Pilot Zones: The New Urban Environment of Twentieth Century Britain

by Sam Wetherell Wetherell

Institution: University of California – Berkeley
Year: 2016
Keywords: History; Urban planning; Britain; Consumerism; Economy; Neoliberalism; Planning; Urban
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2063826
Full text PDF: http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/9384f7b4


In the last third of the twentieth century, Britain underwent an urban transformation that was faster and more profound than any since the industrial revolution. Modernist housing schemes became gated communities. State managed shopping precincts became private out-of-town shopping malls. Derelict docklands became “enterprise zones” for fostering the financial service industry. A material world built from concrete began to give way to a world made of steel and glass. Using material from archives across Britain this dissertation discusses the role played by cities in producing, reflecting, and normalizing Britain’s post-social democratic settlement. The phrase “pilot zones” refers to the five spaces that act as case studies for this dissertation. The first of these two were policies. Enterprise zones, created by the Conservative government in 1981, were miniature tax havens in inner city areas, while National Garden Festivals were ambitious, state-directed garden shows in derelict urban areas that aimed to attract capital for urban redevelopment. The remaining three case studies — housing estates, shopping malls, and business parks — are built forms with histories that spanned much of the twentieth century. This dissertation looks at how they were privatized and re-imagined. Pilot zones created an environment that made particular political outcomes possible – and shut others down. The dissertation shows that the material basis for the privatized and securitized landscape of British cities at the millennium was assembled much earlier in the century for reasons that cannot be reduced to either structural economic change or the machinations of high politics. The built environment offers a new way of thinking about the sources of the culture and politics of the postwar period, one that not only avoids a dependence on the overly narrow and parochial term “Thatcherism”, but also is more tangible and accessible than the increasingly theistic term “neoliberalism.” Although Britain is the primary focus of my research, the dissertation uncovers many instances of transnational exchange or cooperation, either in ideas, policies, or techniques, particularly with the US and Hong Kong.