Donald Pilcher on the evolution of recreation and the landscapes it generates
Originally published in AR December 1938, this piece was republished in January 2017
In the non-industrial community the ‘problem of leisure,’ as it has rather forbiddingly come to be known, simply does not exist as such. Generally paid on a “piece-work” basis, the cottage industrialist works with his family round him under conditions in which there is nothing of the sharp distinction between working and free time as it exists in the present-day factory or office. This is equally true in the case of the agricultural worker. Times of work are not defined by supervision from outside but by the organization of family life. Working and free time are only different phases in the same family routine. It is the factory which brings the complete dissociation of work from leisure, while the industrial city which grows up round it breaks down nearly all the forces which provide for free time recreation in a non-commercial economy.
In the latter the individual is a member of a guild, of a church, above all of a family, which has inherited its special place in the community, often with special rights and duties belonging to it. The working routine is punctuated by religious or agricultural festivals which often include some form of active recreation in their rites. The Greek festivals, with their athletic programmes and their accompanying competitions which included such practical items as contests in drinking, kissing and keeping awake, the Irish Fairs which continued such traditions from pagan times down to the beginning of the last century, modern survivals such as the Breton ” Pardon ” or the Cornish ” Floral Dance ” : all provide illustrations of this unity throughout the social life of the non-industrial community.
‘It is the factory which brings the complete dissociation of work from leisure’
All such ties are broken by conditions of life in the industrial city. Even the last remaining tie, the social life of the family, is loosened by the cramping of living accommodation, which drives its members to find their recreation outside the home and which, developing from the bottom up, comes to affect the lives of an increasing number of its inhabitants. Thus not only is the individual unable to find any connexion between his free time interests and the monotonous, and often futile, work of the office or factory, but he finds that most of the means towards social life outside the factory have been swept away. Often the sole remaining tie is the religious one, so that among such movements for providing free time occupation as grew out of nineteenth century city conditions, many have a religious origin, while in the nineteenth century town the “church festival ” became the high spot in the recreational life of most of the adult population.
The Trade Unions, which might be expected to make some provision for the free time of their members, and in many countries actually do so, fail conspicuously in this respect in England, where they remain essentially political organizations. The fact that the monotony of modern factory and office work and the unpleasant social hierarchy which goes with it generally cause an active dislike of any form of association with other workers in the same factory or office during non-working hours has been given as an explanation of the failure of most attempted organizations for recreation by business firms.
Under pre-industrial conditions a closely-knit social organization provided the worker with free time recreation in connexion with his work, but with modern factory production, and the sharp distinction between free and working time that goes with it, most of these means to a full use of leisure time have broken down. How and where can these masses of people, released simultaneously from work, find opportunity for spending their free time?
This special problem of the use of free time has thus existed, more or less unrecognized, ever since cottage industry gave way to factory production. Since that time there has been a progressive shortening of working hours which has now reached a pitch at which the problem has begun to be recognized as such. But it is not the shorter working day which has created the problem. It has merely accentuated its effects.
The Stationary Community
The modern urban community may be an ineffective one ; it is still architecturally speaking a community: a collection of people bound on one side to its homes, on the other to its place of work. The individual may no longer be a member of a guild, of a church. The cell in which he lives still forms a unit in a street or a block of flats which, as such, governs the forms of recreation which are available to him. The new form of housing represented by the block of flats brings with it certain modifications in the conditions of city planning, a limited amount of recreation and social life and, in its wider architectural implications, the possibility of abolishing the dictatorial framework of street planning. But since, in England, it is the high cost of land in the centres of cities which has caused the flat to be adopted as a housing form, blocks of flats are in the main confined to central areas in cities and so must relate finally to a preexisting street plan. Thus the binding unit of the modern city remains the street which, both socially and architecturally, defines the social life of the people who live in it. In any given area it would in fact be possible to say that a given cinema or restaurant served so many neighbouring streets. This is even clearer in the case of the public house. ” When we come to the core of Cockney London,” writes Robert Sinclair, “as at Fins bury, there is a pub to every 110 families. The families cannot afford to travel to the West End for their liquor, so a pub flourishes every 130-yards in Finsbury on the average. If you ruled off the whole of that delectable borough into 130-yard squares there would be a pub for every corner of every square. And the man who dwelt in the middle of each square, the man furthest from any pub, would be 92 yards from a taproom-from four taprooms.”
The commercialized entertainment of the cinema, the football match, the dog race, provide, at present, the only answer on a scale commensurate with the problem.
The same streets which in this way define the boundaries of local social life, themselves provide the scene for the ” street life ” which characterizes the crowded industrial city, while, since it is the only open space available, the street has also provided a place for recreation, or, technically speaking, failed to do so. The pre-industrial town, with its closely-knit social organization, had its own forms of compensation for the squeezing out of playing fields by building speculation. Stowe, in his ” Survey of London ” relates how the Lord Mayor in 1415 “caused the wall of the citie to be broken neere into Coleman Street, and there builded a posterne now called Moorgate upon the Mooreside, where was never gate before. This gate he made for the ease of the citizens, that way to passe upon causeys into the Field (Moorfields) for their recreation.”
Today Moorfields has in turn been swallowed up and its loss has helped to swell the total of 26,000 acres of open space still needed for playing fields in London. Today, when traffic conditions leave only the culs-de-sacs and yards as possible scene for ” street life ” in the industrial city, attempts to improve the housing conditions which go with it have led to the building of suburban housing estates and beside them the estates of the speculative builders. Neither have provided any effective substitute for the social life of the street, and it is on these estates that the need for some provision for free time activities is most acutely felt. Here the continuity of street traditions has been finally broken; the last remnant of city ” street life ” is generally the pub, if indeed there is one, which continues to act as the social centre of the neighbourhood.
