Municipal Housekeeping and the Origins of the Economics of the Urban Environment (1900s–1920s)
In the early 20th century, municipal housekeeping became popular as a natural science-based endeavour focused on the improvement of living conditions in urban areas, especially in terms of public sanitation, water quality, satisfaction of basic needs, and access to natural amenities. It has been well documented in social history as a movement led by middle-class women advocating for higher standards of public health and social order in American cities. This article explores another dimension of municipal housekeeping: its contributions to economic thought and how it amounted to an early economics of the urban environment. It analyses the relationship between municipal housekeeping and other important economic currents, such as home economics and conservation economics, before shedding light on the economic content of its proposals regarding sanitation, community welfare, and public utility regulations. It concludes that municipal housekeeping, rather than a merely derivative intellectual current, constitutes an original source of inspiration for public and particularly environmental economists interested in intersections with the tenets of the natural sciences, from chemistry to ecology.