the national character of the industry. Those who came from Lahore, then in Punjab, were especially important for the development of the Hindi film industry. Many famous writers, like Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto, were associated with Hindi cinema.
Bombay films have contributed in a big way to produce an image of the city as a blend of dream and reality, of slums and star bungalows.
Cities and the Challenge of the Environment
City development everywhere occurred at the expense of ecology and the environment. Natural features were flattened out or transformed in response to the growing demand for space for factories, housing and other institutions. Large quantities of refuse and waste products polluted air and water, while excessive noise became a feature of urban life.
The widespread use of coal in homes and industries in nineteenth century England raised serious problems. In industrial cities such as Leeds, Bradford and Manchester, hundreds of factory chimneys spewed black smoke into the skies. People joked that most inhabitants of these cities grew up believing that the skies were grey and all vegetation was black! Shopkeepers, homeowners and others complained about the black fog that descended on their towns, causing bad tempers, smoke-related illnesses, and dirty clothes.
When people first joined campaigns for cleaner air, the goal was to control the nuisance through legislation. This was not at all easy, since factory owners and steam engine owners did not want to spend on technologies that would improve their machines.
By the 1840s, a few towns such as Derby, Leeds and Manchester had laws to control smoke in the city. But smoke was not easy to monitor or measure, and owners got away with small adjustments to their machinery that did nothing to stop the smoke. Moreover, the Smoke Abatement Acts of 1847 and 1853, as they were called, did not always work to clear the air.
Calcutta too had a long history of air pollution. Its inhabitants inhaled grey smoke, particularly in the winter. Since the city was built on marshy land, the resulting fog combined with smoke to generate thick black smog. High levels of pollution were a consequence of the huge population that depended on dung and wood as fuel in their daily life. But the main polluters were the industries and establishments that used steam engines run on coal.
Colonial authorities were at first intent on clearing the place of miasmas, or harmful vapours, but the railway line introduced in 1855 brought a dangerous new pollutant into the picture – coal from Raniganj. The high content of ash in Indian coal was a problem. Many pleas were made to banish the dirty mills from the city, with no effect. However, in 1863, Calcutta became the first Indian city to get smoke nuisance legislation.
In 1920, the rice mills of Tollygunge began to burn rice husk instead of coal, leading residents to complain that ‘the air is filled up with black soot which falls like drizzling rain from morning till night, and it has become impossible to live’. The inspectors of the Bengal Smoke Nuisance Commission finally managed to control industrial smoke. Controlling domestic smoke, however, was far more difficult.