A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 11 – Cooperation

Today we’ll cover the penultimate chapter 11 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909, which covers cooperation in site planning.   Politically Unwin was very close to the cooperative movement.

towns and suburbs are the expression of something in the lives of those who build them. The fact that our town populations have been too much mere aggregations of struggling units, having little orderly relationship one with the other, and little of corporate life, has naturally expressed itself in our street plans and in the arrangement of sites….

there is growing up a new sense of the rights and duties of the community as distinct from those of the individual. It is coming to be more and more widely realised that a new order and relationship in society are required to take the place of the old, that the mere setting free of the individual is only the commencement of the work of reconstruction, and not the end. The town planning movement and the powers conferred by legislation on municipalities are strong evidence of the growth of this spirit of association.

Unwin however did not want to wait for state or local government action. ‘ it may be better that smaller bodies, more responsive to the initiative of individual pioneers, should deal with the more detailed work.’  Unwin quoted Cadbury, Lever and Rowntree as pioneers in this regard.

Unwin praised the work of co-partnership tenants groups, but criticised them as too often ending their work with the purchase of sites rather than their laying out.

Consider how different is the position of the site planner when designing for one of these co-operative societies from his position when planning an area to be let in plots to individuals or speculative builders. In the latter case his first consideration must be the dividing up of the land into well-marked individual plots, avoiding any joint usage or other complications  in fact, securing first of all the absolute separation of each holding from its neighbour. He cannot well provide sites even for minor public buildings, for tliese will be chosen on individual lines and only after the need for them has arisen. But in working for a co-operative body, such as the Tenants’ Society, where the houses when built remdn the property of the association, the site planner can approach the problem from a quite different point of view ; he at once begins to think of the good of the whole. Just a, in the other case he was bound to concentrate his attention on making individual “sell-able” plots, now he can concentrate it on the creation of a village community….

The shops, schools, institutes, and places of worship can all be considered, and the most suitable sites for each reserved. Some place can be arranged around which many of these buildings can be grouped and a centre point to the plan be thus secured. The designer can then proceed to lay out the buildings as a whole, considering first their main lines and arrangement, with a view to create a good total effect, and to preserve and develop any fine views or other advantages the site may offer. It is not necessary for him to think of the absolute isolation of his buildings ; this point, instead of being his first consideration, becomes his last thought. The whole of the land remaining in one ownership, there is no difficulty in the common enjoyment of footpaths, greens, or other open spaces ; hence he is able to consider the grouping of his buildings with much greater freedom.

But this wasnt just a consideration of practical or functional concerns, for Unwin it was as much about his always prime concern, of beauty.

Only under some such circumstances is it possible to work up the whole scheme in the right order, taking first the big interests and the main lines, following on with the buildings in their masses and their grouping, working down to the individual buildings themselves, and finally to the details of their arrangement, placing the best rooms where it has been planned to give the best aspect and the best outlook ; designing bay windows to take advantage of views which have been kept open, giving special attention and care to those elevations which will most prominently come into the picture, and, indeed, welding the plan of the site, the buildings, and the gardens, more and more into one complete whole.

Unwin speculated on future common rooms, libraries and so on, as associated with colleges and armshouses.  Indeed a number of such cooperative housing groups were developed in Letchworth and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Experience alone can prove how far our present municipal organisations can advantageously carry the work of town planning, laying out of sites, making of streets, and building of houses. Obvious advantages would be found if the whole of the people living in a limited area could co-operate for its development, for the laying out of their city and the building of their houses. The possibilities are greater and the convenience of the whole community can be more thoroughly considered, the wider the area covered by the unit of association. On the other hand, effective oversight of expenditure and details and effective adaptability to new ideas are apt to decrease in proportion as the magnitude of the unit of organisation increases. The problem may well be worked out from both ends. The municipalities will find how far they can wisely go, working from the town-planning end ; while the smaller societies, beginning with co-operative building, will find by experience how far they can extend their sphere.

 

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