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The Objectives of Our City Governments

“More than half the people in the United States live in cities. Their needs must be served."

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In the last chapter you learned how important it is that our citizens should know clearly what is going on in the various government groups of which they are members. You learned that the wishes and opinions of citizens do much to decide the course of the government; for the people must give the government its authority to act. But what does the government do? What are its duties? How does it serve our needs? What are its objectives? In this chapter we shall discuss the objectives and purposes of a city government.

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Some of our government groups touch our lives very often. The streets and bridges which we cross in going to our homes or businesses are provided by the government. The roads on which we travel to visit friends in nearby towns are built by the government. The streetcar or bus lines on which we ride are regulated by the government. The water which the people of cities and towns drink is in most cases supplied by their local government and in most cases is tested carefully enough by government experts to make people feel safe in drinking it.

Many times a day we are being protected by the services of one or the other of our government units.


When we study the general purpose or objective of our city governments, we find that it is to provide the people with safe and helpful living conditions in the city. You learned earlier that in a charter granted by the State each city group is given authority to set up a local government. The fact that the State gives to the city such a charter clearly shows that the State government is interested in promoting the same objective.

City problems are often difficult. Here, in one small area, we find a large number of people. Some of them have come from the country to get work in the city. Others have lived in the city all their lives. Some settle in the city when they arrive from foreign lands. Still others move from one city to another in search of better conditions. Some of these people are wealthy. Others are very poor. Some have good jobs. Others have none. Some are good citizens. Others are criminals. All these people together make up the city population.

Today our two largest cities, New York and Chicago, have a combined population of more than 10 millions. Other millions live in the many other large and small cities of this country. But wherever they are, the people who are grouped in one city call upon the city government to provide for many of their needs, so that they can live together in peace and safety. Let us examine this general objective and see what our cities are expected to do for their people.



If the people living in our cities are to feel safe, they must live in healthful neighborhoods. One of the most important things in city life-without which no city can hope to live and grow-is good water and plenty of it. It is such a usual thing for all of us to drink water, to cook with water, to wash with water, to use water in all sorts of work, that we come to expect good water without asking where it comes from. A city cannot exist without a plentiful supply of fresh water. This means that the city must provide experts to examine the water supply to make certain that it is pure and safe to drink. It may have to build great waterworks to pump the water or to filter and purify it. The city must provide enough water for everybody and at as low a cost as possible, for millions of gallons will be needed for drinking, cooking, and washing purposes and to supply factories. Most cities own pumping stations and networks of pipes under their streets, and some have to bring their water supply in large pipes from lakes and rivers many miles away.

The city employs experts to examine all sorts of food which, if not properly prepared for sale, may become spoiled and harmful. Other experts inspect dairy farms to make sure that the milk offered for sale is pure. Others examine factories, markets, restaurants, and bakeries to see that they maintain healthful conditions.

Most cities have public hospitals and clinics which examine school children as to their general health and as to their teeth, and employ special nurses in the schools to watch over the health of the children. These hospitals and clinics also offer free services to all persons who are too poor to pay for medical care.

To guard the health of the people, nearly every city government has a department of health. One of the most important duties of the officers of a city health department is to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. They must quarantine (close off from the public) all places where disease has broken out, give special medical treatment to persons to prevent them from catching diseases, and disinfect places where contagious diseases are likely to occur. Furthermore, all the doctors in the city are required by law to report to the department of health all cases of contagious diseases. Health officials also must keep a record of births and deaths in the city and must study the causes of diseases and deaths. Sometimes, by finding out the cause of a death, the doctors are able to prevent a disease from spreading.

The city government must also pay careful attention to the removal of trash, garbage, and other waste material. If this is not done, the city will be unclean and diseases will break out. It must build sewers and keep them in repair and must provide proper drainage for storm water. Modern health experts have learned that large numbers of people cannot live close together in a city and keep healthy unless they have good drainage and good sewers. In order to keep the city clean, quiet, and healthful, a good city government will also do all that it can to prevent unnecessary dust, noises, and smoke. WE EXPECT THE CITY GOVERNMENT TO GIVE US GOOD STREETS

A special department of the city government is usually in charge of building and repairing streets. If it is well managed, it will plan and build bridges and underpasses where they are needed to make travel easier and safer. It will keep the streets clean and will forbid householders and storekeeper to throw trash or rubbish and garbage into them. It will also keep the streets well lighted and properly marked.



One of the most important departments of our city government is the police department. It helps to keep the city an orderly place by arresting lawbreakers and those who disturb the peace. For purposes of keeping order the department will usually divide the city into districts or precincts and will assign a certain number of policemen to each district so that each policeman may have special knowledge of the area for which he is responsible. Other policemen regulate street traffic in the city and help to prevent accidents. The police force also takes care of lost children and restores them to their homes.

Policemen must do many kinds of work and therefore must have high qualifications. They must take physical tests to prove that they are strong and quick and have good eyesight and hearing. They must also take examinations to prove that they know the laws which they are employed to enforce.

The policeman must prove himself a good friend to everyone living in the city, for citizens have a right to call on him to help them in many ways.


Most cities have a regular force of firemen to fight fires. To prevent fires they must also have strict building regulations; these usually provide for the inspection of building plans and for the issuance of building permits only after the plans have been approved by a building department of the city government. Sometimes the building regulations state what kind of materials must be used, because some materials catch fire more easily than others. Representatives of the fire department or the building department usually check up carefully on the electric wiring in houses and places of business. They examine furnaces, chimneys, and fire escapes, and check up on the storage of gasoline, explosives, and motion-picture films. They inspect schools, theaters, and other buildings where large numbers of persons come together. Sometimes, too, firemen are sent to the schools to teach fire prevention and conduct fire drills.


THE PEOPLE Every city must plan for the education of its citizens. This not only requires the building and maintaining of grade schools, but of high schools and even of schools for grown-ups. Often the school system starts classes in vocational training (special teaching to prepare people for various kinds of jobs) and classes for the deaf and the crippled and for those who cannot yet speak the English language. Perhaps your own city offers its people other kinds of education not listed here. City governments also give the people other aids to education by maintaining libraries, public lecture halls, and training schools for teachers.

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