Change in Urban Society




Change In Urban Society

At the end of the 18th century a revolution in energy and industry began in England and spread rapidly all around Europe later in the 19th century, bringing about dramatic and radical change. A significant impact of the Industrial Revolution was that on urban society. The population of towns grew vastly because economic advantage entailed that the new factories and offices be situated in the cities. The outlook of the city and urban life in general were profoundly modified and altered. Modern industry created factory owners and capitalists who strengthened the wealth and size of the middle class. Beside the expansion of the bourgeoisie, the age of industrialization saw the emergence of a new urban proletariat - the working class. The life of this new group and its relations with the middle class are controversial issues to modern history. Some believe that the Industrial Revolution "inevitably caused much human misery" and affliction. Other historians profess that Industrialization brought economic improvement for the laboring classes. Both conclusions should be qualified to a certain extent. Economic growth does not mean more happiness. Given the contemporary stories by people at that time, life in the early urban society seems to have been more somber than historians are usually prow to describe it. No generalities about natural law or inevitable development can blind us to the fact, that the progress in which we believe has been won at the expense of much injustice and wrong, which was not inevitable. Still, I believe that industry was a salvation from a rapid population growth and immense poverty. Furthermore, by the end of the 19th century the appearance of European cities and life in them had evolved and change for the better.
Industrialization was preceded and accompanied by rapid population growth, which began in Europe after 1720. People had serious difficulty providing their subsistence by simply growing their food. There was widespread poverty and underemployment. Moreover, the need for workers in the city was huge. More and more factories were opening their doors. The result of this was a vast migration from the countryside to the city where peasants were already being employed. "The number of people living in the cities of 20000 or more in England and Wales jumped from 1.5 million in 1801 to 6.3 million by 1891" (Mckay, 762).
With this mass exodus from the countryside, life in urban areas changed drastically. Overcrowding exacerbated by lack of sanitation and medical knowledge made life in the city quite hard and miserable. A description of Manchester in 1844, given by one of the most passionate critics of the Industrial Revolution, Friederich Engels, conveys in great detail the deplorable outlook of the city. "…the confusion has only recently reached its height when every scrap of space left by the old way of building has been filled up or patched over until not a foot of land is left to be further occpupied" (Engels 2). Lack of sanitation caused people to live in such filth and scum that is hard to imagine. "In dry weather, a long string of the most disgusting, blackish-green, slime pools are left standing on this bank, from depths of which bubbles of miasmatic gas constantly arise and give forth a stench unendurable even on the bridge forty or fifty feet above the surface of the stream" (Engels 2).
The appalling living conditions in the city during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution brought about two important changes. By developing his famous germ theory of disease, Louis Pasteur brought about the so-called Bacterial revolution and lead the road to taming the ferocity of the death in urban areas caused by unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions. The theory that disease was inflicted by microorganisms completely revolutionized modern medicine and brought about the important health movement in the city. After 1870 sanitation was a priority on the agenda lists of city administration in most industrialized European countries. Urban planning and transportation after 1870 transformed European cities into beautiful and enchanting places. Water supply systems and waste disposals construction were accompanied by the building of boulevards, townhalls, theaters, museums. The greatest innovation in this area at the time -the electric streetcar- immensely facilitated the expansion of the city and helped alleviate the problem