Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British Colonial Cities

Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British Colonial Cities

Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British Colonial Cities

Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British Colonial Cities


This examination of the history of town planning in the British Empire from 1600 considers the transfer of British planning legislation to the colonies and the influence of this transfer on world urbanisation.


The history of towns and town planning in the most rapidly urbanizing parts of the world is still a relatively neglected topic. The growing body of academic work on planning history, nourished by networks such as the International Planning History Society, still deals mostly with Europe and North America. This book is an attempt to widen the area of inquiry, and explore the role of colonialism in forming Third World cities.

One's personal history often influences the choice of a research topic. In my case, I was brought up in the then British colonies of the Gold Coast, Nigeria and Cyprus around the time that they became independent, in the 1950s and 1960s. I trained as a town planner and my doctorate was on the influence of colonial government upon Nigerian urbanization, with fieldwork undertaken soon after the Nigerian civil war. Since then I have taught planning and land management to many students from the so-called 'New Commonwealth', as well as British students with backgrounds in the multi-cultural societies created by colonialism in the Caribbean and elsewhere. The growing internationalism of the planning history academic network has encouraged me to persevere with the research in spite of the daunting scale of the enterprise, and I was fortunate to make short study visits to some of the countries in the story, particularly Trinidad, Malaysia and South Australia.

London was a good place to carry out the research. While not much related research (regrettably) is currently being undertaken in Britain, a wealth of source material is available. Among the libraries that I used (and whose library staff were unfailingly helpful, especially Ted Maloney and the late John Barrick) were my own University of East London, the University of London (Senate House, London School of Economics, School of Oriental and African Studies), the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, professional institutes such as the Royal Institute of British Architects, Royal Town Planning Institute, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and Institute of Civil Engineers, and the Development Planning Unit. I also used the Public Record Office at Kew.

It is perhaps also appropriate to state my attitude to the material. Much British writing on the subject of the British Empire has been frankly celebratory and self-congratulatory, portraying it as, for example, 'Rosebery's great and secular force for good, which left memorials behind of which everyone could be proud, and for which everyone could be thankful' (Winchester, 1985, p. 126). An opposing view, with which I identify more, was that expressed by Samuel Johnson, who in 1744 censured:

…those Crimes which have been generally committed by the Discoverers of new Regions, and to expose the enormous Wickedness of making War upon barbarous Nations because they cannot resist, and of invading Countries because they are fruitful. (quoted in Holmes, 1993, p. 46) . . .

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