H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Anticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought online

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the density of our existing great cities will spread
to these limits. Even if we were to suppose the
increase of the populations of the great cities to
go on at its present rate, this enormous exten-
sion of available area would still mean a great
possibility of diffusion. But though most great
cities are probably still very far from their max-
ima, though the network of feeding railways has .
still to spread over Africa and China, and though
huge areas are still imperfectly productive for
want of a cultivating population, yet it is well to
remember that for each great city, quite irrespec-
tive of its available spaces, a maximum of popula-
tion is fixed. Each great city is sustained finally
by the trade and production of a certain proportion
of the world's surface by the area it commands
commercially. The great city cannot grow, except
as a result of some quite morbid and transitory
process to be cured at last by famine and dis-
order beyond the limit the commercial capacity
of that commanded area prescribes. Long before
the population of this city, with its inner circle
a third of the area of Belgium, rose towards the
old-fashioned city density, this restriction would

53



ANTICIPATIONS

come in. Even if we allowed for considerable
increase in the production of food stuffs in the
future, it still remains inevitable that the increase
of each city in the world must come at last upon
arrest.

Yet, though one may find reasons for anticipat-
ing that this city will in the end overtake and
surpass that one and such-like relative prophesy-
ing, it is difficult to find any data from which to
infer the absolute numerical limits of these various
diffused cities. Or, perhaps, it is more seemly
to admit that no such data have occurred to the
writer. So far as London, St. Petersburg, and
Berlin go, it seems fairly safe to assume that they
will go well over twenty millions; and that New
York, Philadelphia, and Chicago will probably,
and Hankow almost certainly, reach forty millions.
Yet even forty millions over thirty-one thousand
square miles of territory is, in comparison with
four millions over fifty square miles, a highly
diffused population.

How far will that possible diffusion accomplish
itself? Let us first of all consider the case of those
classes that will be free to exercise a choice in the
matter, and we shall then be in a better position
to consider those more numerous classes whose
general circumstances are practically dictated to
them. What will be the forces acting upon the
prosperous household, the household with a work-
ing head and four hundred a year and upwards

54



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

to live upon, in the days to come? Will the resul-
tant of these forces be as a rule centripetal or cen-
trifugal? Will such householders in the greater
London of 2000 A.D. still cluster for the most part,
as they do to-day, in a group of suburbs as close
to London as is compatible with a certain fashion-
able maximum of garden space and air; or will
they leave the ripened gardens and the no longer
brilliant villas of Surbiton and Norwood, Tooting
and Beckenham, to other and less independent
people? First, let us weigh the centrifugal at-
tractions.

The first of these is what is known as the passion
for nature, that passion for hill-side, wind, and
sea that is evident in so many people nowadays,
either frankly expressed or disguising itself as a
passion for golfing, fishing, hunting, yachting,
or cycling; and, secondly, there is the allied
charm of cultivation, and especially of gardening,
a charm that is partly also the love of dominion,
perhaps, and partly a personal love for the beauty
of trees and flowers and natural things. Through
that we come to a third factor, that craving
strongest, perhaps, in those Low German peoples,
who are now ascendent throughout the world
for a little private imperium such as a house or
cottage " in its own grounds " affords ; and from
that we pass on to the intense desire so many
women feel and just the women, too, who will
mother the future their almost instinctive de-

55



ANTICIPATIONS

mand, indeed, for a household, a separate sacred
and distinctive household, built and ordered after
their own hearts, such as in its fulness only the
country-side permits. Add to these things the
healthfulness of the country for young children,
and the wholesome isolation that is possible from
much that irritates, stimulates prematurely, and
corrupts in crowded centres, and the chief positive
centrifugal inducements are stated, inducements
that no progress of inventions, at any rate, can
ever seriously weaken. What now are the cen-
tripetal forces against which these inducements
contend?

