by David Hamilton (July 2009)
After the war, a sense of shame at our past and achievements became widespread amongst the intelligentsia, and led to an ineluctable weakening of our national identity. Our elites began wittingly or unwittingly to dismantle the very idea of England. Social engineering started to be used in architecture and planning as much as in education and entertainment. Its aim was to change the physical and mental environment, and thereby change people, who were seen as plastic and malleable. The theory was that planned council estates could change people for the better. more>>>
I found this very interesting and I agree with the authors claim that destruction of our historic buildings and unnatural high rise housing have been an unhapppy influence. It is ground level streets and their own garden or yard that people need to maintain a sense of community.
I can give two examples, both places where I have lived personally.
First the streets in Walthamstow between Boundary Road and Queens Road. When I moved there in 1963 they were rows of Victorian terraced houses, with a gap that was an empty bomb site. I walked through them to get to school and it made an interesting afternoon when an unexploded bomb was discovered. Late 60s the remaining streets (two pubs and an assortment of shops) were pulled down and several tower blocks were built. No one had cause to walk through them unless they lived there. It became an unhappy place and reputed to be a dumping ground for 'problem' families. I don't know how justified that was.
The tower blocks were pulled down about 10/12 years ago and the area rebuilt as small streets of houses with gardens, or human sized blocks of maisonettes. I don't live in the area any more but when I visit I notice that the gardens look well kept; if people are happily settled enough to plant bulbs and prune roses it is a good sign in my opinion.
The other area is the Becontree estate in Dagenham where I lived for 10 years and purchased my first house. That was built in 1935/6/7 as accomodation for workers at the new Ford Motor factory and part of an East End slum clearance programme. In their time the factory and the estate were the biggest in Europe.
The houses are mostly terraced, some semis, all built with indoor sanitation, bathrooms, with gardens. They followed a streets pattern which was broader than those of the old East End, and more inclined to crescents and ovals but still low level, human sized and accessible. You don't need an excuse to walk down any of them. The housing stock is solid and sound as I know to my benefit. Where a individual house is run down it is due to the poor health or whatever of the occupant. Some were built for private ownership; others have become privately owned. Churches and schools opened. A few more pubs and shops would have been better, that those there were have recently been lost is another issue.
Other developements post war on the same principle which produced a reasonable place to bring up children are Harlow and Debden. Anybody who has read Young and Willmott's Family and Kinship in East London, which is the story of my childhood, will know Debden as 'Greenford'.