The Development of the City from 1890 to 1990

Professor Nick Bullock

DevelopmentThe course aims to provide an understanding of the various ways in which the state, both national and local, has attempted to meet the challenge of urban growth during the 20th century. In place of a continuous narrative history, the lectures and classes, grouped around five central themes, will focus on key events, projects or texts to illustrate contemporary responses to the opportunities and problems created by the growth of the city. Using historical material drawn from a number of European and US cities, the lectures and classes offer both an understanding of the forces that have shaped the current forms of cities in these countries and a vantage point from which to consider the problems now faced by cities in the developing world.

Theme One: The first theme explores the terms in which London, New York and other western cities have developed since the middle of the last century and the changing assumptions about the role that the state may play in shaping the form of the city. The theme begins by looking at London in the 1930s, the example of the unplanned city, follows the development of planning after WWII, then takes the work of Robert Moses in New York and the reaction against it in order illustrate the growing doubts about planning, before looking at the building of Docklands during the 1980s and 90s as an example of the way in which planning again came to be seen as necessary.

Theme Two: The second theme will explore those realms in the modern western city that lie outside the realm regulated by the state. Even in the supposedly ordered cities of the developed world there are, and indeed always have been elements of the city that defy regulation or control, and suggest a parallel with the cities of the developing world.

Theme Three: The third theme focuses on the formal, architectural qualities of the city. It explores the forces that determine the forms of housing, the principle element of the fabric of the city, looking first at the tenement housing so typical of Berlin and New York and then at the architects vision of the Modern city, represented by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation in Marseilles whose principles, so often misunderstood, were to prove so influential after WWII.

Themes Four and Five: The two final and related themes address the relentless expansion of the western cities to form the city regions of the latter half of the twentieth century. The first of the two explores the dramatic increase in the rate of suburban expansion that is evident in cities across Europe and North America and was to have such damaging economic and ethnic consequences for the centres of existing cities. The second looks at the emergence of the city region in North America and Europe and the challenges that this presents to the ways in which we think about the ‘city’, from the contrast, so central to European culture, between the urban and the rural, to the problems of governing and regulating the city regions like ‘le grand Paris’ or the Dutch Randstad.

Intended Audience

Students from a variety of backgrounds – history, sociology, economics, geography, architecture – and encourages them to pool their specialist knowledge in order to develop a shared understanding of the play of such different forces that have shaped the twentieth century city.