In the first place, there are a group of forces that
will diminish in strength. There is at present the
greater convenience of " shopping " within a short
radius of the centre of the great city, a very im-
portant consideration, indeed, to many wives and
mothers. All the inner and many of the outer
suburbs of London obtain an enormous proportion
of the ordinary household goods from half a dozen
huge furniture, grocery, and drapery firms, each
of which has been enabled by the dearness and
inefficiency of the parcels distribution of the post-
office and railways to elaborate a now very efficient
private system of taking orders and delivering
goods. Collectively these great businesses have
been able to establish a sort of monopoly of
suburban trade, to overwhelm the small suburban
general tradesman (a fate that was inevitable

56



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

for him in some way or other), and which is a
positive world-wide misfortune to overwhelm also
many highly specialized shops and dealers of the
central district. Suburban people nowadays get
their wine and their novels, their clothes and their
amusements, their furniture and their food, from
some one vast indiscriminate shop or "store"
full of respectable mediocre goods, as excellent a
thing for housekeeping as it is disastrous to taste
and individuality.* But it is doubtful if the de-
livery organization of these great stores is any
more permanent than the token coinage of the
tradespeople of the last century. Just as it was
with that interesting development, so now it is .
with parcels distribution: private enterprise sup-
plies in a partial manner a public need, and with
the organization of a public parcels and goods
delivery on cheap and sane lines in the place of
our present complex, stupid, confusing, untrust-
worthy, and fantastically costly chaos of post-
office, railways, and carriers, it is quite conceivable
that Messrs. Omnium will give place again to
specialized shops.

It must always be remembered how timid, ten-
tative, and dear the postal and telephone services of

* Their temporary suppression of the specialist is, indeed,
carried to such an extent that one may see even such things
as bronze ornaments and personal jewellery listed in Messrs.
Omnium's list, and stored in list designs and pattern ; and their
assistants will inform you that their brooch No. 175 is now
" very much worn," without either blush or smile.

57



ANTICIPATIONS

even the most civilized countries still are, and how
inexorably the needs of revenue, public profit, and
convenience fight in these departments against the
tradition of official leisure and dignity. There
is no reason now, except that the thing is not
yet properly organized, why a telephone call from
any point in such a small country as England to
any other should cost much more than a post-card.
There is no reason now, save railway rivalries
and retail ideas obstacles some able and active
man is certain to sweep away sooner or later
why the post-office should not deliver parcels any-
where within a radius of a hundred miles in a
few hours at a penny or less for a pound and a
little over,* put our newspapers in our letter-boxes
direct from the printing office, and, in fact, hand
in nearly every constant need of the civilized house-
hold, except possibly butcher's meat, coals, green-
grocery, and drink. And since there is no reason,
but quite removable obstacles, to prevent this
development of the post-office, I imagine it will be
doing all these things within the next half-century.
When it is, this particular centripetal pull, at any
rate, will have altogether ceased to operate.

A second important centripetal consideration
at present is the desirability of access to good

* The present system of charging parcels by the pound, when
goods are sold by the pound, and so getting a miserly profit
in the packing, is surely one of the absurdest disregards of the
obvious it is possible to imagine.

58



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

schools and to the doctor. To leave the great
centres is either to abandon one's children or to
buy air for them at the cost of educational dis-
advantages. But access, be it noted, is another
word for transit. It is doubtful if these two needs
will so much keep people close to the great city
centres as draw them together about secondary
centres. New centres they may be compare
Hindhead, for example in many cases; but also,
it may be, in many cases the more healthy and
picturesque of the existing small towns will develop
a new life. Already in the case of the London
area, such once practically autonomous places as
Guildford, Tunbridge Wells, and Godalming have
become economically the centres of lax suburbs,
and the same fate may very probably overtake,
for example, Shrewsbury, Stratford, and Exeter,
and remoter and yet remoter townships. Indeed,
for all that this particular centripetal force can
do. the confluent " residential suburbs " of London,
of the great Lancashire - Yorkshire city, and of
the Scotch city, may quite conceivably replace
the summer lodging-house watering-places of
to-day, and extend itself right round the coast of
Great Britain, before the end of the next century,
and every open space of mountain and heather
be dotted not too thickly with clumps of prosper-
ous houses about school, doctor, engineers, book,
and provision shops.

