Academic Director’s blog - October 2017

Hello!  I hope your autumn is progressing well. I am enjoying the deepening autumn colours and the slightly melancholy, reflective pleasure of walking on wet, leaf strewn footpaths as we inevitably edge towards winter.

To cheer things up, this month I have some very good publishing news to tell you about as well as some other positive moves forward to report on.

I am very pleased to say that we have now published on our International Garden Cities Institute website a great new paper in our Garden Cities Perspectives series: Are Garden Cities good for you? by Nicholas Boys Smith and Laetitia Lucy from Create Streets. This excellent piece sets out the findings of Create Streetsresearch into links between urban form and wellbeing and asks if garden cities fit the model of wellbeing optimisation. To find out their answer to that highly pertinent question please do download the paper from the News and Eventssection of the site – it’s a really great read.

Also due to be published on our website this week is a fascinating, in-depth look at garden cities in relation to the fast expanding world of African urbanism. Written by IGCI founding partner, Keith Boyfield (who previously co-authored our first Perspectives paper, Garden Cities-Why Not?) and his colleague Oni Oviri, Are Garden Cities an appropriate response to the unsustainable growth of Africas Megacities?is the next of our Garden Cities Perspectives papers. In their paper Keith and Oni explore the complex and under-discussed area of the garden city in relation to burgeoning urban development and high levels of inequality in places including Nigeria, Gabon, South Africa and Kenya.

One particularly interesting aspect of Keith and Onis analysis is whether the garden city as a model can work especially for poorer people in a rapidly growing megacity context where resources are scarce and day to day resilience is a struggle for many. A very pleasing aspect of the paper is that there are a number of practical suggestions made for developing garden city proposal in the face of these daunting issues and difficulties. So please look out for that we will be highlighting it on our news page this week.

At the end of October I travelled to Grenoble for a health and place colloquium organised by Dr Stéphane Sadoux, the Director of the Laboratory for Building Cultures at the Grenoble School of Architecture (Ecole Nationale Supérieure dArchitecture de Grenoble). Bringing together medical researchers, planners, politicians, academics and other urbanists, the focus was on sharing experience in the Grenoble region in France and the Oxford region in the United Kingdom. As the organisers explained (and I hope you dont mind me quoting them at some length in translation):

Health is now a major concern for the various actors and organizations involved in making and managing the built environment. This is reflected in the proliferation of publications and events around this theme, both in France and abroad. The San-TE symposium, organized as part of the LIFE Research program, aims to help nourish these debates by questioning the complex issues related to urban health and well-being and the ways in which they are taken into account in public policy and action. In addition to a transdisciplinary and cross-cutting dimension, the San-Te Symposium builds on the links that, for almost thirty years, unite the Twin cities of Grenoble and Oxford. By bringing together their teachers, researchers, elected officials, technicians, and members of civil society, the symposium San-Te anchors the debates in two specific Territories. It contributes to the exchange of good practices and the continuation of shared projects.

Oxford’s Mayor Mr Bob Price gave an excellent presentation about the health issues and opportunities facing a historic city like Oxford. Ed Turner and Alex Hollingsworth told us more specifics about the healthy new town projectat Barton Park in Oxford. Another of the speakers was Daniel McDonnell who directs the NHS Healthy New Townsprogramme and this was a fascinating glimpse into the work that is underway through ten towns (including ones we might describe as garden city inspired) to explore how to interconnect health and place most effectively. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to chair two debates including on garden cities and new towns as healthy settlements and friend of the Institute, Dr Nicholas Falk, Director General of Urbed (whose recent think piece on Garden Cities in India can be found on the IGCI website) did an excellent job of summing up a diversity of points made by speakers in English and French.

An update from last month is that our new doctoral student who is exploring the food economy in a garden city context has started work now. I am very pleased to welcome our new scholar, Ms Amelie Andre, who has been awarded the doctoral studentship co-funded by the Hertfordshire Local Economic Partnership and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation (as industry partner). Amelie has an expert background in architecture and urbanism and is now starting her first year which will have a very applied Knowledge Transferfocus on food economy issues. As noted in last months blog there is a lot of scope to explore in an applied way how Ebenezer Howards very localised food system ideas could be revived and adapted for 21st century conditions to generate economic benefits for a garden city today and in future. There will be more details about the progress of Amelies work in months to come.

And a final piece of extremely positive news is that long term garden cities scholar Dr Mervyn Miller has become a an honorary visiting research fellow to the University of Hertfordshire. Many congratulations to Mervyn whom I am looking forward to working with on a range of garden city related research in future!