I’m starting here what I hope might become a mini-series on rail and urban regeneration.
Hope? Well, a bit of me thinks that it will already be written, in books or online: the obvious that needs no introduction.
But another part of me thinks it still needs to be spelt out. I am especially disappointed every time I see the phrase ‘regeneration’ used in connection with a new railway line or station, when they really mean ‘increased land values nearby’. Especially when they own that land.
The connection between increased land values and railway developments has been known since the 1800s. There is an argument that the early Victorian railway companies were about land ownership as much as they were about transport. Perhaps the best example is ‘Metroland’ in north west London with the growth of suburbia along the Metropolitan Railway Company’s new line, all skilfully planned and marketed, as later brilliantly captured in poetry by John Betjeman.
However, 130 years ago and more in prose than in poetry, there was the Cheap Trains Act 1883 which helped the London County Council in particular move working families out of the filthy inner slums, reinforced by the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890. These developments are covered in the main textbooks for students of urban geography, but it seems to me only as a period in time ending in the 1930s when suburban development was still an area of rapid growth.
The next post will be to explore what rail can do for urban regeneration in the 21st century.