qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Cr@p Towns

Book Review: Britain's Lost Cities, by Gavin Stamp
The premise of this book is that the Luftwaffe were largely incidental to the twentieth-century destruction of much of Britain's urban architecture. Indeed, in some cases Stamp traces plans back to the end of World War I, and many cities began planning between the wars, largely motivated by the need to widen streets in order to support the growing popularity of the motor car.

Unfortunately, these themes are only described in the introduction, and the bulk of the book is an alphabetical survey of a select bunch of towns, so although there are plenty of attractive pictures, you really only get the most out of it in chapters on places you know. As such, the chapter on Newcastle was most interesting for me; I grew up during the development of Eldon Square Shopping Centre and the Tyne & Wear Metro (I only vaguely recall travelling on the BR trains as a small child before the line was closed). Other interesting chapters were on London; Leeds and Hull (due to Jonathan Meades' programme on Cuthbert Brodrick), and Plymouth (due to my recent reading of Betjeman).

The other criticism I have of the book is its one-sidedness. Stamp enthusiastically catalogues failures such as the Tricorn Centre, hints at local government corruption (and not just T Dan Smith), and reluctantly acknowledges less disastrous developments (more often, rather acknowledging that the result of redevelopment exercises were less bad than anticipated because they weren't fully carried through). Admittedly the focus is on the buildings we have lost but Stamp makes no attempt to consider wider questions about planning. The charge against the motorist is a reasonable one, but there's no review of places like, say, Oxford or Cambridge, where the motorist is kept at bay. For a modern city, the status quo ante has consequences too.
Tags: books
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