Sprawl: A Compact History

By Robert Bruegmann | Go to book overview

12
Postwar Anti-sprawl Remedies

Despite the fact that almost all British planners in the early twentieth century advocated urban dispersal, when it really happened on a large scale in the interwar years, they were horrified. The semidetached housing estates and residential and commercial strips that appeared along the many new urban bypass roads were not at all what they had had in mind. In an effort to control this kind of growth they pressured Parliament to pass legislation to deter ribbon (or strip) development, establish greenbelts around major cities, and permit various kinds of design review.1

This campaign was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II but not abandoned. In fact, it was during the darkest years of the war that a small group of planners created a series of splendidly produced reconstruction schemes that were intended to guide the rebuilding of postwar Britain (fig. 30). By far the most important example of these was the famous Greater London Plan of 1944, written by an austere and patrician British town planner named Patrick Abercrombie.2 Following Ebenezer Howard and other garden city advocates, Abercrombie saw the crowding of the central city and sprawl at the edge of the metropolis as the twin evils of modern urbanization. His remedy, in great part derived from the Garden City Movement, called for massive clearance and thinning out at the center of London, a strengthened greenbelt around the already built-up area, and a series of new towns based on garden city principles in the “Outer Country.”3

Shortly after the war, with the British economy in ruins, the Labour Party swept into power with an agenda for radical change. Labour leaders seized the

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