‘Dozer’ Oliver Dowden condemns ‘Socialist Town Planners’ He’s an Ignoramus of History

You usually find those who condemn ‘wokery’ want to remain historically ignorant because they didnt’t want the fantasy ‘sceptered isle’ view of history challenged by critical thought or evidence.

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He launches into a passionate soliloquy about the dangers of big institutions being swept up by statue-topplers and history-rewriters.

“What I’m saying is, let’s make sure we have a longer term perspective on all of this. You just have to look at what happened to our urban landscape after the Second World War. More damage was done by the misplaced idealism of socialist planners than by the Luftwaffe.

There is no evidence of any major city plan in the post war period having been drawn up by a socialist planner, apart from Stevenage who was quickly fired for being too left wing and an outspoken woman. A previous generation of planners had many prominent socialists (libertarians) with very different ideas about style (often favouring vernacular and arts and crats styles). But that’s not what he is talking about.

This concept comes from Gavin Stamps book ‘Britain’s Lost Cities’ which is a prominent part of contemporary cultural conservative historiography. I’m not accusing dozer Dowden waking up and reading Stamp. More likely he read a blog on CONHOM from someone who once read a pamphlet by a dumbtank that once attended a lecture from someone who once read the book.

This had a simple argument, post war reconstruction did more damage than the Luftwaffe. A whole chapter often book being given over to Exeter.

This is partially true. You find in every blitzed city far more was knocked down than was blown up. What replaced it was driven far ore by a classical conception of planning than modernist. And modernism, when it did become fashionable had few associations with socialism (look for example at La Corbusier’s authoritarian right wing syndicalism and coporatism). But that is too much history to get in the way of so many bad conservative aesthetic scribblers who want to paint a false ‘asleep’ narrative of triumph of the people over socialism. The facts don’t support the ‘dozers’ narrative.

The facts are, lets use Exeter as a case study, by the time Thomas Sharp, Exeter’s planner, arrived for his site visit Bedford Square, its most famous example of Georgian Town Planning, was bulldozed and he wrote of it as such. In fact the corporation had bulldozed it in the previous weeks. Reports at the time said many houses simply had broken windows. It is difficult to tell because there are no records how deep the damage was. Georgian and early Victorian houses were flimsy structurally behind the front façade. The blast wave from a bomb can weak a whole terrace, sometimes fatally, rippling down a whole terrace, even when frontage appearances of damage are limited.

It appears the motives of the corporation (tory I might add) were financial. They had massive loss of rates income and lobbied furiously central government for relief. They were strongly motivated by getting redevelopment done as quickly as possible

Sharp was not beyond fault, his report strongly downplayed how many buildings in the centre from Medieval facades were Victorian, we know now in all cities how much refacading was done in front of medieval buildings. But Sharpe did not knockdown the medieval street pattern in the area which was not bomb damaged.

There certainly were cases where bad planning did much damage. Think for example of Leicester where a ring road split the old town in two. The fault of its City Planner Konrad Smigielski a man who fought (with a gun) invading communists in his home country.

There really is no evidence that British Post War Town Planning in any way followed a ‘socialist’ ideology. Modernism as an aesthetic was followed by architects of all political persuasions, and the dominant ideology of post war planning was to find a consensus of all political views as a technical exercise.

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