I came across an interesting article from 1908, with what strikes me as a well-described concept:
MUTUAL TOWN-BUILDING IN ENGLAND
"GARDEN CITIES" OF INDIVIDUAL, DETACHED HOMES BUILT WITHOUT THE AID OF PHILANTHROPY — A BETTER PLAN THAN REBUILDING THE SLUMS
BY WILHELM MILLER
(who visited these cities to make a first hand study of them)
LETCHWORTH, "the perfect city," less than five years old but with 6,000 inhabitants, is thirty-four miles north of London and is reached by the best trains in fifty minutes. It has 3,818 acres and its population is limited to 35,000 inhabitants, so that there will never be any crowding. The factory quarter can never be enlarged; it is situated as far as possible from the residence quarter and the prevailing wind carries the smoke away from the homes. Nearly one-sixth of the town site, or two hundred acres, is perpetually reserved for open spaces, including parks, jjlaygrounds, and a golf course.
And even if the surrounding country should build up as solidly as London, the people of Letchworth are always sure of enjoying a beautiful rural scene because a large belt is perpetually reserved for agriculture. This belt comprises 2,500 acres, or 65 percent of the whole estate. It will undoubtedly be occupied by market gardeners and dairymen, for gardens yield about eleven times as much profit per acre as farms.
A man can buy a house at Letchworth or he can rent one, but he cannot buy the land. He cannot even lease it for 999 years, because that would enable him to sell or lease his property in such a way as to make a profit from the unearned increment. He can lease the land for ninety-nine years without revaluation and the improvements will not revert to the landowner. In any case, he has every advantage enjoyed by the man who owns the land outright — save one. He cannot get rich from what Henry George called the "unearned increment" but which in Letchworth is called the "collectively earned increment." Even if he rents his house and land from week to week he cannot be dispossessed by some one who offers more money. In the agricultural belt, the tenant is allowed to continue in occupation as long as he is willing to pay as much as anyone else, less 10 percent, in favor of the present tenant.
Letchworth has been built upon a plan whereby people in any part of the world can make a city that is practically perfect without asking any rich man to give money, and without facilities for borrowing any large amount. The essence of the scheme is to preserve to the people the "collectively earned increment." The Letchworth people take some pride in the use of this phrase, and justly. For, merely by moving to Letchworth and living there they created in four and a half years a net increase of half a million dollars. They do not get that half million now, but some day they will get 95 percent of it in the form of abolition of taxes. And that day, in my opinion will come in about twenty years, for by that time the city should be able to pay back all that its public works have cost.
THE TWO OTHER "GARDEN CITIES "
There are two other successful "garden cities," Bourneville, a suburb of Liverpool built by the Cadbury Cocoa Works, and Port Sunlight near Birmingham created by the Lever Brothers, soap manufacturers, solely for their employees.
Port Sunlight is the most beautiful because the Messrs. Lever have gone to the unnecessary extreme of making no two houses alike. Also, they have spent more upon ornamentation of
houses than is necessary and they plant and care for all the front yard gardens.
The tenants at Port Sunlight get more for their money than elsewhere for two reasons. First, the rents are too low, because they are calculated only to pay expenses. Second, the social institutions, though more elaborate than elsewhere, cost the people nothing originally and they can and do manage them so as to keep expenses down to the mininum.
THE "taint" of philanthropy
The one great drawback to the Port Sunlight idea is that it involves too great an expenditure on the part of one man or one firm, and it is hard to prove to a factory owner that the investment is worth while. In this case, the factory owners disclaim all idea of philanthropy and are positive that it pays, because their employees are healthier, happier, more prosperous and therefore more efficient.
The Lever Brothers rejected all direct profit-sharing schemes because they thought this the only plan that would benefit the wives and children of the men. There is the keenest competition for a chance to work in that factory and live in one of those houses. But all the profits to the firm are indirect. Rarely, if ever, can they be expressed in dollars and cents and indirect profits can never be expected to weigh in the mind of the average employer against the appalling fact that Lever Brothers have put about $1,700,000 into their paradise at Port Sunlight and have never directly gotten back one cent.
In other words, if this is not philanthropy, it is too much like it to be generally copied. Humanity cannot look to great employers for the solution of the housing problem. And employees do not want philanthropy.
And at Bourneville there is less of the philanthropic spirit. The employees of the Cadbury Cocoa Works get a normal social life, which the people of Port Sunlight do not have. The cocoa workers are not obliged to live in Bourneville and only 42 percent of the tenants at Bourneville are employed at the Cadbury factory. Thus Bourneville is a mixed community and the ideal community must be mixed — not merely industrial, or suburban, or composed exclusively of any one class. It is sad to see the magnificent clubs, lecture halls, baths, and other social features at Port Sunlight languish for attendance, but it is only human nature. On getting home after a day's work, a man wants to forget thoughts of his work. And if he lives in a city where every house and every person he sees on the street suggests the workroom, he is bound to escape to the next town where he can get a drink or otherwise forget his daily routine. The only serious complaint which the tenants at Port Sunlight have any right to make is that they live in the atmosphere of a single class.
