Trail BC: Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft

I thought it would be interesting to revisit the concept of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as espoused by Ferdinand Toënnies through an examination of my home town Trail, BC. My home town provides such an interesting case study as it is distinctly rural due to its population size (7,320 as of the last census) and its distance from any large urban centre (the nearest city over 100,000 people in population is Spokane, WA); however, Trail maintains an urban look and feel due to its many distinct dense neighborhoods and the looming smoke stacks of a large industrial complex (Teck lead-zinc smelter).  Due to these apparent contradictions Trail provides an interesting lens through which to view the interplay of the concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.

Trail exhibits elements  of Gemeinschaft through the manner in which the majority of its residents subscribe to common mores. Many residents are of Italian descent and base their social relations around the structure of the extend family, friends, and neighborhood acquaintances.  Most residents exemplify this focus on the family through the ownership and upkeep of the family home: most homes are kept tidily despite age and often feature grape arbors and brick barbeques around which families will congregate during the summer months. It is very common for families to live in the same home for two or more generations. Gemeinschaft is often exhibited through the high church attendance (especially Roman Catholic) which is a manifestation of the common focus on family life.

Gesellschaft is also readily apparent in an examination of Trail due to the heavy industrial focus of the city’s economy. The long history of the city’s smelter and its attendant labour history exhibit aspects of Gesellschaft.  Through workers’ participation in union efforts they gained class consciousness and have tried to reform the conditions of their workplace and have often violently struggled to achieve their stated goals. This class struggle was once manifested in space as members of the smelter’s management lived in comfortable homes in the exclusive Garden suburb of Tadanac while regular workers were left to procure their own housing wherever the difficult topography would allow (leaving a legacy of intimate narrow one-way streets carved with rock walls across the hill sides).

Overall, the quirky make-up of Trail could never be typified as Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft but a tension between the two can be observed. Its many Italian residents  immigrated to the city and promptly reconstructed their ethnic identity through the preservation such traditional activities as la passeggiata (a sunset evening stroll of neighbors) and elements of folk religion; yet these same immigrant eagerly embraced the tenets of modern unionism and political activism revealing a unique urban structure that is quite atypical.


October 9 Class Summary

Thomas More, Utopia (1515)

  • Collectivist
  • Lack of private property
  • Agrarian Rotation
  • Hinterland
  • No social stratification

John Bellers, Proposals for Raisinng a Colledge of Industry (1696)

  • Designed for profit of upper class through Joint-Stock company
  • Good living conditions for lower classes
  • Education for youth
  • Use of Certificates (pay for labour) instead of money
  • Company Town
  • Complimentary Industries

Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Architecture considered under the reaction of art and legislation (1808)

  • Chaux De Fond
  • Ellipse
  • Central public buildings
  • Similar to Panopticon

Robert Owen

  • Social Reformer
  • Community organized into one large linear building
  • Contained all the elements of a city (industry, residential etc.) within one compartmentalized structure
  • Proposed a radical new form of social organization in which children (older than three years old) would be organized and raised in cohorts
  • Population of 1.200 people
Charles Fourier, The Theory of Four Movements and General Destinies (1808); A Treatise on Domestic and Agricultural Association (1822)
  • Phalanstère
  • Self Sufficient society
  • Organized in townships
  • No private property
  • Capitalism abolished
Saint-Simon, Of the Reorganization of European Society (1814)
  • Anarchist reorganization of society
  • Lack of state coercion
  • No need for laws or police to oppressively uphold them
  • Economy based on industrial associations of independent workers
James Silk Buckingham, National Evils and Practical Remedies (1849)
  • Alleviate London population growth
  • Joint-Stock Company
  • Capitalist
  • Population of 10,000 people
  • Cured evils of society through temperance





I envision Utopia as the unification of natural landscapes with a dispersed urban form. A pristine natural landscape would be dotted only by dense clusters of housing, industry, and multipurpose centres, sewn together by interurban rail lines that would pass through a hinterland preserved under the principle of a public commons.  The city would take on a regional scale with 1 million inhabitants living in dense clusters of 100,000 that would be be dispersed  across the landscape (along with industrial and multipurpose centres) 15 kilometres apart and connected by a dense interurban network.

The housing of utopia would be made up of sleek glass towers that operate under a ccooperative principal that include a wide variety of housing to suit all income levels and eliminate the problems of income segregation.  As relatively large centres the housing clusters could support day to day amenities such as markets, primary and secondary education, and recreational facilities (including surrounding parklands).  Within the housing cluster life would be centred upon the interurban station and no structure would be further than a 15 minute stroll.

Businesses and industry of Utopia that could not be integrated into the residential centres would operate within designated clusters linked to the interurban network that would find ample land and be free of the problems associated with industrial enterprises in the urban context (such as noise and unsightliness complaints).  In addition, the clusters would foster creativity and innovation by grouping like-minded individuals together.

Cultural, recreational, and governmental facilities that required a larger base than 100,000 people would also be grouped into multipurpose designated districts that would be centred upon interurban stations and have plenty of land available for future development. As well as built facilities, the interstitial multi-use facility of the public commons between the clusters would support agriculture, recreation, and nature.