Environment in the nineteenth century
Critically evaluate the assertion that over-demand rather then under-supply was the root cause of the deterioration of urban environments in the nineteenth century. Taking the basic human needs such as food, water, housing, health and education and addressing their provision during the nineteenth century will determine whether governments or private sectors were undersupplying these goods or whether rapid growth of urban environments were placing too much strain on these systems leading to the deterioration of the immediate environment.
London’s water in the middle of the nineteenth century came mainly from rivers and wells and drained cesspools, graveyards and tidal areas. The city was regularly ravaged by cholera. People thought that disease was spread by vapours; therefore the under-supply of education can be seen as contributing to the health problems in urban areas. The excess demand for basic service provision in big cities means that goods such as water cannot be supplied by local sources, so they must bring water from distant river basins, and then if they are not wracked by epidemics they must channel their waste for long distances downstream, to distant purification plants well out of contamination’s way.
In this sense over demand is responsible as if people did not concentrate in one area and share cesspools and water fountains then cholera epidemics would not have spread. In effect the rise in demand for water contributed to urban health deterioration. However if governments put more pressure on water suppliers in regard to purification of water as they have done in the twentieth century then contamination could have been greatly reduced.
“Tables for 1841 show a life expectancy of about 36 years for London and about 26 for Liverpool and Manchester, as compared to 41 for England and Wales as a whole (Kingsley Davis 1965).This reflects poor health provision for city dwellers in comparison to their rural counterparts. A similar study of the public health record in Rome during the nineteenth century showed that “the average expectation of life at the age of 15 was 35 for a male and 30 for a female” (Peter Hall 1998 p.648), however such averages conceal big class differences: the rich could expect to live to over 30, the poor to below.
This was because the poor did not have enough to eat and because overcrowding contributed to the spread of disease. The lack of education supply meant that people understood nothing about the connection between the brown rat, fleas and plague, and rats bred rapidly on the decaying food and other organic refuse in and around houses, which in turn led to the rapid spread of such epidemics. Lack of education supply also meant that treatments for such diseases were not found and applied further deteriorating the quality of urban life.
After 1850, mainly as a result of sanitary measures and some improvement in nutrition and housing, city health improved, however the death rate in urban counties compared to that of rural counties was 33% higher in the same time period. This statistic cannot be linked to any one factor does indicate positive evidence that city life deteriorated living standards. As Bernard Benjamin a chief statistician of the British general registers office, has remarked: “Living in the town involved not only a higher risk of epidemic and crowd diseases…..but also a higher risk of degenerative disease- the harder wear and tear of factory employment and urban discomfort.”
Housing during the nineteenth century was closely linked to place of work due to the lack of transport advancement. As the centre of industry (factories and workshops etc) were largely concentrated in city centres (Chicago school of thought, Burgess concentric model, The city Reader, P.87) most people had to walk to work which limited the cities growth by the ability and inclination to walk in practice this was approximately three miles equal to one hours travel on foot. It was of little surprise that as the size of “London’s population doubled from one to two million people in the first half of the nineteenth century”.
Hall, P (1998), people crowded ever more closely to the city centre and human misery increased enormously, exposure to cholera was hugely compounded by the phenomenon of population density. over demand on the city centres resources led to innovation in transport technology in the form of steam railways, horse buses, streetcars and electric trams, so in this sense over demand had to occur to provide a catalyst for the development and supply of a type of transport system which would allow the city to spread out, a phenomenon which has now been termed urban sprawl.
I would suggest that both over demand and under supply were responsible for the deterioration of urban environments in the nineteenth century. Suggestively it is more the undersupply of basic human needs to the less affluent groups in society which has led to the deterioration of urban environments. Even after the advent of transport innovations in cities allowing urban sprawl to take place it was the poorer groups in society who could not afford to take advantage of such systems and were stuck in the inner city and still left in deteriorating urban environments. Areas within the city were also starting to show greater disparities with wealthy areas emerging (Booth mapped wealth of London in the 1880s showing the west to be the wealthiest area. Legates et.al 1999,P.76)
which showed that it was only certain areas experiencing under-supply of basic services while others with just as high populations had excess supply, a manifestation of the market economy and limited state intervention. In 1880 25% of England’s population were already in poverty which shows that it was certain areas within urban agglomerations which deteriorated while others still prospered. Today’s situation in London is similar with areas like Hampstead and Highgate showing low levels of ill health and areas like Hackney and Harlesden showing high levels of poverty and ill health which suggests that poverty is the main cause of urban deterioration and until policy makers incorporate a system where all of the urban population have their basic needs supplied certain urban areas will continue to deteriorate.