In an industrial economy, entertainment tends to become increasingly specialized, with a corresponding loss in its social value. The seventeenth century tavern and the eighteenth-century pleasure garden provided comprehensive entertainment centres scattered in adequate numbers throughout large cities. The purpose served by the latter can still be seen in the Scandinavian countries, where in such cases as Copenhagen’s ” Tivoli,” illustrated above, the tradition of the pleasure garden still persists.
The Specialization of Entertainment
In the towns the pub has suffered from the process of contraction to which all forms of buildings have been subjected in the growth of industrial cities; not only its actual extent, but the facilities it provides have suffered in consequence. Its ancestors, the Tavern and the Pleasure Garden provided comparatively fully for the free time activities of the people who frequented them. The most that is found in a town pub today is a back garden. Recently a movement for ” public house improvement,” part of a sales campaign by the breweries, has directed attention towards these back gardens, which, together with the tidying up of the public houses themselves, have been ” improved ” with a view to making them attractive sitting places. But such improvements, which often substitute for a grass plot the flagging, fountains and floodlighting beloved of the present generation of ” improvers,” contribute little to the value of the public house as a social centre. Often they detract from it. Similarly in the interior, ” improvement ” often turns out to be the useless process of “modernization,” in which the luxuriant decoration in lincrusta and frosted glass and the handsome plush and mahogany furniture of the eighties give way to abstemious furniture and decoration carried out in ” modern materials ” in every way inferior to those they displace.
One can foresee in the not-too-distant future the necessity for founding a “Victorian Society” to protect these buildings, in which are to be found much that is worthy of respect in nineteenth-century decoration and craftsmanship. We cannot say that such destruction is not often justified in the cause of improvement : only that it is to be deplored unless it contributes towards essential improvements in the planning of the pub. Such genuine standards of improvement were set in the reconstruction of public houses under the ” Carlisle Experiment,” carried out in the later years of the last war under the supervision of the ” Central Control Board.” They have provided many useful standards for subsequent efforts to make the public house serve more fully its purpose as a local social centre.
But in England the tradition has disappeared. The pleasure garden has contracted into the “pub,” the final specialized form of the ” gin palace ” representing the immediate commercial a11-Swer to the demands of leisure in the industrial city.
From the tavern in the seventeenth century town, a specialized community as yet hardly touched by factory production and by the division between free and working time which went with it, there grew the many specialized forms of entertainment : the theatre, the dance hall, the restaurant, the music hall, the concert hall, the pub, the club, which are provided for in separate buildings in the modern city. All of these buildings now cater for some specialized form of entertainment which was comprised in the tavern meeting, with the additional consideration of close contact with, and often participation in, the entertainments provided. In a world of specialized commercial entertainment it is this element that is particularly lacking. The seventeenth century was the golden age of the tavern : the eighteenth of the pleasure garden, a place no less comprehensive than the tavern in the opportunities it offered for a varied use of leisure time.
The smaller gardens, which in London were fairly evenly distributed over the whole of the city, were of necessity more specialized, but all provided for a variety of forms of entertainment and recreation. It is, however, the larger gardens which show most clearly the purpose which these centres served and also what has been lost in the subsequent differentiation between their various functions. A compact of the Crystal Palace, Ascot, Lyons’ Corner House and the Queen’s Hall would perhaps be the nearest modern counterpart to eighteenth century Vauxhall, Ranelagh or Marylebone Gardens. The same building which saw the first performance of ” Acis and Galatea,” the appearance of Madame Mara and the Mozarts could also serve as a breakfast room, a fashionable promenade or the setting for a masquerade, while in the surrounding gardens the popular and the elevating could be successfully combined in a firework display of Mount Etna in eruption, accompanied by the music of Gluck, Haydn, Giardini and Handel.
‘The seventeenth century was the golden age of the tavern, the eighteenth of the pleasure garden’
Various causes contributed to the disappearance of the pleasure garden : the special opportunities it offered for what the nineteenth century considered at least questionable behaviour, the increasing sootiness of the city atmosphere, the fact it was a garden and as such occupied potential building space. The pleasure garden, like its predecessor the tavern, accordingly disappeared and its functions were dispersed to the ” amusement centre ” the music hall, the park band concert, the concert hall, the public house. In the promenade of the music hall is to be found what was probably the last trace of this tradition. But in countries where the pleasure garden still flourishes, notably in the Scandinavian countries, it is still possible to see the very valuable social function which a centre of this sort can perform.
Copenhagen’s Tivoli, placed as it is right in the centre of the city, is thus easily accessible and in such a position its firework displays contribute very largely to the gaiety of the city. With its restaurants, bands, amusement park and the staging of mime-plays which provide a particularly suitable form of entertainment in a crowded garden of this sort, it stands for much that was lost by the closing of London’s pleasure gardens in the nineteenth century. More significant from the architectural point of view is Gothenburg’s Lisaberg which has made use of just such an exhibition site as has been adopted for similar, but more specialized, purposes at Earls Court and the White City in London. Here the link with Vauxhall and Ranelagh is more complete in that the grounds include a concert hall for serious orchestral music.
Individual attempts on the part of industrialists to provide leisure facilities in connexion with factories, as in the bathing pool on the left, make a partial contribution towards bridging the gap between working and free time, but there is in England no large-scale movement in this direction by Trade Unions, which in other countries have organized facilities such as the American holiday camp.
