The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 9 (January 1, 1930)
The Struggle for a Place in the Sun — Jungle Law. Home Lovers should guard their Life-line
The Struggle for a Place in the Sun
Jungle Law. Home Lovers should guard their Life-line.
Is the expansion of New Zealand cities to be increasingly outward or increasingly upward? Are we going to plant our people so that they will be forced to go storeys high to reach the free air, or shall we plant them farther apart, with the fresh air blowing freely all round them?
Observe a rimu sapling in the native bush of the Hutt River basin. You will need a fairly sharp eye to do this, because there are very few of them between the seedling and the grown-up. Seedlings are fairly plentiful, but in that intermediate stage which has just been termed sapling (say, between one inch and twelve inches diameter) the rimu hardly exists in this particular bush. One knows of just about one place where six or seven rimus form a little stand of foot-thick trees some 25ft. or 30ft. high. They are mostly slender trunks with a thin crown of foliage, poor-looking. Only a very few have struggled on even thus far in their grim fight with the jungle for a share of the light, for a place in the sun. Possibly the totaras make a better showing in the sapling stage, though there are few enough even of them. In fact, judged by this bush, the regenerative prospect of these too, great timber trees, is poor indeed.
But out in the open the totara grows wide and bushy. Where the farmer spares it, it grows in clumps on the farm; if the sub-divider spares it, it grows on the residential sections; and if the electric linesman is also merciful, it grows in the streets of the suburban boroughs, a spreading, deep green, massive tree.
Trees Grow where they are put, but Men may Choose.
The different habit of growth of bush trees out in the open, as compared with in their native thicket, where they are forced upward in the quest for light, could be exemplified in many other ways. The forester may say that trees must be in regulated competition in order to secure the upright growth that represents the best timber value. From a commercial point of view, this may be true. But, if they could speak, what would the trees say?
With the human, as with the vegetable growth, the same question arises. Possibly a considerable commercial case could be built up for herding people in cities; they would be near their work; living tier on tier, they would increase site values, etc. But where do the children grow the more freely and the more sturdily?
In the jungle Nature works along lines of the survival of the fittest. The struggle for light, it is said, eliminates the unfit. But is the fittest always the best? If one takes commerce's own standard of the best, then one sees that the best indigenous timber trees are not regenerating naturally in the bush. Left to Nature, the rimu-totara cycle seems to have exhausted itself.
Fitness may, indeed, be a question of environment and association. In an afforestation scheme the forester can alter the association and possibly modify all the conditions. There would then be a different standard of fitness. The law of the indigenous is not the law of the exotics.
And as the planting of people is at least as important as the planting of trees, the question again forces itself: Is the expansion of New Zealand cities to be increasingly outward or increasingly upward? Are people to be planted tier upon tier in flats, or thrown out laterally in “one-family homes,” scattered around the suburban radius?
Vienna's Communal Flats.
Lately this question has been raised in a discussion between English observers of the Austian capital. Vienna is now the chief city of a Republic (the rump of a pre-war Empire) of 6,500,000 people, of which Vienna contains a third. To accommodate them better, this already over-swollen city has been building flats. Some people may have thought that post-war Vienna has not retained enough energy to do anything, but advocates of workers’ flats say that she has the finest specimens thereof in page 39 Europe. In 1925 Vienna built “a great block of workmen's dwellings …. consisting of 400 flats, and containing about 1,400 inmates.” The flat has its own kindergarten for children, its own communal wash-hall for the mothers, and many other communal features. The six-storey building encloses a stone-paved court “with plots of grass and flower-beds.”
The advocate of the “one-family house” takes the view that no amount of communal advantage places flats before it. “I do not believe (he writes) that barracks would suit English people; for the flowers, surely even the smallest garden is better than a window-box.”
To which the advocate of flats replies: “No doubt in the city of the future every family will occupy a house surrounded by a garden full of flowers,” but—“we must come down to brass tacks, and in the centre of great cities, such as London, where large numbers of workers must reside near their work, large buildings of flats are essential, owing to lack of space.”
So there you have basic agreement between the protagonists on the essential principle of one family, one home, with a reservation on one side dictated by immediate commercial considerations, real or apparent.
Is it even now sufficiently realised that in her urban and suburban building programmes New Zealand has already come to the parting of the ways—city flats or suburban dwellings?
Is it realised that society must look to transport for the chief restraining influence upon that commercialism which tends to centralise the workers in the city?
That in New Zealand the most onerous and financially profitless (yet essential) part of transport's burden falls on the State railways that carry the working population to and from the suburbs at less-than-cost rates?
That publicly-owned transport, rails or rubber, is the life-line between the cities and a population that prefers to live outward and on the ground, but which, if it mistakes its true interests, may yet have to live within city limits and in flats, exchanging homing for herding?
Transport's Mission Sacred to Social Order.
In a young country more than an old one it is possible to exercise a shaping influence on an environment that will in turn become more and more a shaping influence on the new generation. A young country has more choice than an older country.
It has yet time to decide what sort of a growth it wants; what kind of crop, cultural as well as economic, to aim at; how to bring about conditions in which the fittest may also be the best. Shall the people be brought together in those jungles called cities, to climb over each others’ shoulders for a place in the sun, or shall each home have for itself that place, with its own air, winds, and trees, for the good of its own family?
Do not look on the long thin lines of transport as a mere accident. Rather regard them as the life-lines of a social order which we can reclaim or throw away. Their job stands out. Civilisation has none bigger.page break