A Modern Utopia

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A few utopian impressions 1.

But now we are in a better position to describe the houses and ways of the Utopian townships about the Lake of Lucerne, and to glance a little more nearly at the people who pass. You figure us as curiously settled down in Utopia, as working for a low wage at wood-carving, until the authorities at the central registry in Paris can solve the perplexing problem we have set them. We stay in an inn looking out upon the lake, and go to and fro for our five hours' work a day, with a curious effect of having been born Utopians. The rest of our time is our own.

Our inn is one of those inns and lodging houses which have a minimum tariff, inns which are partly regulated, and, in the default of private enterprise, maintained and controlled by the World State throughout the entire world. It is one of several such establishments in Lucerne. It possesses many hundreds of practically self-cleaning little bedrooms, equipped very much after the fashion of the rooms we occupied in the similar but much smaller inn at Hospenthal, differing only a little in the decoration. There is the same dressing-room recess with its bath, the same graceful proportion in the succinct simplicity of its furniture. This particular inn is a quadrangle after the fashion of an Oxford college; it is perhaps forty feet high, and with about five stories of bedrooms above its lower apartments; the windows of the rooms look either outward or inward to the quadrangle, and the doors give upon artificially-lit passages with staircases passing up and down. These passages are carpeted with a sort of cork carpet, but are otherwise bare. The lower story is occupied by the equivalent of a London club, kitchens and other offices, dining-room, writing-room, smoking and assembly rooms, a barber's shop, and a library. A colonnade with seats runs about the quadrangle, and in the middle is a grass-plot. In the centre of this a bronze figure, a sleeping child, reposes above a little basin and fountain, in which water lilies are growing. The place has been designed by an architect happily free from the hampering traditions of Greek temple building, and of Roman and Italian palaces; it is simple, unaffected, gracious. The material is some artificial stone with the dull surface and something of the tint of yellow ivory; the colour is a little irregular, and a partial confession of girders and pillars breaks this front of tender colour with lines and mouldings of greenish gray, that blend with the tones of the leaden gutters and rain pipes from the light red roof. At one point only does any explicit effort towards artistic effect appear, and that is in the great arched gateway opposite my window. Two or three abundant yellow roses climb over the face of the building, and when I look out of my window in the early morning—for the usual Utopian working day commences within an hour of sunrise—I see Pilatus above this outlook, rosy in the morning sky.

This quadrangle type of building is the prevalent element in Utopian Lucerne, and one may go from end to end of the town along corridors and covered colonnades without emerging by a gateway into the open roads at all. Small shops are found in these colonnades, but the larger stores are usually housed in buildings specially adapted to their needs. The majority of the residential edifices are far finer and more substantial than our own modest shelter, though we gather from such chance glimpses as we get of their arrangements that the labour-saving ideal runs through every grade of this servantless world; and what we should consider a complete house in earthly England is hardly known here.

The autonomy of the household has been reduced far below terrestrial conditions by hotels and clubs, and all sorts of co-operative expedients. People who do not live in hotels seem usually to live in clubs. The fairly prosperous Utopian belongs, in most cases, to one or two residential clubs of congenial men and women. These clubs usually possess in addition to furnished bedrooms more or less elaborate suites of apartments, and if a man prefers it one of these latter can be taken and furnished according to his personal taste. A pleasant boudoir, a private library and study, a private garden plot, are among the commonest of such luxuries. Devices to secure roof gardens, loggias, verandahs, and such-like open-air privacies to the more sumptuous of these apartments, give interest and variety to Utopian architecture. There are sometimes little cooking corners in these flats—as one would call them on earth—but the ordinary Utopian would no more think of a special private kitchen for his dinners than he would think of a private flour mill or dairy farm. Business, private work, and professional practice go on sometimes in the house apartments, but often in special offices in the great warren of the business quarter. A common garden, an infant school, play rooms, and a playing garden for children, are universal features of the club quadrangles.

Two or three main roads with their tramways, their cyclists' paths, and swift traffic paths, will converge on the urban centre, where the public offices will stand in a group close to the two or three theatres and the larger shops, and hither, too, in the case of Lucerne, the head of the swift railway to Paris and England and Scotland, and to the Rhineland and Germany will run. And as one walks out from the town centre one will come to that mingling of homesteads and open country which will be the common condition of all the more habitable parts of the globe.

Here and there, no doubt, will stand quite solitary homesteads, homesteads that will nevertheless be lit and warmed by cables from the central force station, that will share the common water supply, will have their perfected telephonic connection with the rest of the world, with doctor, shop, and so forth, and may even have a pneumatic tube for books and small parcels to the nearest post-office. But the solitary homestead, as a permanent residence, will be something of a luxury—the resort of rather wealthy garden lovers; and most people with a bias for retirement will probably get as much residential solitude as they care for in the hire of a holiday châlet in a forest, by remote lagoons or high up the mountain side.

The solitary house may indeed prove to be very rare indeed in Utopia. The same forces, the same facilitation of communications that will diffuse the towns will tend to little concentrations of the agricultural population over the country side. The field workers will probably take their food with them to their work during the day, and for the convenience of an interesting dinner and of civilised intercourse after the working day is over, they will most probably live in a college quadrangle with a common room and club. I doubt if there will be any agricultural labourers drawing wages in Utopia. I am inclined to imagine farming done by tenant associations, by little democratic unlimited liability companies working under elected managers, and paying not a fixed rent but a share of the produce to the State. Such companies could reconstruct annually to weed out indolent members. [Footnote: Schemes for the co-operative association of producers will be found in Dr. Hertzka's Freeland.] A minimum standard of efficiency in farming would be insured by fixing a minimum beneath which the rent must not fall, and perhaps by inspection. The general laws respecting the standard of life would, of course, apply to such associations. This type of co-operation presents itself to me as socially the best arrangement for productive agriculture and horticulture, but such enterprises as stock breeding, seed farming and the stocking and loan of agricultural implements are probably, and agricultural research and experiment certainly, best handled directly by large companies or the municipality or the State.

But I should do little to investigate this question; these are presented as quite incidental impressions. You must suppose that for the most part our walks and observations keep us within the more urban quarters of Lucerne. From a number of beautifully printed placards at the street corners, adorned with caricatures of considerable pungency, we discover an odd little election is in progress. This is the selection, upon strictly democratic lines, with a suffrage that includes every permanent resident in the Lucerne ward over the age of fifteen, of the ugliest local building. The old little urban and local governing bodies, we find, have long since been superseded by great provincial municipalities for all the more serious administrative purposes, but they still survive to discharge a number of curious minor functions, and not the least among these is this sort of æsthetic ostracism. Every year every minor local governing body pulls down a building selected by local plebiscite, and the greater Government pays a slight compensation to the owner, and resumes possession of the land it occupies. The idea would strike us at first as simply whimsical, but in practice it appears to work as a cheap and practical device for the æsthetic education of builders, engineers, business men, opulent persons, and the general body of the public. But when we come to consider its application to our own world we should perceive it was the most Utopian thing we had so far encountered.

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