Cheap Trains For All

It is interesting to note that, contrary to the expectations of advocates of cheap trains in the 19th century, that the advent of cheap travel did not lead to a breaking-down of the social-class homogeneity of residential areas, outlined in Chapter 3. Rather, the clear class distinctions which existed between different areas of Victorian London, especially the East End/ West End duality, have tended to be perpetuated and simply expanded into adja  cent areas. The other strand of this attempt to co-opt the respectable working class [851 was legislated in the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1990. Besides consolidating existing overcrowding and slum-clearance legislation, it gave local authorities effective powers to build houses for the working class at the cost of public funds. The Council rapidly established itself as an adherent of the urban degeneration paradigm and as a powerful active agent in the workingclass housing process. The dominant approach in the early 1980’s lay in reinforcing existing palliatives by making the legislation mandatory instead of permissive. One exception to this lack of change was the Cheap Trains Act of 1983 which put compulsory workmen’s fares on the statute books and thereby facilitated working-class suburbanization. Significantly, this policy, which had been urged as early as 1946 and had already been implemented on a minimal scale by some railway companies, only found legislative expression in the 1980’s.


It extended workmen’s fares to the tramways when it assumed ownership of these in the 1990’s, and it became the most vigorous though still reluctant local authority in the construction and letting of [871 public housing. In conclusion, we have seen that the origins of the new urban degeneration paradigm lay in the need for a new ideology of working-class housing problems, which could perform the status quo maintenance and legitimation functions which the demoralization paradigm had failed to do. The way the problem was defined and explained, and the proposals for its solution according to this new ideology, all betray the urgent need to find ways of averting the threat of working-class insurrection which beset London in the 1980’s. This is not to say that housing policy was the only means of averting the crisis. It must rather be seen as part of the broad current of social enquiry and action of the 1980’s, all of which spelled the doom of the laissez faire ideology and its paradigmatic offspring in particular fields such as housing.


In the words of Anthony Wohl: “It must be placed within the context of a decade of unrest, agitation and re-evaluation of the fundamental structure of society. Agricultural depression, factory working conditions, the poor law, private charities, education, workmen’s trains, wages and cost of living, the sweating system, and the leasehold system, were all subjected to official investigation during the ‘eighties.”   Finally, the urban degeneration paradigm was equivalent to the childhood phase of the modern paradigm of the housing problem, which became institutionalized in the decade or so after the First World War. While the transformation from demoralization to urban degeneration was a qualitative shift, that from urban degeneration to the modern view–state interventionism–was one of degree.


Thus, as was the case with changes in tenure relations, the roots of the state interventionist paradigm–according to which perpetual state intervention of one form or another is regarded as necessary and natural, the state being viewed as the legitimate authority responsible for the ‘problematic’ sectors of the working-class housing market–lie in the responses of dominant-class London to the housing crisis of the 1980’s.


Having analysed London’s development from the 1930’s to the 1980’s, we are now in a position to move to the synthetic phase of this study: to abstract the ideas developed and lessons learnt about the process of urban developnent and present then in the form of general conclusions which are more directly relevant in understanding the nature and dynamics of contemporary urban environments.


Indeed, the purpose of this thesis was not merely to write a socio-econcmaic history of 19th-century London in the form of an isolated case study. It was, rather, to describe and analyse London’s development within the framework of a radical theory of the nature of society and of social change, with a view to extending the scope of radical theory into the realm of urban social and spatial development; and, thereby, writing a history which could contribute to contemporary scholarship and practice regarding urban development and the problems associated with it. Thus, the main purpose of this chapter is to briefly expose the theoretical structure which is embedded in the historical analysis, and in so doing, to connect the thesis to present-day urban issues, enquiries and practice. Though my ultimate objective is to develop a general theory of   urban development under capitalism, I would stress that this chapter does not presume to fulfill this long-term goal–not even in draft form.


There is still a great deal of historical and theoretical   research to be done before such a task can be attempted. Most theories consist of a series of concepts or categories according to which reality is understood and explained, and a series of arguments which integrate these concepts or categories into the form of a theory by exposing the relationships between them. In this chapter, all I seek to do is to outline briefly the concepts which the historical analysis has shown to be central, though not necessarily sufficient, to a correct understanding of the process of urban development under capitalism and, therefore, to emancipatory practice, in relation to urban problems. The interrelationships between the concepts are highly cmanplex; where I can, I will attempt merely to expose some of the more important ones.


Furthermore, because I am most concerned with understanding urban housing issues and problems, the major emphasis is on the social and spatial structure of urban living, that is, on the residential sphere of the urban environment. Thus, it is only in an extremely limited and preliminary sense that this chapter can be seen as a contribution to the construction of a radical theory of the dialectics of urban social and spatial development in capitalist societies and to radical practice in relation to contenporary urban problems.



Its main purpose is, rather, the generation of ideas which the historical analysis has shown to be important in understanding the city as a social and spatial process. It should be borne in mind that the object of these concepts, and eventually of general theory, is to enable us to answer the following ‘umbrella’ question: why do cities and towns in capitalist   countries develop, or decay, at the rates and in the directions and forms which have been, or which can be, observed? This question encanpasses a myriad other, more detailed questions. What determines the value of urban land? What determines the locational decisions and patterns of the many urban activities? Why do certain modes of transportation proliferate, and what determines their location? What determines the social and spatial structure of the residential sphere of the city?



March 26, 2018


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