Cities of the Plan: Visions of the Built Environment in Northern England, c. 1960-1985
Meredith, Jesse David
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Cities of the Plan is a cultural history of Britain’s postwar urban renewal campaigns. I examine the culture of planning in postwar Britain—the language and images that planners deployed, and how this discourse shifted over time in response to economic necessities, political changes, and mounting public opposition. What do the shifting debates attached to urban space tell us about Britain in this period of rapid economic and social change? I place these debates in a context of international exchanges in ideas and people—examining how planners’ philosophies of urban design and social engineering could be shaped by colonial experience, but also how new arrivals’ ways of living and moving in the city could disrupt planners’ normative conceptions of urban subjects’ needs. I also take a vertical conception of urban planning: examining “planning from below” forces us to reevaluate the perception of the late 1960s and 1970s as a time of urban crisis and decline. While this period was marked by economic turmoil and a crisis in technocratic, large- scale planning, it also provided a fertile environment for groups and individuals on the margins of British cities to shape their neighborhoods, streets, and homes. Finally, I argue that we need to reevaluate the received view of urban planners as rationalist technocrats by looking at the affective, romantic, and even spiritual nature of their projects. Projects of urban transformation contained ideas of how people would feel in these new spaces—excited to gaze at cars zipping by on a new urban freeway, calm in a pedestrianized shopping street, or chatty on the elevated walkway of a new concrete housing block. As Britain’s public housing, transport, and even urban streets become increasingly privatized, I argue that we need to reexamine the apex of postwar investment in public space as a moment of hope and possibility as well as misfires and frustration.
- History