Posted by: hilaryyoung | June 13, 2008

Coventry: the people, city centre redevelopment and housing

Coventry RebuildsAt the end of the Second World War in 1945 Coventry became the focus of an extensive reconstruction plan including a new city centre and a wide network of new housing estates. The city experienced considerable economic growth and social change in the post-war period and was heralded as a ‘phoenix’ rising from the ashes. Since his appointment in 1938 and the extensive bombing of the city in November 1940 the newly appointed city Architect, Donald Gibson, had been ‘looking to the future’ of Coventry’s urban planning. He recruited a team of assistant architects and surveyors, the Re-development Committee, initially to alleviate immediate housing needs due to the flourishing car and machine tool industries which attracted a large migrant workforce. While designing the new housing Gibson and his team also worked out a scheme for a new civic centre as a whole. The Council felt that the city lacked the cultural, social and educational buildings appropriate to a thriving industrial city. There was no theatre, central library, art gallery or public baths; it needed new civic offices and law courts and a new building for the school of art.

The modernity project that the city and the working-class people of Coventry were a part of in the mid-twentieth century created a space for constructing a new future and possibly new identities. The Coventry Evening Telegraph recognised in 1945 that “No Government alone could make Coventry prosperous. The good life would only be possible to the extent it was lived and worked for by the ordinary men and women of Coventry.”

The redevelopment of the city in the late 1940s and 1950s was of central concern to the planners, councillors and central government as it was thought to reflect the country’s wider recovery after the war and ultimately result in a ‘Better Britain.’ The rebuilding and planning of Coventry has tended to be told through the planners, architects and local government’s perspective. The oral history gathered for this project tells a different story of the reconstruction of Coventry in the postwar period as people remember going to school, playing on the bomb sites, and moving into newly built homes to accommodate those living in slum conditions or those who had no housing at all.

The image above is the front cover of a special edition of Architectural Design dedicated to the redevelopment of the city (December 1958). By the time this special edition was published the original city architect. Donald Gibson, had left the project and Arthur Ling had taken over. The edition included an extended essay by Ling called ‘Looking to the future’ about his own personal views of what Coventry could expect in terms of housing and a new city centre.

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