November 20, 1968
Needed: 10 Cent Bus Ride And $12,000 House
"The suburbs are a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to work there!"
This seems to be the turnabout lament of thousands of blue-collar workers who stay away in droves from good jobs outside the crowded city.
Industry has been migrating from the inner city to suburbia for a couple of decades, but the pace is slowing considerably. In fact, a reverse tide may be underway.
A severe labor shortage has triggered a massive reappraisal by industry many miles from the end of the bus line. How profit-able is a sprawling, one-story factory with acres of parking space if there are no workers to operate the machinery at competitive wages? Not very.
It is a classic dilemma for big factories. Return to the city with inefficient, high-rise buildings; high taxes; restrictive laws; but the largest possible supply of low cost labor -- or stick it oust in the suburbs with straight-line production processes; friendly communities; lots of fresh air; but vacancies at the work bench?
The availability of housing often is the deciding factor.
Laboratories, skilled manufacturers and service businesses which employ highly paid workers are happy in the suburbs. Their employees build $25,000 split-level homes, keep a half-acre of lawn well trimmed and patronize the local golf club.
The man on the production line, how-ever, can't find a $12,000 bungalow either new or existing. He is pretty well anchored to the multi-family apartment house.
The big cities — with government help — build high-rise apartment buildings as fast as they can.
The suburbs fight apartment houses and three-bedroom condominiums as if they were the plague.
What this country needs, and desperately, is a front-door-back-door dwelling unit for the average family of four that costs less than $13,000.
I had an opportunity to tour some of London, England's, suburbs last year and was impressed with the British solution to the problem. Bombed out of the central city, Londoners of necessity rebuilt in the countryside.
However, a large factory — or several of them — were plunked down first and homes for the workers to serve them were built around the industrial complex.
The homes were what the British call "row houses.'" There were miles of identically faced fronts all under one, long roof. Every three blocks there was a park. No garages, but little cars usually covered with a piece of canvas parked at the curb.
It is all very dreary by American suburban standards, but luxurious by American ghetto standards. As the British are wont to say, "Yer pays yer money and takes yer choice."
London is the world's second largest city (just after Tokyo and just before New York). Yet it gets along with far less trouble than other large cities because it is well spread out.
The citizens of Tokyo and New York are jammed together in three-quarters the area of London. This may explain the higher crime rate, greater rioting and more frequent strikes than that of the British capital. When people live too close together they just get on each other's nerves. It's that simple.
In London, the populace is spread out enough to have some elbow room, but not "enough to swing a cat" as we Americans like to say when we make our way to the country side.
The home builders in London have eliminated the side yards and driveways, but they have built low-cost houses with a handkerchief front yard and a tiny fenced court in back. The kids play in the park, mom walks to the corner grocery and pop takes his leisure at the pub. It's not the good life, a la U.S. suburbia, but it is pleasant and economical.
There is no reason why American con-tractors can't build a three-bedroom home — with space for a garage to be added --for about half what they now do. A market of home buyers is begging to flee the slums. We have the technology. We don't seem to have the acceptance by government, unions and existing home owners necessary to a break-through.
Local communities set up their zoning for one and two-family dwelling units. Unions fight building codes that allow plastic plumbing and pre-fabrication. Existing property owners crave neighbors with similar homes.
Something has got to give way.
All wealth comes from production so industry sooner or later will call the tune.
Low-cost housing is necessary to a healthy economy and a happy citizenry.
The twain will meet, because it has to. The survival of our society depends upon it.
Another important reason why London-type housing is practical for an industrial society is its association with mass transportation. The Londoner takes the bus for his short trips and the train for his holiday outings.
The transportation system is mostly government-owned, but the trains and busses do their jobs in spite of, not because of, this. In the United States we support important segments of our economy with grants, subsidies and tax exemptions.
Instead of renting an automobile, I spent three days riding around London on the busses. A short trip was four or five cents. The busses were only minutes apart. The routes were closely spaced. A whole day's riding came to about $1.50 American. With enough patronage, American transportation systems ought to come close to providing a ride for 10 or 15 cents.
I believe strongly in the private enterprise system and government playing only a small role in business management. This is not to say, however, that government doesn't have a role in HELPING certain activities of significant benefit to society at large.
Mass transportation is such an instance in my opinion. It was proper for the federal government to grant financial support for the Cleveland Transit System in extending its line to the Hopkins Airport.
Tax relief for bus, subway and rail commuter lines
and for homes under $13,000 is desirable. Realistic zoning and building codes are a necessity.
We've got to get industry out of the crowded central city, but we've also got to get the labor out to the industry. The sooner we buckle down to this number-one problem, the sooner we can settle down to serene and intelligent living.
Author: Lindsey Williams