European Cities 1890-1930s: History, Culture and the Built Environment

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European Cities 1890-1930s: History, Culture and the Built Environment, Helen Meller, Chichester, John Wiley, 2001, 286 pp., £22.50 (p/b)

Helen Meller has written a book much more specialised than its title might suggest, yet nonetheless significant for the historian of cities or of city planning. Essentially it consists of six case studies of thirteen cities, all but one comparative, showing how different European cities handled the diverse challenges of managing urban growth and change at a critical period of rapid expansion-how extraordinarily rapid, for many of them, we now sometimes fail to appreciate. Barcelona and Munich were major provincial cities, effectively capitals of countries embodied in larger state entities, with strong traditions of planning as a tool of civic identity. Vienna, Budapest and Prague represented the opposite case: cities that found themselves capitals after the dismemberment of an empire. ZloAn in the former Czechoslovakia, founded as a company town by the shoe manufacturer TomaAsI Batfa, was a late and exotic Powering of the garden city tradition. Hamburg and Marseille, again proud provincial cities, were early examples of the role of culture in promoting urban development. Blackpool and Nice were nineteenth-century seaside resorts that successfully adapted to new markets and new roles with a strong admixture of planned urban design. Birmingham and Lyon in the 1930s both built gigantic workers' housing estates, models of their kind at the time.

There is no strong common theme running through these stories, though in her introduction the author strives to provide a unifying historical framework. …