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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter V. The Housing Problem, and its Solution (continued)


HAVING in the preceding chapter considered the main lines which an adequate scheme of housing reform for Dunfermline must take, I desire, in the present chapter, to examine in detail some minor phases of this great subject.

It is to be hoped that the system of tenements so common both in Scottish and English towns, will not be adopted for greater Dunfermline before careful consideration has been made into its merits. The tenement system in many big cities, with its consequent massing of the population, is one of their most evil features. Ignoring other objections, the system is bad from the standpoint of health alone, and expert evidence has shown that the higher one goes in the flats of the working classes, the lower is the standard of health. This is due to the absence of exercise and fresh air, for the children and women on the higher flats go out less than those living nearer the ground, and thus even the rude health of the gutter is in a measure denied them.

The case for the tenement house system rests largely upon tradition—as, for instance, in Edinburgh, where the method would first arise from the desire to nestle under the shelter of the castle. It is also in a measure accounted for by the inflated value of land, and the greater return which this system gives to the builder or owner. None of these reasons need lead to the adoption of the system in greater Dunfermline. There need be no lack of land available at a moderate cost, and the writer believes it will be possible to erect detached and semidetached cottages, and to let them at rents within the means of working class families.

To do this some departure from conventional methods and ideas will be necessary. In a word, the simplification of the home must take place, and this will mean an increase in the health and happiness of the household. It is perhaps hardly necessary to remind the reader that people who live in small houses and flats usually use one inadequate room as a living-room, keeping a spare room or parlour carefully shut up, which is used on rare occasions, sometimes only at the new year, if then. The result is doubly unfortunate; the parlour is a source of no pleasure or convenience, and its existence means that the living-room is generally far too small to be even moderately healthy. Why not, therefore, follow the example of other progressive communities in similar circumstances, and get rid of an absurd convention? By abolishing the parlour, we could substitute for two small and unhealthy rooms, one large living room downstairs, with the addition, of course, of a scullery and the usual out-houses. This plan would enable three moderate sized bedrooms to be provided upstairs, as is shown in the following plan of semi-detached cottages: *

These cottages can be erected in England, in brick, at a cost of about ^230 each, and I reproduce the front elevation to show that cheapness does not necessarily mean any sacrifice of the principles of true beauty.

It will be noticed that in the plan now put forth no provision is made for a separate bathroom. There are, I think, strong grounds for urging that all houses should possess bathrooms, but when the necessity for keeping down the cost appears to make this impossible, an admirable substitute can be obtained by sinking a bath in the floor of the scullery. When not in use this would be covered over. For the housewife, with a family of small children, this arrangement will be a great boon. Its adoption in England has been in every way successful.

The ventilation of the rooms is more important than their mere size, and it is a point too often neglected, both in large and small houses. It is a mistake to suppose that a large room or a lofty room is less in need of ventilation than a small or low-roofed room. The health of a room is dependent mainly upon its ventilation and accessibility to sunlight, and these two factors must never be neglected.

Another sadly despised factor by the average small house builder, is the fitting up of the kitchen or scullery. Whether these are separate rooms, or united, the fittings are usually reduced to a minimum, and it is left to the tenant to obtain or to go without the conveniences necessary for the work of the house, which falls to be done mainly in these rooms. The trustees have an admirable opportunity of setting a standard of excellence in these as in other respects. The kitchen and sculleries should be fitted up to a most carefully considered plan, even in the smallest houses. This will exercise a profoundly educational influence upon those using the house, and will also go far to relieve the housewife of so much of the needless drudgery of her daily work. Thus in every kitchen there should be a proper cooking range, arrangements for getting a quick supply of hot water, a draining board adjoining the sink, racks for plates and dishes, a simple but well-constructed dresser, with cupboard, shelves, and drawers. How commonplace these suggestions look on paper! Yet in the average working-class houses they have been and still are consistently neglected, and this neglect has meant that the increased attention now being paid in the elementary schools to such subjects as cooking, hygiene and domestic economy has been largely nullified, for in these matters theoretical teaching and practical measures of reform must go hand in hand.

It is surprising that even in large houses so little effort is made in many cases to reduce domestic work by closer attention to the details of construction and fitting up of houses. Why, for instance, should the wash-stand remain as a permanent article of furniture in all bedrooms? The cleaning of it, and the carrying to and fro of water, mean, in a large house, very considerable labour to the servants or others. This could be wholly saved by having a lavatory basin fitted in each bedroom with hot and cold water connections. It could be made as simple or as elaborate as was wanted, and its cost would not necessarily exceed, and in many cases would be much less than, the cost of the ordinary wash-stand. Apart from the great convenience of this innovation in giving an unlimited supply of water in the bedrooms, it should be adopted .where practicable, if only for the enormous saving of domestic labour which would follow.

The exterior arrangements in connection with our housing scheme have next to be considered. It is assumed that the houses will be detached or semi-detached, or built in blocks of three or four, and as there need be no lack of ground, I urge that the principle of giving a minimum quantity of garden-land to each house should be rigidly adhered to. What should this minimum be ? It should, 1 think, be not less than what a working man in his leisure time could cultivate without paid assistance. Experience in other parts of the country has shown that at least six hundred square yards of ground can, with advantage, be so cultivated, and such a quantity might, therefore, be fixed as a minimum.

The provision of such a piece of ground to each house will mean more than at first sight is realised. It makes for the health of the family in the most direct way, and in giving the head of the family a healthy hobby in gardening, he is being found one of the best of recreations which, instead of costing him money, may bring him in quite an appreciable revenue in the value of fruit and vegetables raised by his labour. It would be a good plan for the trustees, or other body responsible for the housing scheme, to copy the successful method followed in other parts of the country, and themselves plan out the garden in the first instance, and especially to see that each plot of ground had a supply of fruit trees and bushes.

There is now to be considered the method by which the houses, under such a scheme of building as has been outlined in the preceding chapter, would be disposed of. The various methods possible may be briefly summarised thus :

I. Houses to be erected by the trustees, or other body responsible for the building scheme, and sold to the tenants, being paid for either at once or by instalments, and a feu duty to be charged for the ground.

II. Land to be let on feu duty, leaving the tenant to erect his own house.

III. Houses to be erected by the trustees or other body responsible for the building scheme, and let on weekly, monthly, or longer tenancies in the ordinary course.

There would appear to be no reason why each of these methods should not be adopted to meet varying needs and circumstances. Under the first method there would gradually be created a class of small proprietors, and the interest arising from ownership would be the best guarantee for the care of the property. Where the second method was adopted, the plans for buildings would, of course, be subject to approval. The third method for many tenants would, of course, be essential.

In concluding this chapter, I may perhaps be allowed to emphasise the fact that a building scheme such as is here suggested would be financially sound. This is no longer a matter of opinion only, but has been amply demonstrated by the experiments in England which recent years have seen. The rents and feu duties would be fixed on a basis which would return a fair percentage on the capital involved, and if the scheme were undertaken by the Carnegie Trustees, the profit arising, which in the ordinary course would go to the builders and landlords, could be devoted to the indefinite extension of the scheme, and to the realisation of the great possibilities thus opened out.


 


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