Garden cities: Do they have a future?

Peter Brett Associates LLP

The Garden Settlement idea remains considerable currency for anyone involved in trying to meet the Governments growth agenda – especially in respect of housing.

There are a raft of City, Town and Village proposals around the country – all vying to be seen as both innovative and different in their approach to solving the problem.

But the context is a bit mixed.

A good number of these proposals were put forward by local councils as part of funding bids to be part of the first wave of new Garden Villages – but weren’t then successful. Landowners were left to decide whether to press on regardless or abandon the plan.

Meanwhile, public opinion in many places seems to have moved quite decisively against the larger scale developments that Urban Extensions and Garden Settlements represent.

All of this means that the purity of Howard’s original vision, that the Garden City Movement would resolve fundamental social and community problems for both city and country dwellers, is lost. The reputation of the Garden Settlement as a mechanism for delivering much needed growth in a sustainable and attractive way, with a long-term legacy that would endear it to the local and wider community, is, arguably, being damaged.

The concept is at something of a crossroads. It would be easy to conclude that the whole idea has become so watered down that it is at risk of becoming little more than a branding exercise.

But we are more optimistic than this. We think that some of the schemes align closely with the Garden City principles – and could become exemplars for the future. If we can capture creativity in procurement, management and delivery then this would be good for the long-term community – including residents, businesses and even landowners.

Creativity in ownership (through things like community land trusts), in movement (through Mobility-as-a-Service and truly demand-responsive, multi-modal transport networks) is critical.

So what does this mean for the Garden City movement?

We think there is even greater scope for a “call to arms” - those able to commit to incorporating creative Garden City principles into their proposals should be applauded – especially where they respond to the greater needs of society.

These principles need to be applied with pragmatism, and through a culture of sharing and iterating design ideas to balance the emphasis required by the different elements of them. We see such an approach as being good for both the promoters of development and the future communities that will be living and working there.

And it is the development industry that needs to respond to this aspiration itself.  Government won’t achieve it from the top down. But if those of us involved can drive it, we could reap the benefit of improving the quality and value of development, as well as creating some great examples of getting it right, all in one place.

Tim Allen
Peter Brett Associates LLP