chapter  9
12 Pages


ByGeorge Nicholson

Each city is unique. The cultures, functions and history which collectively give to a city its own individual weave are products of a special set of circumstances. Often this simple fact is ignored or even derided as the city finds its way onto the drawing boards of planners, architects or developers. The inevitable result is that many of the decisions, plans and development proposals that have emerged in London and other cities have been decidedly ‘anti-city’ both in their conception and their impact. This is what makes the question ‘What sort of city do we want?’ such an important one, yet today it is often left unasked. Our cities will remain battle-grounds until we address this question. London is a good example; a historic city which has experienced a number of cycles each of which has left its mark. Could it have been different? This question has to be framed within the historical realities of a country’s particular patterns of land ownership and political hegemony. However, there are undoubtedly lessons to be learnt from the history of urban development in London. Two almost forgotten, and long overdue for revival, can be found inside the 1944 Greater London Plan, a historic landmark in planning in the UK. In it Sir Patrick Abercrombie proposed two important principles, both as relevant today as they were then. One was that planning is a matter of ‘grafting new growth onto the old stock of London’. If that principle alone had been adhered to, much of the damage to the historic fabric of many great cities throughout the world could have been avoided. The other principle was equally significant. It was that the community structure of London should be regarded as ‘the basic planning unit’ (see Figure 9.1). This was developed at length in a chapter titled ‘Community planning’. Indeed Abercrombie held that ‘the community idea’ should dominate both the 1943 County of London Plan and the 1944 Greater London Plan (Abercrombie 1945). Here then is a clear conception, a starting-place, a purposefulness on which to build the future of a city.