And the newness of everything! The raw, mean look! Do you know the look of these new towns that have suddenly swelled up like balloons in the last few years, Hayes, Slough, Dagenham and so forth? The kind of chilliness, the bright red brick everywhere, the temporary-looking shopfronts full of cut-price chocolates and radio parts.
George Orwell, Coming up for Air (1939)
Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow
Swarm over, Death!
Come, bombs, and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans
Tinned minds, tinned breath.
Mess up the mess they call a town –
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week for half-a-crown
For twenty years …
John Betjeman, “Slough” (Continual Dew) (1937)1
Almost precisely in 1900, as a reaction to the horrors of the nineteenth-century slum city, the clock of planning history started ticking. But, paradoxically, as it did so, another much older and bigger timepiece started to drown it out. The very problem that the infant planning movement sought to address almost instantly began to change its shape. Most of the philosophical founders of the planning movement continued to be obsessed with the evils of the congested Victorian slum city – which indeed remained real enough, at least down ...