The construction of multi-purpose buildings, such as the Wembley Swimming Pool or the Earls Court Building, with its elaborate convertible swimming pool, and such tendencies as are seen in the suburban cinemas, with their ‘all in’ tickets for lunch and cinema seats, show that a certain bringing together of entertainment facilities is being found to have some commercial value, but between the many 235 specialized forms of entertainment which private enterprise provides for the present-day city there remains the essential gap in which a meeting place for neighbours is provided, a place where the individual can entertain himself, without having entertainment forced on him-the function which is at present performed by the pub but which, with its present limitations, it can never completely fulfill.
A first step in the direction of the comprehensive recreation centre is found in the subsidiary attractions provided in the pub. A second is the provision of multi-purpose buildings such as the Wembley swimming pool. The illustrations on the left show the building converted to serve three distinct functions : swimming, tennis and skating.
Bridging the Gap.
There do, however, exist a number of voluntary and philanthropic organizations, whose limited funds generally confine them to hired rooms : sometimes to meeting in rotation in the houses of their members. Parallel with these clubs are the voluntary organizations, such as the ” National Playing Fields Association,” concerned with the provision of recreation areas and with administering the various grants for the purpose available from the ” Carnegie Trust,” the ” King George’s Fields Foundation ” and the “National Fitness Fund.” A co-ordination of the functions of these different bodies and the provision of a multi-purpose building to serve both club and recreational needs can do much towards providing for the free time activities of the neighbourhood. The development of such centres has been undertaken by a voluntary association, the ” Community Centres Association,” a body formed by the “National Council of Social Service ” in collaboration with the ” British Association of Resident Settlements ” and the ” Educational Settlements Association.”
In 1935 the Committee was re-organized to include representatives of the Government Departments, of the voluntary associations concerning themselves with free time activities, and delegates from local committees from provincial towns. The essential function of the Association is to see to the provision of buildings which the various voluntary clubs and societies can use for their separate purposes. It is generally advised that youth groups should be provided for in the same building as the adult groups, as a means of ensuring ” continuity of membership” to the centre, and the recommendation is also made that the same building shall, under favourable conditions, include such services provided by the local authorities as maternity and child welfare, school clinics and branches of public libraries. Such community centres will qualify for grants under the Housing Act, 1936, and of the Education Act, 1931. Centres without the latter services will qualify for grants from the Carnegie Trust and the Physical Training Act, 1937, which are administered by the Association. Under the latter Act the powers of local authorities to provide community centres were considerably extended, under the condition that some form of physical recreation should be provided for. The grant covers adult as well as juvenile centres and speculative as well as municipally owned housing estates.
The provision of Community Centres goes very far towards providing for the free time recreation of the neighbourhood they serve. So far there has been little attempt to tum the special qualities of such buildings to architectural account. A greater flexibility in planning might be a first step towards evolving more individual forms, and from this point of view the Community Centre illustrations on the left may be compared with those on the right of a mission hall at Collier’s Wood, in which the classrooms at the side can be partitioned off for separate use or thrown into the main hall as required.
Such a Community Centre, with its parallel facilities for recreation and for social life will go very far towards providing for the free time activities of the neighbourhood it serves. Its members are given a setting in which they can develop their own interests : at the same time its assembly hall provides a place in which entertainment from outside can be introduced. It is, however, disappointing that the very special qualities of such buildings have been turned to so little account from the architectural point of view.
Most plans have not got far beyond merely stringing together a series of rooms of minimum area. Economy must admittedly be a guiding consideration in their design, but with more flexible and adaptable planning both a more efficient and, architecturally, a more worthy building might be produced without any increase in cost. The Peckham Health Centre might be quoted as a case in point-a building which, although it approaches the problem of the Community Centre from rather a different angle, has managed to provide similar accommodation at the low cost of 1s. 3d. per cubic foot.
‘It is the function of a voluntary body to serve as something of a social laboratory, to explore new possibilities, and to discover by experiment what can be done to enrich the lives of the people’
The common characteristic of such organizations for leisure as exist outside the purely commercial sphere is their philanthropic and voluntary nature. It is mainly on the extent to which such voluntary work can be assimilated into the programs of local and national authorities that provision for the free time activities of the stationary, urban community depends. That the existing conditions only represent a transitional stage is apparently recognized by the Association itself which states in one of its pamphlets: ” It is the function of a voluntary body to serve as something of a social laboratory, to explore new possibilities, and to discover by experiment what can be done to enrich the lives of the people. When the experiment has proved a success, the Statutory Authority can give it general effect and provide the material equipment needed to make the results of pioneer effort universally available. This is the line of development which public health, education and other services have followed during the last century. The same tendency is now to be seen at work in regard to the provision of leisure-time activities (a great problem of our age) for the residents on new housing estates and in other comparable urban areas.”
One possibility of an effective co-ordination of leisure activities for the urban community seems in fact to lie in the extension of the powers already vested in the local authorities by the Physical Training and Recreation Act, and the absorption by them of such voluntary and philanthropic organizations as already exist. Under existing conditions a municipality may provide a concert hall, a museum, a library : it might well be empowered to show films, other than the health films to which it is at present restricted, or to run a Repertory Theatre, in the manner envisaged by the unsuccessful Bill of 1929.
Sites for Social and Recreation Centres
But for any such bringing together of different provisions for spending free time space is needed, particularly for recreation areas, and within the framework of the existing street plan and with existing land values, clearance of sufficiently large areas is seldom an economic possibility. Available sites are, in fact, almost exclusively confined to existing parks and open spaces, so that in any programme of planning for free time activities the question of their preservation and development becomes of the greatest importance. ”
What seems to be wanted,” wrote George Godwin in his pamphlet” Town Swamps and Social Bridges” in 1859, ” are little plots of ground for public playgrounds, at convenient intervals, in the midst of the densest population; and a society whose offices are at No. 17, Bull-and-MouthStreet, St. Martin’s-le-Grand, has been formed to carry out this laudable object.” It was soon followed by voluntary associations concerning themselves with this question of recreation in the industrial city. From Octavia Hill’s ” Kyrle Society ” there grew the ” Metropolitan Public Gardens Association,” founded in 1882, a society which played an important part in the passing of the “Disused Burial Grounds Act”, of 1884 and of the ” London Squares Preservation Act,” 1931, and has to its credit the saving of hundreds of gardens, squares and burial grounds and the layout of many of them as recreation areas.
