Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Exhibiting the City: Planning Ideas and Public Involvement in Wartime and Early Post-War Britain

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Exhibiting the City: Planning Ideas and Public Involvement in Wartime and Early Post-War Britain

Article excerpt

Engaging the wider public in plan-making is a major concern of contemporary planning, although most authors date this to key texts of the late 1960s. This article reviews the scale and nature of earlier attempts to do so at a crucial stage in the development of British planning thought and practice - in 1940s Britain, when planning was responding to the crisis and opportunity of wartime damage. It explores public involvement principally through the exhibitions associated with the large number of post-war reconstruction plans. The then-dominant expert-driven model of plan-making overruled the views expressed by the public, and exhibition visitors were simply seen as consumers of the propaganda of planning. The new model of planning and plans following the 1947 Act moved away from exhibitions and consultation to become even more expert-driven and technocentric.

Keywords: town planning, exhibitions, public consultation, communication, post-war reconstruction

The way in which planning issues are communicated to the wider public is crucial to the success of the plans being produced and the decisions being taken. Both ideas about planning, and ideals of a particular plan or place, need to be conveyed in appropriate ways. During the wartime and early post-war years in Britain, an important period in planning activity and the development of planning ideas, the dominant view of planning was technocentric and expert-driven. The public was informed about plans and, although there was some rhetoric of consultation, this was generally unproductive - too late in the process, too limited in scope, using inappropriate terms (seeking 'criticisms'), and there is little evidence that any views expressed were taken into account via modifying plans before implementation. This article explores these problems with a particular focus on what became the most significant means of communication, the public exhibition (Lilley, 2003). While a number of individual exhibitions are mentioned, the emphasis is on the wider picture of the number, nature, scale and impact of these exhibitions; the UK's activity is also set in the context of contemporary international activity. Exhibitions are linked to a visual culture of communication, which may not suit all planning messages; they are a critical part of a discourse of power in the production, management and consumption of the environment; but - a key research problem - they are ephemeral.

Planning and communication

Planning is a social process as well as a technical one. Issues of the relationships of power and influence are inherent in any consideration of how places are shaped and re-shaped - by whom, for whom and how. Contemporary debates have recognised the significance of these issues, tending to emphasise the need for involving those who are affected by the planning process, through models of various levels of engagement (Arnstein, 1969) to new paradigms of 'communicative' (Forester, 1989) and 'collaborative' (Healey, 1997) planning. These approaches are not without their critics (for example in Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones, 2002): power differentials and dominance remain as embedded in contemporary planning practices as they were in the past. Indeed, there have been attempts to refine the earlier, simplistic models of participation (for example, South Lanarkshire Council's 'wheel of participation': Davidson, 1998). In particular, a multi-dimensional approach has developed from the dialogue between collaborative and conventional participation approaches (Woltjer, 2005; Alexander, 2008).

Yet virtually all recent work on public participation cites precedent in theory and practice from the 1960s: Arnstein (1969) and, specifically for the UK, the Skeffington Report (1969) are the citation classics.1Deliberately or otherwise, this ignores a great deal of earlier effort to involve the public, in one way or another, in plan production and planning decision-making, going back to Geddes, a formative influence on planning nationally and internationally, who was a key user of exhibitions (Geddes, 1915), but this now seems largely forgotten. …

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