Urgent, timely and compelling, Municipal Dreams brilliantly brings the national story of housing to life.
In this landmark reappraisal of council housing, historian John Boughton presents an alternative history of Britain. Rooted in the ambition to end slum living, and the ideals of those who would build a new society, Municipal Dreams looks at how the state’s duty to house its people decently became central to our politics. The book makes it clear why that legacy and its promise should be defended.
Traversing the nation in this comprehensive social, political and architectural history of council housing, Boughton offers a tour of some of the best and most remarkable of our housing estates—some happily ordinary, some judged notorious. He asks us to understand their complex story and to rethink our prejudices.
His accounts include extraordinary planners and architects who wished to elevate working men and women through design; the competing ideologies that have promoted state housing and condemned it; the economic factors that have always constrained our housing ideals; the crisis wrought by Right to Buy; and the evolving controversies around regeneration. Boughton shows how losing the dream of good housing has weakened our community and hurt its most vulnerable—as was seen most catastrophically in the fire at Grenfell Tower.
“Reveals a parallel universe, seemingly familiar but deeply strange. Municipal Dreams maps a country where major aspects of city building were considered by both sides of the political spectrum to be far too important to be left to the rentier and the developer. Boughton’s book works as a gazetteer of public achievement—from Arts and Crafts cottages to modernist monuments to ordinary streets, from Hammersmith to Hull—and a nuanced but polemical tale of how the municipal idea was destroyed, revealing the caricatures and pseudo-history that were used to convince us that the places built to swindle us were better than the places we built for ourselves to live in.”
“Follows the epic story of British council and social housing from its Victorian origins to twentieth-century estates, the Right to Buy, and the Grenfell fire. While every page is rich with fascinating detail, Boughton also tells the grand narrative of how modern housing was created for millions, and how that dream has been cynically and carelessly undermined. This is an inspiring read and a necessary corrective to the myths that seek to destroy one of the most important struggles of our times—the drive for decent housing for all.”
“Crucial for understanding the state of housing in Britain. Through an impassioned and detailed description of how council housing was created, transformed, and ultimately undermined, Boughton explains the origins of the current crisis. Municipal Dreams proves that an alternative housing system is not only possible, but was once the goal of policymakers, architects, and citizens across the UK—and could be again.”
“A hugely timely book, making the case for decent social housing through a detailed and fair-minded history. Everyone should read it.”
“For the past few years his writing has been an elegant and compendious ongoing exploration of Britain’s social history through its council estates. The book celebrates an era during which dreams of shelter and security for all—not just those who could afford to purchase it—were in large part made a reality, and asks us if we oughtn’t to consider reviving that dream before it gets destroyed completely … There couldn’t be a better time for this book.”
“Detailed history of social housing in the UK.”
“Required reading … provides a comprehensive history of Britain’s council estates [that] challenges the well-worn narrative.”
“Boughton’s forensic history of public housing effectively sets the scene for the Grenfell disaster.”
“This serious, heartfelt book makes a convincing case that publicly provided homes have to be at least part of the response to the dysfunctional state that British housing has now attained.”