A third centripetal force will not be set aside so
59



ANTICIPATIONS

easily. The direct antagonist it is to that love of
nature that drives people out to moor and mountain.
One may call it the love of the crowd ; and closely
allied to it is that love of the theatre which holds so
many people in bondage to the Strand. Charles
Lamb was the Richard Jefferies of this group of
tendencies, and the current disposition to ex-
aggerate the opposition force, especially among
English-speaking peoples, should not bind us
to the reality of their strength. Moreover, in-
terweaving with these influences that draw people
together are other more egotistical and intenser
motives, ardent in youth and by no means to
judge by the Folkestone Leas extinct in age,
the love of dress, the love of the crush, the hot
passion for the promenade. Here no doubt what
one may speak of loosely as "racial" charac-
teristics count for much. The common actor or
actress of all nationalities, the Neapolitan, the
modern Roman, the Parisian, the Hindoo, I am
told, and that new and interesting type, the rich
and liberated Jew emerging from his Ghetto and
free now absolutely to show what stuff he is made
of, flame out most gloriously in this direction.
To a certain extent this group of tendencies may
lead to the formation of new secondary centres
within the " available" area, theatrical and musical
centres centres of extreme fashion and selectness,
centres of smartness and opulent display but it
is probable that for the large number of people

60



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

throughout the world who cannot afford to main-
tain households in duplicate these will be for many
years yet strictly centripetal forces, and will keep
them within the radius marked by whatever will
be the future equivalent in length of, say, the pres-
ent two-shilling cab ride in London.

And, after all, for all such "shopping" as one
cannot do by telephone or post-card, it will still be
natural for the shops to be gathered together in
some central place. And "shopping" needs re-
freshment, and may culminate in relaxation.
So that Bond Street and Regent Street, the Boule-
vard des Capuchins, the Corso, and Broadway
will still be brilliant and crowded for many years
for all the diffusion that is here forecast all the
more brilliant and crowded, perhaps, for the lack
of a thronging horse traffic down their central
ways. But the very fact that the old nucleus
is still to be the best place for all who trade in
a concourse of people, for novelty shops and art
shops and theatres and business buildings, by
keeping up the central ground values will operate
against residence there and shift the "masses"
outwardly.

And once people have been driven into cab,
train, or omnibus, the only reason why they should
get out to a residence here rather than there is
the necessity of saving time, and such a violent
upward gradient of fares as will quite outbalance
the downward gradient of ground values. We

61



ANTICIPATIONS

have, however, already forecast a swift, varied,
and inevitably competitive suburban traffic. And
so, though the centre will probably still remain
the centre and "town," it will be essentially a
bazaar, a great gallery of shops and places of
concourse and rendezvous, a pedestrian place,
its pathways reinforced by lifts and moving plat-
forms, and shielded from the weather, and al-
together a very spacious, brilliant, and entertaining
agglomeration.

Enough now has been said to determine the gen-
eral nature of the expansion of the great cities
in the future, so far as the more prosperous classes
are concerned. It will not be a regular diffusion
like the diffusion of a gas, but a process of throw-
ing out the " homes " and of segregating various
types of people. The omens seem to point pretty
unmistakably to a wide and quite unprecedented
diversity in the various suburban townships and
suburban districts. Of that aspect of the matter
a later paper must treat. It is evident that from
the outset racial and national characteristics will
tell in this diffusion. We are getting near the
end- of the great Democratic, Wholesale, or Homo-
geneous phase in the world's history. The sport-
loving Englishman, the sociable Frenchman, the
vehement American will each diffuse his own great
city in his own way.

