Ring Road: Birmingham and the Collapse of the Motor City Ideal in 1970s Britain
journal contributionposted on 23.11.2016, 16:03 by Simon Gunn
Reconstructing Britain’s cities to accommodate the ‘motor revolution’ was an integral part of urban renewal in the post-war decades. This article shows how opposition to urban motorways had a pivotal role in the retreat from urban modernism in the 1970s. It takes as its case study Birmingham, Britain’s premier motor city, headquarters of the motor industry and with heavy investment in roads, including the Inner Ring, Britain’s first urban motorway completed in 1971. The article traces the collapse of the motor city ideal in Birmingham sparked by controversy over car pollution at Spaghetti Junction, the growth of roads protest and the implication of the Inner Ring in municipal corruption. In so doing it identifies the intersection of environmental, political and economic factors that lay behind the volte-face in urban policy and compares Birmingham with other cities which witnessed similar revolts. It argues that the 1970s in Britain saw the end of a specific engineering vision of the post-war city, centred on the car and the ‘citizen-driver’.