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Everyday experiences of the modern city: remembering the post-war reconstruction of Birmingham

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This paper examines a key period in the history of Birmingham, a city that was extensively though diffusely bombed during Second World War, but was redeveloped according to Modernist-inspired planning principles in the post-war years. Investigating the 'piecemeal' reconstruction of Birmingham's city centre in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, it is argued that the narrative of redevelopment has been thoroughly captured in official accounts which offer a detached view removed from the realities of everyday life. Although there is acknowledgement that encounters between human subjects and conceived spaces are multifaceted, few studies have examined this empirically within the context of the 'Modern' city. Drawing on a series of oral history interviews with residents to elucidate citizens' experiences of this phase of redevelopment, this paper shows that inhabitants often doubted and opposed (and occasionally praised) the planners' conception of space as they attempted to re-orientate themselves to the rhythms of everyday life in the 'new' city centre. The paper accordingly concludes that the process of modernization provokes an uneasy co-existence between representation and experience and that there is a need for a broader methodological pluralism in studies in an effort to understand the dynamic relationship between people and the physical environment.

Keywords: Birmingham; Bull Ring Shopping Centre; everyday experiences; oral history; post-war reconstruction

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Property, Construction and Planning, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2011

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