And now, how will the increase in the facilities
of communication we have assumed affect the con-

62



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

dition of those whose circumstances are more
largely dictated by economic forces? The mere
diffusion of a large proportion of the prosperous
and relatively free, and the multiplication of vari-
ous types of road and mechanical traction, means,
of course, that in this way alone a perceptible
diffusion of the less independent classes will occur.
To the subsidiary centres will be drawn doctor
and school-master, and various dealers in fresh
provisions, baker, grocer, butcher ; or if they are al-
ready established there they will flourish more and
more, and about them the convenient home of the
future, with its numerous electrical and mechani-
cal appliances, and the various bicycles, motor-
cars, photographic and phonographic apparatus
that will be included in its equipment will gather
a population of repairers, " accessory " dealers, and
working engineers, a growing class which from
its necessary intelligence and numbers will play
a very conspicuous part in the social development
of the twentieth century. The much more elab-
orate post-office and telephone services will also
bring intelligent ingredients to these suburban
nuclei, these restorations of the old villages and
country towns. And the sons of the cottager
within the affected area will develop into the skilled
vegetable or flower gardeners, the skilled ostler
with some veterinary science and so forth, for
whom also there will evidently be work and a
living. And dotted at every convenient position

63



ANTICIPATIONS

along the new roads, availing themselves no doubt
whenever possible of the picturesque inns that the
old coaching days have left us, will be way-side
restaurants and tea-houses, and motor and cycle
stores and repair places. So much diffusion is
practically inevitable.

In addition, as we have already intimated,
many Londoners in the future may abandon the
city office altogether, preferring to do their busi-
ness iii more agreeable surroundings. Such a
business as book publishing, for example, has no
unbreakable bonds to keep it in the region of high
rent and congested streets. The days when the
financial fortunes of books depended upon the
colloquial support of influential people in a small
society are past; neither publishers nor authors
as a class have any relation to society at all, and
actual access to newspaper offices is necessary
only to the ranker forms of literary imposture.
That personal intercourse between publishers and
the miscellaneous race of authors which once
justified the central position has, I am told, long
since ceased. And the withdrawing publishers
may very well take with them the printers and
binders, and attract about them their illustrators
and designers. . . . So, as a typical instance, one
now urban trade may detach itself.

Publishing is, however, only one of the many
similar trades equally profitable and equally likely
to move outward to secondary centres, with the

64



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

development and cheapening of transit. It is all
a question of transit. Limitation of transit con-
tracts the city, facilitation expands and dis-
perses it. All this case for diL. usion so far is built
up entirely on the hypothesis we attempted to
establish in the first paper, that transit of persons
and goods alike is to become easier, swifter, and
altogether better organized than it is at present.
The telephone will almost certainly prove a very
potent auxiliary, indeed, to the forces making for
diffusion. At present that convenience is still
needlessly expensive in Great Britain, and a scan-
dalously stupid business conflict between tele-
phone company and post-office, delays, compli-
cates, and makes costly and exasperating all
trunk communications; but even under these dis-
advantages the thing is becoming a factor in the
life of ordinary villadom. Consider all that lies
within its possibilities. Take first the domestic
and social side; almost all the labor of ordinary
shopping can be avoided goods nowadays can
be ordered and sent either as sold outright, or
on approval, to any place within a hundred miles
of London, and in one day they can be examined,
discussed, and returned at any rate in theory.
The mistress of the house has all her local trades-
men, all the great London shops, the circulating
library, the theatre box-office, the post-office and
cab-rank, the nurses' institute and the doctor,
within reach of her hand. The instrument we
* 65



ANTICIPATIONS

may confidently expect to improve, but even now
speech is perfectly clear and distinct over several
hundred miles of wire. Appointments and invita-
tions can be made; and at a cost varying from a
penny to two shillings any one within two hundred
miles of home may speak day or night into the
ear of his or her household. Were it not for that
unmitigated public nuisance, the practical control
of our post-office by non-dismissible civil servants,
appointed so young as to be entirely ignorant of
the unofficial world, it would be possible now to
send urgent messages at any hour of the day or
night to any part of the world ; and even our sacred
institution of the civil service can scarcely prevent
this desirable consummation for many years more.
The business man may sit at home in his library
and bargain, discuss, promise, hint, threaten,
tell such lies as he dare not write, and, in fact, do
everything that once demanded a personal en-
counter. Already for a great number of businesses
it is no longer necessary that the office should be
in London, and only habit, tradition, and minor
considerations keep them there. With the steady
cheapening and the steady increase in efficiency
of postal and telephonic facilities, and of goods
transit, it seems only reasonable to anticipate
the need for that expensive office and the irk-
some daily journey will steadily decline. In other
words, what will still be economically the "city/'
as distinguished from the "agricultural" popula-

