Paul Barker (writer)

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Paul Barker (born 1935 in the West Riding of Yorkshire) is a British journalist and writer.

Barker was educated at local schools in the Calder Valley and won an Exhibition (scholarship) to Brasenose College, Oxford, to read French. Before taking up his place at Oxford, he did National service and was commissioned as an officer in the Intelligence Corps, and while in the Army studied Russian language at Cambridge University. After taking his Oxford degree, he then went on to the École Normale Supérieure in Paris for a year as lecteur. He joined the London staff of The Times in 1959, but early in 1964 left to join the recently founded New Society as a staff writer. He went on to The Economist, but returned to New Society almost at once - in 1965 - as deputy editor. In 1968 he succeeded Timothy Raison, the first editor of New Society, and edited the magazine until 1986. Subsequently, he was a columnist on The Sunday Times and a regular writer for the London Evening Standard, the Times Literary Supplement and Prospect Magazine. He is currently a senior research fellow with the Young Foundation, as well as being a freelance journalist, broadcaster and author.

Non-Plan: An Experiment in Freedom[edit]

One of Paul Barker's most significant and controversial contributions to New Society during the 1960s concerned issues around physical planning and space. In 1969 Barker collaborated with Reyner Banham, Peter Hall and Cedric Price on the article "Non-Plan: an experiment in freedom", which he published in New Society. Kazys Varnelis gives the background to this article:

'Between 1967 and 1969, the New Society’s deputy editor [sic] Paul Barker developed a deliberately controversial project for the magazine involving Banham, Cedric Price, and Peter Hall. In 1967, Barker ran excerpts from Herbert Gans’s The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Poetics in a New Suburban Community, which he saw "as a corrective to the usual we-know-best snobberies about suburbia." At roughly the same time, Barker and Hall "floated this maverick thought: could things be any worse if there was no planning at all?" Barker elaborates: "We were especially concerned at the attempt to impose aesthetic choices on people who might have very different choices of their own. Why not, we wondered, suggest an experiment in getting along without planning and seeing what emerged?" The project, titled "Non-Plan: An Experiment in Freedom", Barker notes, "was strongly influenced by Banham’s essays in the magazine". For the special issue, which would be published on 20 March 1969, Barker recalls, "We wanted to startle people by offending against the deepest taboos. This would drive our point home." To this end Hall, Banham, and Price each took a section of the revered British countryside and imagined it blanketed with a low-density sprawl driven by automobility. According to Barker the reaction was a "mixture of deep outrage and stunned silence."



Images of neon signs—the 'imageability' so important to Banham’s idea of une architecture autre—that would mark the commercial structures of non-plan punctuated the issue. In Banham’s contribution, "Spontaneity and Space", he suggested that "the monuments of our century that have spontaneity and vitality are found not in the old cities, but in the American West. There, in the desert and the Pacific states, creations like Fremont Street in Las Vegas or Sunset Strip in Beverly Hills represent the living architecture of our age. As Tom Wolfe points out in his brilliant essay on Las Vegas, they achieve their quality by replacing buildings by signs." '

from Kazys Varnelis, Psychogeography and the End of Planning . Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles. The Architecture of Four Ecologies in Pat Morton, (ed), Pop Culture and Postwar American Taste, (London: Blackwell, forthcoming 2006)

The Freedoms of Suburbia[edit]

In late 2009, Paul Barker's book on suburbia was published. The book was extensively reviewed, including in the Times Literary Supplement, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent, Financial Times and Economist.

Walking through suburbia, others might see faded semis, but Paul Barker sees an amazing adaptability. Garages turned into storerooms, front gardens turned into garages, front doors personalised and giving out subtle social signals. The suburb is, in his words, the great national balancing act between privacy and price. Suburban is regularly used as a sneer-word. Especially by architects and planners. But suburbia must be doing something right. In Britain, four out of five people (at least) live here. It is best to try to understand, Barker says, before rushing to condemn. Suburbs are an essential part of every city. Often, the most vigorous, innovative part. A land of liberty. With his keen eye for revealing detail, Barker takes us on an entertaining and enlightening journey - to enjoy a tower block being festively blown up; to meet a white witch in a Croydon semi; to savour the hidden charms of Milton Keynes; and to cherish the delights of allotments, seaside bungalows and town-edge malls. He paints a humane yet provocative portrait of 21st-century living and throws down a gauntlet to anyone thinking about the future of cities, towns and countryside. Much of what passes for urban planning is, he argues, sheer bossiness and snobbery. It boils down to saying: Find out what all those people are doing, and tell them to stop it. We need less planning, not more.Amazon

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