Sprawl: A Compact History

By Robert Bruegmann | Go to book overview

8
The First Anti-sprawl Campaign: Britain in the 1920s

As I noted in chapter 3, rising prosperity in London and other British cities in the 1920s allowed an unprecedented number of families to move outward into areas of greatly reduced density. The incredible growth of the suburbs with their miles of semidetached houses led to a violent reaction among members of Britain's literary and artistic elite.1 “We are making a screaming mess of England,” a typical jeremiad started. The author continued with this arresting metaphor: “A gimcrack civilization crawls like a gigantic slug over the country, leaving a foul trail of slime behind it.”2 The book in which this essay appeared was edited by the most tenacious and vociferous of the opponents of suburban growth in this period and almost certainly the era's most interesting antisprawl prose stylist, the architect Clough Williams-Ellis. Williams-Ellis in an earlier publication, his scathing 1928 volume England and the Octopus spared no adjectives in his war on developers: “There was no attempt at an intelligent general lay-out plan; all was cut-throat grab, exploitation and waste—a mad game of beggar-my-neighbor between a host of greedy little sneak-builders and speculators—supplying the demand for homes meanly and usuriously.”3 But, a few pages later his target was the inhabitants themselves: “As the Joneses fly from the town, so does the country fly from the pink bungalow that they have perched so hopefully on its eligible site. The true countryman will know that the area is infected—the Jones have brought the blight of their town or suburb with them—and in all probability they and their home will be followed by an incursion of like-minded people similarly housed, and the country will be found to have further withdrawn itself beyond the skyline in its losing retreat towards

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