66



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

tion, will probably be free to extend, in the case
of all the prosperous classes not tied to large estab-
lishments in need of personal supervision, far be-
yond the extreme limits of the daily hour journey.

But the diffusion of the prosperous, indepen-
dent, and managing classes involves in itself a
very considerable diffusion of the purely "work-
ing" classes also. Their centres of occupation
will be distributed, and their freedom to live at
some little distance from their work will be in-
creased. Whether this will mean dotting the
country with dull, ugly little streets, slum villages,
like Buckfastleigh, in Devon, for example, or
whether it may result in entirely different and
novel aspects, is a point for which at present we
are not ready. But it bears upon the question
that ugliness and squalor upon the main road
will appeal to the more prosperous for remedy
with far more vigor than when they are stowed
compactly in a slum.

Enough has been said to demonstrate that old
" town " and " city " will be, in truth, terms as
obsolete as "mail coach." For these new areas
that will grow out of them we want a term, and
the administrative " urban district " presents it-
self with a convenient air of suggestion. We
may for our present purposes call these coming
town provinces " urban regions." Practically, by
a process of confluence, the whole of Great Britain
south of the Highlands seems destined to become

67



ANTICIPATIONS

such an urban region, laced all together not only
by railway and telegraph, but by novel roads
such as we forecast in the former chapter, and
by a dense network of telephones, parcels delivery
tubes, and the like nervous and arterial connec-
tions.

It will certainly be a curious and varied region,
far less monotonous than our present English
world, still in its thinner regions, at any rate,
wooded, perhaps rather more abundantly wooded,
breaking continually into park and garden, and
with everywhere a scattering of houses. These will
not, as a rule, I should fancy, follow the fashion
of the vulgar ready -built villas of the existing
suburb, because the freedom people will be able to
exercise in the choice of a site will rob the " build-
ing-estate" promoter of his local advantage; in
many cases the houses may very probably be
personal homes, built for themselves as much as
the Tudor manor-houses were, and even, in some
cases, as aesthetically right. Each district, I
am inclined to think, will develop its own differ-
ences of type and style. As one travels through
the urban region, one will traverse open, breezy,
"horsy" suburbs, smart white gates and palings
everywhere, good turf, a grand -stand shining
pleasantly; gardening districts all set with gables
and roses, holly hedges, and emerald lawns ; pleas-
ant homes among heathery moorlands and golf
links, and river districts with gayly painted boat-

68



THE PROBABLE DIFFUSION OF GREAT CITIES

houses peeping from the osiers. Then presently
a gathering of houses closer together, and a prom-
enade and a whiff of band and dresses, and then,
perhaps, a little island of agriculture, hops, or straw-
berry gardens, fields of gray -plumed artichokes,
white - painted orchard, or brightly neat poultry
farm. Through the varied country the new wide
roads will run, here cutting through a crest and
there running like some colossal aqueduct across
a valley, swarming always with a multitudinous
traffic of bright, swift (and not necessarily ugly)
mechanisms; and everywhere amid the fields and
trees linking wires will stretch from pole to pole.
Ever and again there will appear a cluster of cot-
tages cottages into which we shall presently
look more closely about some works or workings,
works it may be with the smoky chimney of to-day
replaced by a gayly painted wind-wheel or water-
wheel to gather and store the force for the ma-
chinery; and ever and again will come a little
town, with its cherished ancient church or cathe-


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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 4 of 21)