Applied Geography: Principles and Practice: An Introduction to Useful Research in Physical, Environmental and Human Geography

By Michael Pacione | Go to book overview

22

Derelict and vacant land

Philip Kivell


INTRODUCTION

Derelict land became an obvious fact of life in many older industrial districts of Europe and North America in the economically depressed years of the 1920s and 1930s, but it did not attract systematic attention from geographers and planners until after the Second World War. The pioneering work of Beaver (1946) in Britain drew attention to the economic and environmental consequences of dereliction, as well as to the successes of some early reclamation efforts, in localities such as the Black Country, the northeast of England and South Wales. It was the combination of attention from geographers, the development of new mining and industrial technologies, the process of industrial restructuring and the establishment of a comprehensive planning system that placed the problem on the post-war political agenda. At first, the problem was connected with heavy manufacturing and mining industries and was largely confined to those localities in which these were located in Britain, Belgium, northern France and Germany, and to related problems of large-scale strip-mining in the northeast USA, Poland and Germany.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with economic growth and new industrial investment, concern for the problems of derelict land remained largely confined to those with specialised professional interests in planning and mining, although comprehensive studies by Oxenham (1966) and Barr (1969), and later by Wallwork (1974), did much to publicise both the problem and some of its solutions. Gradually, however, large-scale reclamation efforts started, prompted by a concern for economic and environmental improvement, the need for more public open space, technical advances in land reclamation, and the shock of 144 lives lost through the collapse of a coal spoil tip at Aberfan in South Wales in 1966.

By the 1980s, the problem had gained more widespread urgency. Industrial change was still at the core of land dereliction as Britain and other early manufacturing nations lost their competitive advantages in the new global markets. A massive restructuring of production capacity followed, prompted by new styles and techniques of manufacturing, widespread mergers and closures, new forms and locations of investment at national and international scales, and new patterns of land use. But it was not just industry that was restructuring and abandoning its old sites; the same process was happening to docks (and the cities that had grown up around them), utilities and power sources, military installations, and public institutions, including hospitals. The land-use requirements of modern society were being transformed. Sometimes individual sites were abandoned (often in a severely damaged state), but in other cases whole localities and communities became effectively redundant. Nowhere was this more marked than in Eastern Europe, where the opening up of borders and the pressing economic reorganisation after 1990 revealed dereliction and contamination on a massive scale created by chemical works, lignite power stations and steel plants in the former East Germany, in the Czech Republic and in the Don basin.

No longer was dereliction a narrowly defined

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