Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Abercrombie's Green-Wedge Vision for London: The County of London Plan 1943 and the Greater London Plan 1944

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Abercrombie's Green-Wedge Vision for London: The County of London Plan 1943 and the Greater London Plan 1944

Article excerpt

Introduction

Green wedges have been theorised as an essential part of planning debates since the beginning of the twentieth century. Their prominent position in texts and plans rivalled that of the green belt, despite the comparatively disproportionate attention given to the latter by planning historians (see, for example, Purdom, 1945, 151; Freestone, 2003, 67-98; Ward, 2002, 172; Sutcliffe, 1981a; Amati and Yokohari, 1997, 311-37).

From the mid-nineteenth century, the provision of green spaces became a fundamental aspect of modern town planning (Dümpelmann, 2005, 75; Dal Co, 1980, 141-293). The green wedges idea emerged as a solution to the need to provide open spaces for growing urban areas and establish a direct connection to the countryside for inner city dwellers. Green wedges would also funnel fresh air, greenery and sunlight into the urban core. Their wedge form would allow them to expand at the periphery in relation to urban sprawl. Although the origins and development of this idea in Britain have been recently examined (Lemes de Oliveira, 2014), there is still no account of the role that green wedges played in proposals for the post-war reconstruction period. Many authors have examined the most well-known reconstruction plans for the capital, such as the Royal Academy plan, the MARS plan (Marmaras and Sutcliffe, 1994, 431-53; Gold, 1995, 243-67) or Patrick Abercrombie's County of London Plan and Greater London Plan (see Larkham and Adams, 2011, 2; Ashworth, 1954; Cherry, 1988; Cullingworth, 1975; Ward, 2004, 97-9; Bullock, 1994, 87-101). In spite of this large number of analyses, the significance of green wedges has been notably understated.

This article aims to help fill this gap by discussing the significance of the concept in the main reconstruction plans for London envisaged during the Second World War. The study shows how green wedges were used as a strategy to secure a direct connection from the inner urban areas to the countryside, increase the amount of recreational space and improve public health by providing access to greenery, sunlight and fresh air. They were used as planning instruments to create a new urban structure for London and fundamentally as symbols of hope for a better future.

Green wedges and London's regional planning

Reactions to the consequences arising from uncontrolled growth were at the core of town planning ideas from the mid-nineteenth century. Problems with public health, poor housing conditions, overcrowding, congestion, transportation, pollution and deficiency in the amount and distribution of green spaces were paramount. At the turn of the century, London's six million inhabitants occupied not only the inner-city areas, but - facilitated by the electric tram and motor vehicles - also strips of land along arterial routes, suburbs and neighbouring rural areas (Sutcliffe, 1981b, 52). While this tentacular form of growth into the open country was seen as a threat by social actors such as rural preservationists (Cherry, 1975, 9-25), some professionals would call for a reciprocal extension of the countryside into towns. Patrick Geddes (1915, 96-7), for instance, argued that 'the children, the women, the workers of the town can come but rarely to the country. As hygienists, and utilitarians, we must therefore bring the country to them' and that towns, 'once in true development, they will repeat the starlike opening of the flower with green leaves set in alternation with its golden rays'.

Green wedges emerged in relation to the prominence of radial growth. They derived from the radial parks and parkways of early park system plans for American cities such as Buffalo and Boston; however, they would acquire a specific identity with Rudolf Eberstadt, Richard Petersen and Bruno Möhring's runner-up entry to the 1910 Greater Berlin Competition. Presented by Eberstadt (1911) at the 1910 RIBA Town Planning Conference, green wedges were seen as the most appropriate provision of open spaces for modern towns. …

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