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Producing and experiencing Harlow: neighbourhood units and narratives of New Town life 1947-53

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This paper uses the notions of 'Utopias of escape' and 'Utopias of reconstruction' to help conceptualize the New Town movement and, in particular, the settlement at Harlow, built from 1947 onwards and located 25 miles north-east of London. The analysis focuses on the neighbourhood unit as the means by which this and other New Towns were built, and centres on the ideological presuppositions of Modern architects and planners intending to shape modern citizens through the architectural designs provided in Harlow. As a counterpoint to this, perspectives provided by residents of these neighbourhood units are analysed alongside the architectural expressions. As such, a complex narrative of space and place is developed, which not only broadens the traditional approach of architectural geography beyond the ideas of architects and planners, but allows a much fuller interpretation of these spaces to be made. The argument focuses on the two schemes designed by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in Harlow: those of Tany's Dell and The Chantry housing groups. The paper concludes with some thoughts on the nature of the historiographical narratives written on planning and experiencing New Towns and the potential ambiguity of such (hi)stories.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography University of Wales Swansea Singleton Park Swansea SA2 8PP UK, Email:

Publication date: April 1, 2004

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