Rip It Up and Start Again: York Development Plan of 1948

As part of my dissertation I’m working on some of the hairbrained schemes to redevelop my hometown of York. This fantastic document was commissioned during WW2 as a masterplan for the city – a beautifully printed vision of the future. There’ll be more bits and pieces from this project in the coming months.

In 1948 the city grandees felt that York was missing out. It was an ancient city that was rich in architecture but filled with poverty, still reliant on the Victorian industries of railways and chocolate. It was time for progress and reform. A committee was formed. A plan was proposed. It was completely nuts. From the smug comfort of the current city – where just about everything is connected to heritage – it’s a hilarious dystopia.

The predominant problem was that there was nowhere for cars to go in the medieval streets. And those lovely Victorian and Georgian terraces around the city walls were considered old-fashioned and unsuitable. So it was proposed to clear a large swathe of the city, put in a ring road and leave the ancient settlement as one of the world’s biggest traffic islands. The demolished area would be left as a combination of green space, playing fields and municipal facilities. Modern mid-rise housing with ample car access would be built around the edges of this green belt and would replace the (much desired in 2010) residential buildings.

If your house is in green (mine is) then it would be demolished – only St Mary’s Abbey and Bootham Park Hospital would survive, so goodbye to the railway station. The blue line is the route of the new expressway. And if your house is under one of those pins then you’d currently be below a substantial roundabout: this was a plan to turn one of the world’s best-preserved cities into Milton Keynes. The plans rumbled on until the early 1970’s, by which time it was apparent that similar schemes had caused irreparable damage to the likes of Salisbury and Gloucester. It was only the incompetence and inactivity of the local authorities that saved York.

Still, would have made driving easier.

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One Response to Rip It Up and Start Again: York Development Plan of 1948

  1. fugitive ink says:

    Incompetence and inactivity – where would we be without them? (Err, in the middle of a traffic island, it seems.) Fascinating post, anyway.

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