Ralph Tubbs, Living In Cities (1942)

I picked up Ralph Tubbs‘ Living in Cities at the market in Cambridge last week. Published in 1942, when the end of the war was still not in sight, it is a call to the modern; an appeal for thoughtful planning and meaningful reconstruction after the war.

When peace comes, shall we yield to temptation? Exhausted by the war, shall we merely want to return to the imaginary “good old days”? Profit-seekers will try to break any attempt at control, and if we fail to make the necessary preparations now, the demand for speed will tempt those without conviction to shelve any large-scale planning schemes. We must not fail. […]

“In the city, time becomes visible. Through the material fact of preservation, time challenges time, time clashes with time… By the diversity of time structures, the city in part escapes the tyranny of a single present, and the monotony of a future that consists in repeating only a single beat heard in the past. Through its complex orchestration of time and space, no less than through the social division of about, life in the city takes on the character of a symphony.” (Lewis Mumford)

No sane planner would want to wipe the past from our cities. Uncontrolled sentiment may suffocate reason and prevent logical action, but complete absence of sentiment reveals poverty of character. The folly of the last century must go, the chaos, the slums and the dirt; so also, the crimes of our own century, the mock-Tudor suburbs, the ribbon development and the imitation Classic. But the squares, the cathedrals and all the fine achievements of a growing culture myst be part of any new plan, so that, with our new creations, the expression of our own time, they may enrich the orchestration of the city.

[…]

Cities will be proud of being cities, and not ashamed like the compromising “garden cities”; cities will delight in the busy activity of their ways, in the splendour of their buildings, in their quiet open spaces. When travelling about in the town, we should be moving in fine enclosures of space. Square and colonnades, skyscrapers and terraces must be arranged so that the spaces around them are as finely proportioned as the buildings themselves. After all, we live and walk in the spaces.

Ralph Tubbs

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