Another go at new towns

Hive mind? (Craigavon, Northern Ireland)

The future looked like this, once (Craigavon, Northern Ireland)

Are new towns proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions?

I’ve always been fascinated by new towns.

New towns are about making new starts. They give us a chance to begin again, and do things better than before.

New towns are about ambition: literally, about building a better world. And they remind us that – however vivid and inspiring our dreams of perfection may be – we live in an imperfect world.

For years I’ve tried to ‘do’ something on new towns in the British Isles. Whether that’s some kind of book or maybe a blog or an article.

But I’ve always stumbled and fallen. Because it’s such a big topic – and I’m not sure you can distil it down to a few bullet points (unless you want to take the snide Crap Towns approach).

Nonetheless, I am going to try. In the next weeks I’m starting a companion blog to this one, focussed on British new towns. I’m not sure what I’m going to say – except that I will be writing from the point of view of a ‘believer’. I want to find examples of new towns that fulfilled their ambitions – however incompletely or fleetingly – and identify what we can learn from them.

Good intentions, and high ambitions, may not lead to heaven. But I hope I can show they don’t always pave the way to hell.

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9 Responses to Another go at new towns

  1. the trouble with new towns is by their very nature,they don’t get the chance to grow incrementally.
    they’re just there… interesting idea might be for new towns to start off as trailer parks…
    that way if there is any fortunate symbiosis among the new folk and the actual terrain,they could take things up a notch, one step at a time… trailer parks have a stigma which i can’t help but think needs readdressing…there’s an inherent softness/groundedness to the look of those places that could yield a more life giving atmosphere than the usual modernist brutalism.
    i guess the downside of this idea is not being able to clump massive amounts of folk into one compressed block, but history keeps proving the only time that’s fun is if its a hilton hotel where everyone is rich.

  2. David says:

    Like ‘a hilton hotel’ – like the Barbican? We all ‘ooh and ah’ over the bold forms and exposed concrete surfaces etc in the Barbican. And it’s brilliant – but everyone who lives there is basically rich. It’s home to high-prestige tenants like the LSO and Guildhall School for Music. And the whole machine is kept purring by all that cash sloshing around.

    I love your trailer park idea – did you ever play SIM CITY? I used to – but I had to stop because

    a) I was dreaming about it all the time
    b) I reached some kind of invisible limit where you couldn’t go any further

    • i’ve never heard of SIM CITY,but maybe you CAN go further… simply by leaving,as we all must.
      the barbican is an exception to rule…and there’s always the exception…but the barbican by your own admission wasn’t built for the general masses…
      i agree that bold forms are great..i love them too,as long as the people who live in them have the money and where with all to look after them,and appreciate them.

  3. sarsfiel1234 says:

    Great stuff, how are things otherwise? Hope all good. xx

  4. Thanks yes. Hope same for you. Tomorrow I may go and look at a ‘cheats’ new town. St Leonard’s in Sussex. A more genteel take on the concept. But – most importantly – by the seaside. And I could do with some sea.

  5. Mary Laurents says:

    I think that new towns can grow organically. I live in Columbia, MD – which was one of the models of “new towns” in the US in the 1960s/1970s. It has grown both according to plan and organically. It’s grown according to plan but there are a number of neighborhoods that were not in the original plan that have been added, having grown organically in various parts of the Columbia area. Even those neighborhoods, however, follow the general design principals (open space, walking paths, neighborhood centers providing restaurants, banks, shopping, etc). I would expect that you might see something similar in some new towns in the UK as well?

    • Columbia, Maryland is really interesting. And Mary you’ve infected me with your enthusiasm for the city.

      For me, it’s particularly interesting hot it accommodates the motor car, and the kind of life styles that go with it.

      It’s also interesting how the city incorporates diversity, between individual homes and (I think) the neighbourhoods.

      In your experience, is there a different character / feel to the neighbourhoods. Say between King’s Contrivance and Harper’s Choice?

      Does Columbia have any of its own industry, that the city supports? I guess there are the retail areas… but do bulk of people work in Baltimore or Washington Metro area?

      I have other questions about Columbia’s role in supporting a more integrated society (if that is an explicit goal)… but maybe another forum for that!

  6. Sally Evans says:

    Have you taken a look at Basingstoke, proudly called a London overspill development! A new town that obliterated the old town, with a pleatherer of roundabouts to keep people out even when they found it! Sally

    • David says:

      Thanks Sally – I will give Basingstoke a look. I have been there – it was very dark… but I do remember roundabouts and edge-of-town retail places. It reminded me of Lisburn in Northern Ireland!

      “Overspill” – such an inspiring basis for a new town! D

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