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Living in Vienna, 1890-1939

Bill Murray investigates the politics of social housing in the Austrian capital.

The view that 'in the second half of the nineteenth century, Vienna was the relatively modern capital of a relatively backward empire' provides a handy introduction to this capital of a polyglot empire, that more than most Victorian capitals was a city of contrasts and contradictions. The city had a long imperial tradition and still retained its reputation as a centre of culture and intellectual brilliance and yet seemed vulnerable to the extremes of racial, political and religious feelings. It can be suggested that a reflection of these tensions is to be found in the story of Vienna's housing.

While apparently stultified by the imperial structure and its bureaucracy, the period 1890-1914 was one of unprecedented economic growth, with productivity growing even more than in Germany. Vienna, so long confined within its fortifications, had grown into something of a boom town. By 1914, with all the redevelopment, it resembled a vast building site. It had a population of nearly two million and an area of 160 square miles. By the end of the century Vienna, with its usual lack of modesty, claimed to have the best parks, public buildings, cleanest streets and purest water in Europe.

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