‘What seems to be wanted are little plots of ground for public playgrounds.’
The London Squares and Parks, as they were laid out during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, were little more than ornamental gardens, places for walking and responding to the delights of the picturesque in nature. For long they remained the privileged grounds of the upper classes. Nash’s original idea of Regent’s Park as a garden for the residents and for ” those of the public to whom it is thought proper to give keys,” thus only represents an adaptation on a larger scale of the earlier London squares, which, in spite of recent attempts to have them opened to the public, remain closed to all but the residents in the neighbouring houses. Wyndham may have spoken of the parks as the” Lungs of the Metropolis,” but by his onetime secretary, Humphry Repton, the layouts of Russell and Cadogan Squares were only considered as opportunities for displaying his mastery of garden art. The movement for laying out public parks as such dates only from the middle of the century. In London it produced in succession Victoria Park (1848), Battersea (1857), Kennington, Finsbury and Southwark Parks, all before 1870. But the first mention of their use for recreation comes again from George Godwin who noticed ” near the base of Prinlrose Hill,” what he refers to as ” a gymnasium.” … ” A person who seemed to have been an old soldier acted as superintendent : before dark the ropes and poles were taken down, and the company soon dispersed. Similar arrangements ” he adds ” might be made in Hyde Park and other parks.”
Since then there has been an increasing use of the parks as recreation areas. An important step, in that it represents the first introduction of actual recreational buildings into the parks, has been the recent building by the L.C.C. of swimming” Lidos” in Brockwell Park and Victoria Park. Parliament Hill Fields has acquired, in addition to its ” Lido ” a running track and sports pavilion: Hyde Park has its restaurant : Regent’s Park its open air theatre: dancing was introduced last August in High bury Fields. The danger of over-building the parks is an obvious one, but, with the existing limitations of the city plan, the extension of such facilities must be recognized as inevitable. The real danger lies in the haphazard accumulation of such buildings. How great are the architectural possibilities if they are developed according to a definite plan can be seen in some of the illustrated examples which follow, while the way in which honestly designed buildings can actually contribute to the architectural effect of these open spaces can be seen, on a small scale, in the new kiosks put up by the ” Milk Marketing Board” in Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the Embankment Gardens.
Image 8The provision of Community Centres goes very far towards providing for the free time recreation of the neighbourhood they serve. So far there has been little attempt to tum the special qualities of such buildings to architectural account. A greater flexibility in planning might be a first step towards evolving more individual forms, and from this point of view the Community Centre illustrations on the left may be compared with those on the right of a mission hall at Collier’s Wood, in which the classrooms at the side can be partitioned off for separate use or thrown into the main hall as required.
There is, finally, the question of planning for free time activities in completely new communities on sites which suffer from none of the restrictions laid down by street planning in the existing city. From what has already been said it is clear enough what sort of free time facilities may be expected to be provided in them. The first consideration will be the provision, in ample acreage, of the restricted park areas of the existing city. Whether such towns take the form of concentrated flat buildings with open space flowing under them in the manner of so many of our modern utopias, or of scattered ” regional ” towns with open space flowing round their buildings, the same planning principles, of providing recreation and social life in places easily accessible to the residential areas, will hold good.
Examples of such plans which have been actually realized are the ” Greenbelt ” towns built by the ” Resettlement Administration” of the U.S.A. Here a town common forms the centre of each community, with a store group and community centre on its edge. The actual services provided in the community centre are based on the replies to a questionnaire circulated to a ” cross-section ” of families with incomes of the same level as those of the people who might be expected to become residents in the towns. (All of the replies received asked for libraries and athletic facilities.) Round the common are residential areas, planned with the minimum of streets. Each of the blocks is laid out as a small park, with about 120 dwellings grouped round it. The houses face the lawn and trees in the interior spaces, each of which serves as a neighbourhood playground. Through this park runs a network of footpaths, acting as substitutes for roadside pavements and there are underpasses for pedestrians at points where the footpaths meet busy streets.
A distinctive feature of the towns are the ” Greenbelts ” from which they take their name. This broad girdle of open space protects the town from encroachments from neighbouring properties and parts of it are reserved as common parks, forests and playgrounds. In these towns provision for free time activity is no longer an afterthought and buildings for it forced to make the best of existing limitations. We are given a glimpse of what the modern city might be if leisure were once more to take its place as part of the normal course of everyday life and the architecture of leisure its place in a smoothly working town plan.
Brockwell Park, Brixton, provides a typical example of the transformation of an existing city park into a recreation centre, the various facilities introduced being shown in the plan on the right. Above, the house in the park built by J. B. Papworthfor the glassmaker John Blades, who intended developing the area as a housing estate. It is now used as a restaurant.
The Mobile Fraternity
The use of free time is, as we have already stated, only a problem of the highly industrialized community. It belongs essentially to the city and to the rural community only in so far as the village is affected by industrial conditions. In such terms we have considered the stationary industrial community and the provisions for the use of free time which are and are not made in it. But so far one essential factor has been ignored. This, the factor of mobility which is made possible by present-day methods of transport, in fact introduces a completely new aspect of the problem. It vastly increases the range of leisure facilities which can be provided for the urban population; at the same time it calls for a complete revaluation of the relationship between town and countryside.
