Britain Is A Dump

I am sure that you, along with literally millions of others, have by now seen the infamous tweet from Daniel Grainger calling Birmingham a ‘dump’. I found his tweet very strange, not because I have a particular fondness towards Birmingham, but because the design and aesthetics of the place are fairly standard for a large British city. The cream coloured flagstones near the train station, strange metallic water features, beggars sat on most corners of the main high street etc. These are all scenes that are probably familiar to anyone who has ever been outside.

Herein lies the problem, not that Birmingham specifically is a dump, but that every British city is a dump. We live on an island of rolling fields, dramatic coastlines, and precious woodland. However, this land is marked and stained by some of the most disgusting examples of urbanism in Europe, only occasionally pinpricked by a fine example of pre-war architecture which the local council has not yet found a reason to knock down and turn into a car park.

Please, you must believe me when I say that I am no enemy of urbanism. Many ‘trads’ and ‘LARPers’ feel as though the only part of this country with the ability to be beautiful is its countryside. I think this is a fallacy; cities have the amazing potential to be well crafted and beautiful spaces which lift the spirits, and demonstrate the finest achievements of culture and civilisation. Of course we have the ability to build beautiful spaces, instead we decided to turn these areas over to the managerial classes who seek only function.

What caused this? The most obvious answer is the Second World War. Thousands of tonnes of high explosives being dropped onto dense urban areas do tend to have the habit of leaving buildings destroyed, and we found most of our cities completely ruined. After the war, a fleet of urban planners and architects took it upon themselves to rebuild the United Kingdom. A lot of these planners and architects came from new schools of thought on design, and wanted to demonstrate this. It is indeed true that some examples of early post war brutalism are genuinely impressive, but cheap imitation after cheap imitation has sought to destroy this legacy. Now we are left with miserably grey spaces with no room for beauty and flare.

Worst of all, a lot of these areas are not maintained very well. Stroll through the city centre and buildings are normally kept in a somewhat decent condition. But venture past these and you will find endless graffiti, crumbling masonry, cracked pavements, and large dangling electrical cables. The people who live in these spaces do not have the money or the justification to keep these areas looking nice, and why would they? They never really looked that good to begin with.

If these spaces were at least affordable to live in, it would be somewhat justifiable to have them look like this, but that is not true. Disastrous planning policy (mainly the Town and Country Planning Act 1947) has left our most industrious cities with nowhere to grow, and no ability to destroy ugly monuments to the post war consensus and put up something better. These spaces are ridiculously expensive and still look appalling (with the few remaining beautiful areas costing unimaginable sums to even shop in, let alone buy). We are therefore left with the worst of both worlds: sky high property price, and terrible looking buildings. 

For the trads in the audience who endlessly harp on about rural life whilst never leaving Manchester, the countryside is not much better. Yes, the fields and hedgerows are beautiful, but drive around any rural community for a few minutes and you will find the most depressing and ugly looking council bungalow estates you could imagine. Rural councils have a genuine need to house elderly people affordably (otherwise they would never downsize and allow young people into their 5 bedroom houses), but they choose to do so in the worst types of buildings fathomable. Damp, cold, and smelly bungalows with pebble dashed exteriors. No wonder your granny from the village is desperate to hold onto her 3 bed Victorian farmers cottage when that is the alternative.

Culturally and economically, we are stuck. We haven’t the imagination and courage to propose something new and aesthetically pleasing, the wisdom to go back to old styles and designs, or the money to action those proposals anyway. We are instead cut off to drift into stifling mediocrity. The only crumb of consolation being that most of the western world also seems to have this problem.

As ever, I would like to propose some solutions to these problems:

Firstly, as everyone seems to be saying, we need to abolish the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. This is not a particularly imaginative or bold position to take as an under-30, but it will arguably be the most difficult to do.

Secondly, universities should teach a broader curriculum on architecture and urban planning. I am fortunate enough to have some friends who have taken degrees in both architecture and planning at a range of institutions, and they all come back with similar stories. Lecturers seem to focus entirely on modernism, recyclable buildings, and the temporary. Few focus on beauty and traditional design.

Thirdly, people need to be given a reason to look after the places where they live and the means to do so. The means is easy: they need more spare income. This can be achieved by making houses more affordable by building more of them (see point one). The reason is more difficult, they need to be living in areas genuinely worth keeping nice (see point two).

Unfortunately, I do not foresee any of this happening any time soon. The tweet by Grainger received immeasurable amounts of criticism and made national headlines. Yes, his tweet was rude and careless, but serves to show the difficulty in having this conversation. British people seem to be perfectly happy living in hell world and are absolutely immune to all criticism of it. We need to face facts: Britain is a dump.

Image Credit

Scroll to top