And before Brummies leap in and accuse me of doing down their city, the same goes for Bradford, for Leeds and for just about every other big city. Here's the quote from The Economist blog:
In the post-war era, there was a strong sense among British politicians that cities were slightly unpleasant things like mushrooms that ought not be allowed to grow too fast. Inspired by utopian city planners such as Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier, they decided that urban metropolises had to be cut back. Without much consultation, enormous numbers of people were "decanted" from inner-city slums to grey suburban council estates, where loneliness and crime thrived. Meanwhile, the city centres themselves were strangled with great elevated roads intended to get people in and out of the "commercial" zones. Birmingham probably suffered the worst of anywhere. Even Joseph Chamberlain's grand Council House was surrounded by roads.
Right now planners across the country are 'learning the lessons' of the past and drawing up new - and newly grand - schemes for cities and towns. Yet the echo of the think described above remains - cities are nasty, unclear, dangerous places and people want to live in ordered, structured and safe communities. We even have a "new" garden city movement:
Garden cities are back on the political and social agenda. Barely a day goes past without Boris Johnson, Nick Clegg, David Cameron or Ed Miliband talking about them. Lord Wolfson has got in on the act by launching a competition to build a new garden city in England. The prize of £250,000 is enough to properly kickstart a new social garden city movement.
And this 'movement' has a rhetoric filled with today's trendy rhetoric of 'cooperatives', 'community ownership' and 'social enterprise' - all guaranteed to get us shaking with excitement at this ordered world outside the city, a Utopian wonderland of community leadership, social capital and parks.
Forgive me if I don't share your excitement at building boring places filled with dullness, where every activity is purposeful, where committees of local worthies decide what you have in your front garden, the colour of your front door and whether you can put a six foot pink gnome by your gate. If you want these garden cities go build them but don't pretend they replace the excitement of the city or the mixed community of the market town or the tranquillity of the village. I'm with Jane Jacobs on Ebenzer Howard and garden cities:
“His aim was the creation of self sufficient small towns,really very nice towns if you were docile and had no plans of your own and did not mind spending your life with others with no plans of their own. As in all Utopias, the right to have plans of any significance belonged only to the planner in charge."And we've seen what planners did to Birmingham. Useful though those planner might be, we can't put them in charge.