The railway created a precedent for mass mobility and it was largely Tesponsible for the seaside town, which remains a possible scene for the development of leisure centres. But the seaside town is largely ineffective because it has jailed to realize what the townsman demands of it. He goes to find the sea, not a built-up boulevard, as at Folkestone, above.
A vast improvement in road travelling facilities in the early nineteenth century was immediately followed by the development of the railways. One result of this new mobility was the opening up of the areas surrounding towns as fields for free time recreation. This in turn was reflected in the claims of landlords to enclose the commons round London and the public’s assertion of its rights of access to them, a conflict which was finally resolved by the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866, which established public right of access to commons for air and exercise as a statutory right.
Another result was the growth of holiday towns, and particularly of seaside towns, which virtually became suburbs designed to cater for the free time of the residents in a particular city. The essential fact about such mass mobility as it existed until the motor car became a practical form of travel was that it was necessarily guided along a predetermined track. Journeys were undertaken with a view towards getting to a selected spot and staying there; movement between the working city and the holiday town was merely a ” change ” in which the holiday-maker moved to another part of his town further down the line.
A first alternative to the seaside suburb is the holiday colony laid out on a special coastal site and with a motor road probably providing the only means of access to it. Portmeirion, North Wales, above, is a colony of this sort, distinguished by being laid out and completely designed by an architect, Clough Williams Ellis.
It is necessary to emphasize this point because this view of the nature of such mass movement is the one still commonly held under what are in reality the completely different conditions of motor car travel. The car is much more than a mere means of reaching a stated destination. It is an architectural element in a sense in which the railway carriage never was ; it is as it were a new mobile room built into the house. In some cases, with the elaborately equipped trailer or caravan, the car itself becomes a mobile home which can be pitched in any available spot in the open countryside. Add to this the fact that no town in England is more than three hours’ journey from the coast and we can see more clearly the actual conditions which motor car travel has brought.
It is no longer a matter of making provisions for leisure in suburban holiday communities, immediately outside towns or on a more distant coastline : nor is it a matter of fencing off certain areas from the encroachments of the motoring fraternity. The motorist (the same individual who becomes a hiker when he leaves his car) is staking his claim on the open countryside, just as, seventy years ago, the third class ticket holder was claiming his right to the suburban commons; and with the same counter moves by landlords and other interests determined to keep him out.
Another altenative is the holiday camp, such as the example above at Camber Sands, Sussex, which represents a whole new category of buildings which the factor of motor-car mobility has introduced as subjects for the architect’s consideration.
In planning the countryside as a theatre for the townsman’s free time there are therefore two main points to be considered : first, the planning of means of access, in the form of road development; second, the use which is to be made of the open area to which the road gives access, either in the form of an unrestricted open space or as an extension of road access in the form of paths or bridleways.
The Road as a Means to Recreation
Most of the familiar evils of roadside development come in fact from just this failure to realize that the road is a means of access. Simultaneous use of the road for other purposes, for car parking or as a frontage to ribbon building, can only serve to extend the worst evils of the city street into the surrounding scenery; the roadside becomes an impenetrable wall cutting off the open countryside and parcelling it into an ever-increasing number of small parks. Just such a process is, in fact, at work in the countryside today as in the nineteenth-century town encroached on all available building spaces, until only those areas remained free which happened to be held by public bodies or were deliberately acquired by them.
‘The roadside becomes an impenetrable wall cutting off the open countryside and parcelling it into an ever-increasing number of small parks.’
The road, which creates its own building value for bordering properties wherever it goes, operates in the same way as the extending city street in accelerating the handing over of land by the landlord into the hands of the speculator. The provision of some effective check on this process is essential. Any sort of preservation of open spaces, of the acquiring of green belts or of restrictions on ribbon development will not solve this problem which, as it stands, essentially demands cooperation between the landlords, each of whom must be regarded as a potential vendor of his land for speculative development, and such bodies as are concerned with holding or developing land in the public interest.
It is of fundamental importance for the proper development of the countryside as a field for urban recreation that public bodies should obtain control of roadside land. The city of Stockholm, which has had the foresight to buy up large tracts of land in its neighbourhood, has been able to plan a system of” Parkways.” Initially an American development the ” Parkway ” represents a form of planning which might with advantage be extensively used in the English countryside.
A proposal put forward by the National Trust and made practicable by the National Trust Bill of 1936, could, if carried out on a sufficiently large scale, contribute very largely to the solution of this problem. The scheme proposes the handing over of land by estate owners, in return for financial assistance, to the National Trust, who would hold it for the nation and manage it like an ordinary agricultural estate. This would mean that the owner could remain in occupation while the public would obtain limited means of access to the estate.
It is of fundamental importance for the proper development of the countryside as a recreation area that in some way public authorities or voluntary associations capable of holding land for the public should obtain control to roadside land. Only in this way can development be avoided which will cut off the road from its surrounding landscape and only on such a basis can the proper forms of roadside accommodation be built up. Land for roadside buildings in the form of the necessary ” road-houses,” entertainment and recreation buildings, petrol stations, facilities for camps of various degrees of permanence, from the one-night auto-camp to the roadside pub or hotel, can then perhaps be leased out to individuals and their development controlled so that the actual roadside stretch is not encumbered by continuous, uncoordinated building. The city of Stockholm, which has had the foresight to obtain control of large areas of land in its neighbourhood, has been able to develop a system of “Parkways ” on the American model.
