Friday, 12 November 2010

Planning towns

The distinctive tradition of English town planning was not extinguished by industrialisation but it was repressed. When the term ‘town planning’ gained currency in the early part of this century, it emerged as a result of debates in Germany and the USA. The problem with town planning in Britain, today as in the late nineteenth century, was that too many planners thought in one-dimensional terms: architects concentrated on houses, engineers on roads and so on. [1] The need was to co-ordinate people and functions, to complement social and industrial organisation and to produce plans that would permit growth and change. Much of the planned developments of the nineteenth century were largely the work of individuals or individual employers.

Many of the model factories and towns were motivated by feelings of industrial paternalism such as providing adequate housing for the working-classes. Railway centres like Swindon and Crewe found captive workers caged in regulation housing. The enlightened employer had humanitarian, philanthropic and other motives to experiment. Robert Owen‘s New Lanark blended capitalism and paternalism. For the Oldknows, Ashworths and Gregs the motives were more ones of social control. Some model factory villages did involve ideas beyond the utilitarian or disciplinarian. The factory estates outside Bradford and Halifax planned by Titus Salt, Edward Akroyd and Francis Crossley between 1850 and 1870 were essays in urban regeneration. In Somerset the Quaker family of shoemakers, C & J Clark Ltd, built model housing for their workers in the industrial village of Street after production was mechanised in the 1850s. It was in the industrial Midlands and north that the most significant extensions of the tradition were made: Lever’s Port Sunlight in 1888, Cadbury’s Bournville in 1895 and Rowntree‘s New Earswick in 1902.[2] The Garden City was the ideal, the concept of Ebenezer Howard author of Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), reissued in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow.[3] Town and country, Howard argued, must be married in garden cities to enjoy the best of both, with low density housing, green belt and separate industrial and agricultural zones. The result was the first garden city at Letchworth.[4]

Suburbs 4

Decentralisation of housing, as in the development of suburbia and planning, reflected land values, social forces and cheaper transport. From the 1870s, a growing ‘civic gospel’ began to create progressive municipal involvement in provision and regulation of housing and such amenities as baths, markets, libraries, art galleries and museums, parks and recreation spaces, as well as gas, electricity and, by the late nineteenth century, transport services.[5] This larger social role was a prelude to more interventionist planning principles and policies. By 1900, most large towns were involved in such ‘municipal socialism‘.

The first direct state intervention in town planning per se was the Housing, Town Planning etc Act 1909.[6] It was limited in scope to building and land-use plans for developing peripheral areas of towns and was permissive rather than mandatory. Where enlightened municipal officials, such as Liverpool‘s Chief Engineer James Brodie, and a philosophy of planning (as in the University of Liverpool’s Department and Lever Chair of Civil Design established in 1910) came together the result was a degree of quality of layout of suburbs and roads. But little was achieved before 1918.

[1] On the development of urban planning see Sutcliffe, A., (ed.), The Rise of Modern Urban Planning 1800-1914, (Mansell), 1981, (Taylor and Francis), 1998, Meller, Helen, Towns, Plans and Society in Modern Britain, (Cambridge University Press), 1997 and Beach, Abigail and Tiratsoo, Nick, ‘The planners and the public’, in ibid, Daunton, Martin J., (ed.), The Cambridge urban history of Britain, Vol. 3: 1840-1950, pp. 525-550 for an invaluable synthesis of recent research. See also, Hardy, Dennis, From garden cities to new towns: campaigning for town and country planning, 1899-1946, (E. & F.N. Spon), 1991.

[2] On Bournville see, Bailey, A.R. and Bryson, J.R., ‘Quaker industrial patronage: George Cadbury and the construction of Bournville model village’, Quaker Studies, Vol. 11, (2006), pp. 96-124 and Harrison, M., Bournville: model village to garden suburb, (Phillimore), 1999.

[3] Ward, Stephen V., ‘Ebenezer Howard: his life and times’, in Parsons, K.C., and Schulyer, David, (eds.), From garden city to green city: the legacy of Ebenezer Howard, (Johns Hopkins University Press), 2002, pp. 14-37 and Meacham, Standish, Regaining paradise: Englishness and the early garden city movement, (Yale University Press), 1998.

[4] Miller, Mervyn, Letchworth: the first garden city, rev. ed., (Phillimore), 2002.

[5] Hill, Kate, Culture and Class in Englsh Public Museums, 1850-1914, (Ashgate), 2005 considers the development of museums as a means of educating the working-classes and the shift from private aristocratic leadership, toward a middle-class civic directorship and a growing professional body of curators as part of the emergence of a dominant urban middle-class culture. See also, Gunn, Simon, The Public Culture of the Victorian Middle Class: Ritual and Authority in the English Industrial City 1840-1914, (Manchester University Press), 2000.

[6] Herbert-Young, Nicholas, ‘Central government and statutory planning under the Town Planning Act, 1909’, Planning Perspectives, Vol. 13, (1998), pp. 341-355.


Hels said...

Do you see a continuum between the planned railway and soap factory towns of the mid 19th century.. and the garden cities designed and built at the turn of the century?

Thanks for the link...
great topic

Richard Brown said...

Yes I do think in the context of the development of model communities that there are links between railway and soap factory towns and the later garden city movement and that, in many respects, the garden cities represent an intermediate stage for the later development of new towns. However, the motivation behind factory and railway towns and garden cities is, I think, dofferent. While factory and railway towns were largely motivated by economic considerations, providing wholesome communities for workers, the garden city movement was motivated by broader communitarian issues especially the creation of multi-economic, multi-class communities in which individuals could seek their own personal goals.