Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning for Growth and Growth Controls in Early Modern Northern Europe: Part 2: The Evolution of London's Practice 1580 to 1680

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning for Growth and Growth Controls in Early Modern Northern Europe: Part 2: The Evolution of London's Practice 1580 to 1680

Article excerpt

Following an earlier explanation of planning practices in various cities on the Continent, with their emphasis on expansion, this second paper examines more closely England's century-long experiment with growth prohibitions for London to combat plague and urban unrest. Even with the prohibitions there was no slackening in building. Later, certain exceptions to building prohibitions in London evolved toward regulations for safety and aesthetics. By 1680, London's growth became tolerated, if not planned for, though the suburbs were still not incorporated into the City of London despite having substantially surpassed it in population. The basic arguments and professional/technical responses to all this building were much like today's, helping planners to reflect upon their own present-day efforts in these regards.

A previous paper in this journal explored on a comparative basis Continental innovations in urban planning and development between 1550 and 1610 (Baer, 2007). It stressed different degrees of regulation and pro-active planning, while emphasising the role of the real estate and housing markets in these endeavours. There are basic patterns of thought over city problems, and basic actions over their possible solutions that span the centuries. Planners should be mindful of these, not only for the reservoir of experience they provide, but also to better situate our profession in history.

London was briefly mentioned in that paper because of its contrasting effort at this time not to work with or promote urban growth, but to prohibit it altogether. Here the emphasis will be on how, over one hundred years, London moved from a growth prohibition effort to one more similar to some cities on the Continent, where growth would be tolerated or encouraged if it were regulated.

While some excellent books on London's development have appeared over the last decade or so (Porter, 1995; Inwood, 1998; Clark, 2000) from a planner's perspective insufficient attention has been paid to the beginnings of regulation/planning during the late sixteenth century and for almost the entire seventeenth century. Here the complete evolution in London's regulation from 1580 to 1680 will be shown. The patterns of urban migration, of thinking about prohibiting the resulting urban growth, even some of London's practices in doing so, were remarkably similar to today. Current growth control disputes often merely re-enact and rehearse (with greater sophistication) the kinds of arguments about private property and appropriate government controls first uttered over 400 years ago.

Table 1 shows how the practice for London changed over time - moving from complete building prohibition at the outset to a grudging recognition by 1680 that growth was inevitable, but that some public controls were required - a position closer to the Continent's.

London's problem and responses: an overview

Beginning in the early sixteenth century, after over a century of mildly fluctuating population between 35,000 and 43,000, London began growing rapidly. By 1550, London within its ancient Roman walls had some 39,000 people; outside the walls (the largely poor suburbs) there were another 29,000, for a total of 68,000. Over the next ten years that grew to 90,000, most of this increase occurring outside the walls (Barron, 2004, 241; Harding, 1990, 112, Table 1). Large urban populations were unable to reproduce their numbers by birth because of poor living conditions and high mortality rates. Instead, London's growth was due to continued inmigration from other parts of the realm or refugees from abroad, all seeking their fortune, learning a trade, or at least finding a job (Smith, 1997, 165-67) . Housing was a problem, with many (even children) forced to sleep rough - under bushes, in the street, or in the courtyard of St Paul's Cathedral (Howes, 1924, iii, 421-43; Palliser 1992, 209-16).

From 1560 to 1580, London and its suburbs grew still more, from 90,000 to 145,000 (Harding, 1990, 112, Table 1). …

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