The United States itself, with a registration of some 27,000,000 automobiles, is a country which has been faced earlier and in a more acute form with the effects of the motor car in opening up the countryside as a field for urban recreation, and in that country the Parkway system has progressed much further than being a matter of merely reserving a roadside strip of land. An example of such constructive roadside development, particularly interesting in that it links up with a larger planning project, is the “Norris Freeway,” a road originally made for the transport of material for the construction of the Norris Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority and, now that it has served its original purpose, converted into a well-planned scenic highway. Roadside land 280 feet deep along the entire 21 mile length of the road was bought by the Authority in fee simple, with restrictions in the title deeds limiting the placing of access roads so as to avoid dangerous intersections. Arrangements made with neighbouring property owners give a limited amount of control of adjoining land to guard against unsightly encroachments. In the actual development of the roadside the National Park Service collaborated with the Tennessee Valley Authority in planting and thinning trees to open up views over the valley, in improving roadside springs and in selecting sites suitable for forming picnic grounds and parking places.
An example of a “Parkway ” developed as part of a larger recreation planning scheme is the ” Norris Freeway ” in the Tennessee Valley. Originally made for the transport of materials used in constructing the Norris Dam, it has been carefully laid out with interval car parks and picnic areas. The landscape planting of its verges was carried out by the National Park Service in collaboration with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Apart from the roadside layout, the design of the road itself will need to be considered in relation to its new function as a frontier to the countryside. A road designed from this point of view is the ” Memorial Highway ” from Washington to Mount Vernon. Originally suggested in 1886 the proposal for the highway was finally adopted in 1928, in celebration of the bi-centenary of Washington’s birth, to meet the needs of a tourist traffic which at that time already amounted to some 400,000 visitors annually.
Overlooking points, with provision for a limited amount of parking, have been made at various strategic points. At some points these are separated by islands from the highway; at others provision for parking is made by widening out a stretch of pavement. At the Mount Vernon Terminus bus parking for 60 buses is separated from car parking for 350 cars and access is ensured to a sufficient amount of land to provide overflow parking for 1,500 or more cars.
In certain cases the road itself can be considered as a ribbon park and laid out accordingly. This has been done in the case of the ” Memorial Highway ” from Washington to Mount Vernon, a plan of which and special points in its design are shown on the left. A , an overlooking point formed by widening out a stretch of the highway. B, islands for turning round and allowing for a limited amount of cross traffic. C, provision for overlook parking at the point of access to the Fort Hunt Military Reservation and Wharf. D, parking arrangements at the Mount Vernon Terminus. A typical stretch of the road and a view of the car park at the Mount Vernon terminus are shown on the extreme left.
The Use of the Open Countryside
But the road itself is only an introduction, and not the final means of access to the countryside. Contracting itself to the footpath or bridleway it will provide a means by which the townsman can penetrate more deeply into available open areas in pursuit of his recreation. Rambling and cycling clubs are increasing their numbers very rapidly. Other organized forms of recreation such as canoeing introduce their own problems of planning and access to the countryside, while evidence of the extent of riding as a form of recreation is given by the publication last summer by the Ancient Order of Pack Riders of a series of ” long tours,” between 100 and 250 miles in length. The question of footpaths, bridleways and rights of way and the rights of the public in making use of them thus becomes one of very great importance. A limited amount can be done by Ramblers, Cyclist Associations, etc., to help to define such rights; the ” Ramblers Association” has recently tackled the subject of the Thames Ferries, following an announcement by the Thames Conservancy that they were to be closed on the grounds that they did not pay and that very little use was made of them. Such bodies can advise their members howtoact in order to keep access open, but their powers either to give detailed information on the legal position or to influence public authorities are necessarily limited. The assistance of these societies and the provision of legal advice is the special concern of the ” Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society” which, originally concerning itself with public rights of access to commons and potential recreation areas round towns, now plays a similar part in the wider field of the open countryside.
Among the causes of coastline deterioration is the promiscuous siting of camps and huts, as shown in the survC1.J of part of the Northumberland coastline on the right. Difficulty of access to the sea is aggravated by fencing-in, such as that at Camber Sands, two views of which are shown above. Here, in some cases, people are almost driven into the sea at high tide.
The Society is only one of the numerous voluntary bodies concerned with different aspects of the preservation of the countryside, while corresponding to this multiplicity of societies concerned with its preservation is the multiplicity of public authorities concerned with its development. The result is that each Ministry tends to concern itself with its specialized developments which are often detrimental to the general value of the countryside as a recreation area. Such a weakness is evident in the case of the Bressey Report. In such sections as that of Tooting Bee Common and Great Bookham Common and of the stretch of open country along the River Lea, in Leyton, Walthamstow and Tottenham, the proposed roads would detract very seriously from the value of these spaces as recreation areas.
The provision of compensating open space elsewhere of the same area as that taken by the road development clearly provides no effective compensation for the damage done. In this case various town and country preservation societies, the “National Trust,” the “National Playing Fields Association,” the” London Society,” the ” Metropolitan Gardens Association ” and the C.P.R.E. have combined to consider the effect of the scheme on open spaces. Some form of permanent federation of preservation societies concerned with the open countryside would do much to clarify the issues at stake. Such a united front, formed of eighteen preservation societies and recreation clubs, has been formed to forward the cause of National Parks. Another case in which three preservation societies, the “Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society,” the “National Trust” and the C.P.R.E. have acted together, has been in investigating the case of Coastal Development. A questionnaire was prepared and submitted to 120 local authorities, whose replies formed the basis of a report laid before the Minister of Health last July.
The Special Question of the Coastline
The coastline, with the special opportunities for recreation which it offers, has suffered probably more than an other part of the countryside from the effects of uncontrolled mass mobility. The survey of the Northumberland coast reproduced above shows the sort of thing that is going on in all accessible places on the coastline. Bungalow colonies, camps, city refuse dumps and general ribbon development along coastal roads all contribute to the general decomposing process which will soon leave very little of England’s 1,800 miles of coastline that is not irreparably damaged. This survey and its accompanying recommendations which suggested, as first steps, the grouping of the promiscuous hut development and control of their siting, design and colour, the reservation of sites for camping, picnic and car parks, the establishment and re-establishment of footpaths, the avoidance of building between coast roads and the sea and a careful preservation and planting of trees for shelter, represents the least that local authorities should be expected to do in checking the destruction of the coastline.
