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Contesting the modern city: reconstruction and everyday life in post-war coventry

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Recently, views have begun to shift on whether the immediate post-war period in Britain really was characterized by a consensus of public opinion in favour of comprehensive redevelopment planning. This paper explores this issue in the context of Coventry, a city that was extensively bombed during World War II, but redeveloped according to Modernist-inspired planning principles in the post-war years, resulting in an urban landscape celebrating the perceived virtues of speed, efficiency and order. Examining the reconstruction of Coventry's city centre in the 1940s and 1950s, this paper suggests that the popular consensus in favour of its comprehensive redevelopment was, in fact, more illusory than real. To these ends, the paper brings into dialogue people's memories of living in Coventry in this era with existing published and unpublished accounts of the city's redevelopment. This exposes contradictions and conflicts between the planners' vision of the future city and the appropriation and use of the resulting urban landscape by the city's inhabitants. The paper accordingly concludes that processes of modernization provoke constant contradictions between representation and experience, and suggests that it is by exploring these contradictions that we might develop fuller, richer and more contextual planning histories.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK ( &rpar, Email: 2: School of Geography, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, Northern Ireland ( &rpar, Email:

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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