The Past Is a Present Country
Model Towns and Commercial Utopias
This chapter explores the revolutions in town planning and community design that were inspired by the creation of model factory towns at the turn of the century, as well as by the rapid development of the Garden City Movement. While novel in many respects, model towns such as Bournville and Port Sunlight, and Garden Cities such as Letchworth, presented the illusion of an older economic and cultural time, showing a commitment to past designs that were meant to correct some of the excesses of the industrial age. What set these places apart from earlier efforts was their deliberate reliance on the modern factory system to support the nostalgic country vision, and the emerging ways this vision was marketed as a way to sell products from chocolate to soap. Such efforts received enormous publicity and captured the imagination of many, including Bernard Shaw. In his plays John Bull’s Other Island and Major Barbara, Shaw became the most incisive critic of the new town planning schemes, but also, in ways the chapter examines, their surprising champion. Through analysis of both the literary and the literal model towns, the chapter investigates how long-static visions of the country and the city were united into appealing new hybrids, and industry itself, rather than being the villain, was recast as the provider of new pleasures.
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