Some towns have been able to acquire strips of coastal land. In some cases, as in that of the South Downs between Seaford and Eastbourne the co-operation of a public spirited landlord has enabled a large area of valuable coast land to be preserved. The greatest threat is to land under the jurisdiction of those rural councils whose finances are insufficient to meet the costs of compensation; also to those areas of the coast where the big estate has already passed into the possession of several owners, many of whom have bought the land with deliberately speculative intentions. This was clearly disclosed in the replies to the Coastal Preservation Committee’s questionnaire, and to this end their report recommends the placing of funds to the extent of £100,000 annually at the disposal of the Ministry of Health to assist the smaller local authorities in paying compensation for the acquisition of coastal land.
What is needed for a full use of the coast as a recreation area is not negative restriction, but positive plans of development undertaken by Municipalities and Local Authorities. The project illustrated above for the development of a recreation area on the coastline outside Barcelona shows many useful principles for the planning of such schemes. The maximum area is preserved between the shore and the parallel access road, and the whole scheme planned so that people filter through temporary camp sites to more permanent holiday buildings beyond.
An important question is the one of public access to the foreshore. Such access was often provided by the coastguard paths and has lapsed now that regular coastguard patrol has been discontinued. Also special difficulties are caused by erosion which has often resulted in the loss of paths. Meanwhile actual rights of access to the foreshore itself need to be more clearly defined. The foreshore generally belongs to the Crown or the Duchy of Cornwall and while the public have access rights for fishing and navigation their rights to its use for bathing are less clear. The Committee’s Report suggests that a right of access should be declared similar to that of the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866. A major cause of coastline deterioration is the same which operates in the open countryside, namely the cutting off of the road from the sea by promiscuous building. At Camber Sands, in the course of two seasons whole stretches of the sand have been cut off by the ribbon building of bungalows. In other cases the foreshore itself has been enclosed.
The guarding against the selling of the foreshore to any individual or body except local authorities or bodies capable of holding land for the public is a further recommendation of the Report. But in the case of the coastline as in that of the inland countryside the final objective should be something much more than can be obtained by any form of preservation, no matter how comprehensive, a programme of positive development, undertaken by municipalities and public authorities, for making the whole coastline a well-equipped recreation area. Such a project has been made by the G.A.T.E.P.A.C. group of architects for the development of a stretch of coastline to serve as a recreation area for Barcelona : a project which suggests many ideas for the proper regulation of such areas, chief among them the preservation of a maximum area between the shore and the parallel access road and the recognition of the need for providing different types of building for people coming for day outings, week-end visits and longer holidays: the whole area being so laid out that people filter through the temporary camp sites to the more permanent buildings of the holiday areas on either side.
An obstacle often put forward as precluding the development of National or Regional Parks is that the areas involved will often overlap the districts controlled by a single authority. That this difficulty can be successfully overcome is shown by the case of the Palisades Interstate Park, which is administered jointly by commissioners representing the States of New York and New Jersey. Special features of the Park, which is in reality formed of a chain of parks equipped for all forms of recreation, are the indoor and outdoor museums maintained by the Park in co-operation with the American Museum of Natural History. On the left are winter and summer views of one of the Parks, the 1,000 acre Bear Mountain Park, which is specially equipped as a winter sports centre.
The nearest approach that we have at the moment to such a positive policy of developing rural recreation areas is the programme of the present agitators for National Parks. That its campaigners have realized the essential Limitations of preservation societies and local town planning restrictions in dealing with the larger issues of recreation planning is shown in such statements as the following made in the pamphlet, “Make the Lake District a National Park,” published by the “Friends of the Lake District ” in 1937 : ” Philanthropy and private enterprise cannot save the Lake District, nor can the National Trust or the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Piecemeal preservation is of very limited use, and is the most expensive method ; for it transfers to the areas which are not protected the building values which have been sterilized next door. Nor can piecemeal protection touch the larger issues of policy. For these a single and undivided plan is needed, with simultaneous compensation- the vital factor in any single plan- administered over large area : this is the only economical method.”
In the case of National Parks, even more than in that of the coastline, the condition applies that the most vulnerable areas are those which fall within the jurisdiction of the rural authorities with the most limited resources, while, owing to the large areas covered by National Parks, they often extend over several counties, whose councils might find difficulty in co-operating to administer the area; although there are examples, such as the Palisades Interstate Park in New York and New Jersey, where this difficulty has been successfully overcome. These and other factors are considered by the National Parks Committee in putting forward their argument for the adoption of a National Parks policy with adequate financing by the Government. Agitation for such a policy led to the setting up by the Government of this committee, presided over by Lord Addison, which produced its report in 1931. No further steps have been taken since, except that the various societies who had been sponsoring the campaign combined in 1936 to set up a ” Standing continued its propaganda, publishing in July Parks.” Which has continued its propaganda, publishing in July of 1938 a pamphlet: “The Case for National Parks”.
The possibilities opened up for the development of the immediate surroundings of towns as recreation areas if the authorities concerned can acquire control of the land are shown in the case of Helsingjors, which has laid down a comprehensive scheme for reclaiming and developing the surrounding lakes which are its special asset. On the left is an air view of the city and marked on it the site of one of its recreation buildings, the canoe club (P. E. Blomstedt, architect), illustrated above.