Mr. Cadbury gave Bourneville to the people. How then does it escape the "taint" of philanthropy?"
A GREAT FUND FOR PROPAGANDA
It is true that Mr. Cadbury gave the property to a trust which administers it for the benefit of the people, but eventually this trust will be able to finance hundreds of other garden cities that will be purely cooperative. For instance, people wishing to live in a "garden city," where all the "collectively earned increment" benefits all alike instead of going to the building up of individual fortunes, can form a stock company with shares as low as $25. If the Bourneville trust approves of their plan, it will lend them enough money to start a town. But the company must pay it back, so that the Bourneville trust can use it again and again.
How does the Bourneville trust hope to get this fund? Its income, which is almost wholly rent, doubles every five years. At this rate, in fifty years it will have an annual income of five million dollars. Long before that, Bourneville will have reached its limit of population. And since the trust never has to pay back the cost of the houses, roads, or other public works, it will be able to roll up a vast sum for the propagation of the "garden city" idea.
The all-important point is that the Bourneville trust will never give anyone something for nothing. It will merely lend money to people who are building "garden cities."
THE HEALTH AND BEAUTY OF THESE CITIES
These are far healthier and more beautiful than cities that have grown up normally; healthier because crowding is prevented by a limit to the population and because more and better provision is made for outdoor sports — to say nothing of architecture in which health is the first thought. The average town death-rate in England is 15 per 1,000. Letchworth has cut this down to 2.75. The birthrate at Port Sunlight is twice the average for the rest of England.
The greater beauty of these garden cities lies chiefly in the architecture and gardening. The houses and stores all conform to one general style of architecture, but are never monotonous. Every building must be approved by the city's architect. The houses are all of brick and built to last. There are no long rows of houses just alike. The first idea was to have no two houses alike but that is a needless waste of money. For poor people it is impossible to get good houses cheap enough without building three or four in a row and this row can be duplicated in another part of town without harming the total effect. Moreover, Bourneville has shown how much can be saved on ornamentation. The plainest houses are transformed in three years by the use of climbers. Bourneville's head gardener sees that every house has a different set of vines. Not merely is the plainness soon hidden thereby, but also the individuality of each home is notably increased.
Gardening is compulsory at Bourneville and Letchworth. If a tenant neglects his garden at Bourneville and will not hire some one to weed it, the estate notifies him that he will forfeit his lease unless he makes his place look decent. But there have been only two cases of neglect.
The estate plants a hawthorn hedge all round each man's place, digs and manures his vegetable garden, lays down the lawn, sets out dwarf fruit trees, plants the climbers on his house, and digs his flower-beds. These expenses are considered part of the cost of building and the rent is based thereon. The tenant must keep it in good condition but he can buy plants from the estate cheaper than from a nurseryman and he gets instruction for nothing. There is no chance for a beginner to get discouraged.
A FIVE-ROOM HOUSE FOR $7.80 A MONTH
I am almost afraid to tell how much a tenant gets for his money at one of these garden cities. The cheapest houses at Bourneville rent for only $7.80 a month, which includes taxes and water rates. Such a house contains five rooms and a wonderful "folding bath" which stands up like a cabinet when not in use. Clerks and artisans, however, generally pay about $12.30 a month for seven rooms and an eighth of an acre.
The ideal amount of land at Bourneville is one-eighth of an acre, and the average value of the fruits and vegetables produced on such a plot is about $32.24 a year, or sixty-two cents a week the year round. The smallest lots at Letchworth are a twelfth of an acre, which is the same as 25 x 145 feet, and is 45 percent larger than the typical New York lot, on which many families are allowed to live. In addition to these direct benefits the tenant gets a chance to play cricket, tennis, bowls, quoits, and hockey near by at no expense or at less cost than in an ordinary club.
All rents at Bourneville are figured at 8 percent of the cost. Taxes, insurance and repairs cost 3 percent, leaving a profit to the Bourneville estate of 5 percent. With this 5 percent, it employs a permanent staff of about one hundred builders and has about fifty houses under construction all the time.
OBSTACLES OVERCOME AT LETCHWORTH
The Letchworth company had its hands full with public works, for it had to construct eight miles of road, eleven miles of sewers, and seventeen miles of water main. Also it had to build a reservoir for water, a gas making plant, and an electric power station to supply the factories, of which it now has twenty-four. Another difficulty overcome was transportation. The company has cooperated with the railroad so well that its "commuters" can make their thirty-four miles to and from London daily in less than an hour, though most trains require an hour and a quarter.
The income of the land company is partly from the sale of water, gas, and electricity, but chiefly from ground rent. It never sells any land or houses. Ground rent may seem a very small source of revenue, but every man, woman and child in England contributes for ground rent an average of $10.50 a year. The Letchworth company can, and doubtless will, raise the ground rent as its limit of population approaches, but even if it should raise it as high as the average for England, the tenant will pay less than elsewhere, for taxes will eventually be abolished.
Postscript -- a few hours after I posted this, a google alert on ground rent brought me a story about Letchworth, at http://www.thecomet.net/news/letchworth_businesses_finally_land_meeting_over_rent_rise_1_2311500