‘Order out of chaos’: the London Society and the planning of London 1912–1920
The history of civic consciousness in the late nineteenth century has focused on philanthropic housing reform and the provision of civic amenities such as public parks and libraries. Histories of the growth of the town planning movement in the same period likewise have been dominated by housing, with an emphasis on the garden suburb and the activities of the Garden City Association (founded 1899). At the same time, and partly due to the popularity of research on Ruskin, Morris and their followers, the history of popular movements emerging at the end of the last century has concentrated on conservation groups like the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (founded 1877) and the National Trust (founded 1895). An analysis is presented here of an emerging voluntary civic and planning movement and its contribution to urban and planning history. It examines the growth of modern civic consciousness from 1890 to 1920, when citizens began to exercise their right to participate in the planning and design of the urban environment. The analysis focuses on the relationship between the town planning movement, local government and a voluntary planning and amenity group, the London Society, founded in 1912, to argue that civic consciousness shifted in the period from a nineteenth century philanthropic approach to urban reform, which centred on housing and amenity, to a more professional and democratic attempt to attend to the planning of the whole urban environment. The research identifies a moment of progressive optimism regarding urban civilization at the beginning of this century, and thus dispels the myth that the period was characterized by anti-urbanism.
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