A National Park is defined as being “an extensive district of beautiful wild landscape, strictly preserved in its natural aspect and kept or made widely accessible for public enjoyment and open-air recreation, including particularly cross-country walking, while continued in its traditional farming use.” This condition is important and distinguishes the National Parks from the National Forest Parks, areas in which the Forestry Commission has made provision for public access, particularly to the unplanted land. The first of these, an area of 35,000 acres, has been started at Ardgarten in Scotland with camping facilities, youth hostels, etc., developed in connexion with it. The forwarding of such a scheme for the development of National Parks, positively planned and equipped for recreation, and not merely negatively preserved from encroachment, could make a really valuable contribution towards planning for free time activities.
There is, however, one aspect of the subject which might be given more careful consideration, namely the inclusion of ” water-catchment and water-power schemes ” among the ” dangers ” which threaten National Park areas. It is not merely the enumeration of these particular developments but the attitude which such a statement represents which might do much to hinder the cause of developing National Parks. The recent development of a chain of recreational parks in connexion with the water-power and agricultural schemes in the Tennessee Valley might be quoted as one instance in which large-scale recreation facilities have been provided, not contrary to, but as part of, a great national undertaking. With the co-operation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps, thousands of acres alongside the new reservoirs have been developed as recreation areas, and the whole chain of parks planned in relation to state park systems so as to serve tourist visitors as well as local residents.
‘A National Park is defined as being “an extensive district of beautiful wild landscape, strictly preserved in its natural aspect and kept or made widely accessible for public enjoyment and open-air recreation.’
Two big parks, Norris and Big Ridge Park, have been equipped with full recreation facilities : for walking, riding, swimming, boating and picnicking; vacation camps and recreation lodges have also been laid out. In addition, a number of smaller parks at Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick Landing dams have been laid out as demonstration parks, planned for day outings rather than for vacations. Paths and trails have been improved, shelters, picnic grounds, parking areas, sanitary equipment and drinking fountains have been provided and, in the case of the Wheeler Park, a project made for using the cafeteria and community building, put up to serve the workers on the Wheeler Dam, to act as assembly and dining halls for a vacation camp. Otherwise these smaller parks will be developed as the demand for different types of recreation makes itself felt. Another development made in connexion with the same project, and which again shows how the requirements of such national development schemes can be turned to account for recreational use, is the “Norris Freeway,” which has already been described.
The nearest approach to National Parks existing as yet in Great Britain are the National Forest Parks. Above is a plan of the separate southern area of the Argyll Park. Out of a total area of 54,000 acres of the Argyll Parks, 19,000 acres are reserved for afforestation, the remainder being used for recreation, with public camping grounds, youth hostels and special camping grounds reserved for various organizations.
The United States, which has had the space to develop out-of-door recreation facilities for the 40 million or so people who are estimated to take part in holiday tours annually and has laid out and equipped state and national parks, parkways and auto-camps, in response to their demands, is a country from which we have much to learn in planning the countryside for the townsman’s recreation: not least in the matter of planting which, in our own more restricted landscape, becomes a correspondingly more urgent consideration. At the same time that a campaign is being conducted for the afforestation of 3,000,000 acres of land and that the Royal English Forestry Society is making a drive to encourage afforestation on privately owned estates, concrete roads are being driven through the parks laid out by Kent, Brown and Repton. Consultation with experts on landscape design and with such bodies as the ” Roads Beautifying Association ” who have already assisted numerous local councils in the planting of their roadsides, must form an essential part in any such planning scheme. The eighteenth-century landlord, in improving his estate according to the precepts of the landscape gardeners, gave us much that we value most highly in the English landscape. The way in which their work is adapted to the new purpose of the countryside as a theatre for the townsman’s leisure will be the means by which such an undertaking will finally stand or fall as an architectural achievement.
What is needed above all is a return to the critical spirit which ensured the success of the humanist view of the landscape as a medium of artistic expression. The spirit of the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui might be mentioned as providing an effective modern counterpart, in reference to which Professor Abercrombie describes how “Missionaries establishing themselves in some remote valley and building a neat corrugated iron tabernacle with spiked bell turret have been indignantly surprised when the population has arisen and massacred them-not by reason of any objection to their religious belief, but because the pitch of the roof was perhaps too steep or the spike of their bell turret should have been domed or square-topped.” It is the public’s opinion of the appearance that the countryside should have rather than the zeal of preservation committees that will finally determine its new form as a scene for the townsman’s leisure.
In the case of National Parks, the wider issue is the one of planning recreation areas integrally with industrial and agricultural developments. A case in which this has been done is in the development of a chain of parks in connexion with the Tennessee Valley scheme.
The Larger Problem
The special point to be remembered in planning for recreation in the countryside is that England is a small country with a very large population. There is no ” spare ” land. Space is at a discount. In fact there is so much space already taken up not merely by towns and their suburban fringes, but by golf courses, sewage works, roads, mines, power stations, lunatic asylums, that the amount available for the primary industry, agriculture, has already become too small. Ways must be found of actually enlarging its agricultural area as well as adding to the leisure facilities of towns in the open countryside. Under such conditions any policy of sterilizing land for such purposes is out of the question.
The problem, in England, is one of land utilization in its broadest sense, which includes the problem of reducing the area of land given over to urban development and disposing of the ” brackish ” areas round cities in favour, first of all, of a creative agricultural policy. We can thus see that the problem of the Mobile Fraternity is not merely one of giving the townsman access to the countryside, nor of providing rural facilities for his recreation, nor of seeing that they do not spoil the country; it is, above all, the problem of providing these facilities without wasting essential space, without, in fact, jeopardizing the normal life and industry of the countryside which in point of time and importance must always take precedence over urban convenience.