Academic Director's Blog - January 2017

Hello all and Happy New Year! Despite the wintry weather – with cold and snow really making winter bite, it’s been a productive January at the International Garden City Institute.

We have various think pieces and Perspectives papers in the pipeline and I have just completed research into garden cities in Brazil for the next in our series of Garden City pamphlets focusing on individual countries where there is a patrimony of garden cities and suburbs. As part of that research I discovered some fascinating things about Letchworth architect Barry Parker’s influential role in the development of various garden cities and suburbs in Brazil (something our own Parker Scholar Dr Mervyn Miller knows a great deal about).

I had not realised the extent to which the garden city model had influenced place-making in Brazil in the early and middle part of the 20th century and how far places like Águas de São Pedro, Maringá, and Goiânia—and garden suburbs such as Jardim América and Jardim Shangri-lá—reflected garden city principles – at least on the spatial planning and design side if not the long term stewardship and value capture model.

I hope you have had a chance to catch up with my recent garden villages think piece where I make the point that as a new round of ‘garden cities’ starts to take shape in the United Kingdom, there has also been growing interest in ‘garden villages’ as a possible place-shaping form to help meet our need for new settlements in a sustainable and appealing way. The government has just announced some fourteen new such villages to be built around the country. Of course this begs the question: what are ‘garden villages’?  And is the thinking right that they can be part of a place-making solution for the United Kingdom? I point out that such village ideas are not new but are now enjoying a renaissance of interest in them both politically and as a way of helping to meet our housing needs.

I commented in that think piece that the proposed 48,000 new homes is not an enormous number when you look at the scale of the unmet housing needs we seem to have but it will make a contribution and possibly an increasing one if this tranche of schemes goes well. Good design and place-making, as much value capture as possible, and engaging with people to maximise local acceptability, all seem to me to be really crucial elements to making these garden villages work well. One measure of this will be how far garden villages really stick to garden city principles. I hope you enjoy reading the full paper if you have the time to do so!

On the ‘housing needs’ front in relation to garden cities you may have seen the Government’s new Housing White Paper that came out on February 6th. It was good to see positive mention of garden city and garden village opportunities in the White Paper, with comments including that “The Government will also explore what opportunities garden cities, towns and villages might offer for bringing large-scale development forward in ways that streamline planning procedures and encourage locally-led, high quality environments to be created.” (p.28). So it remains to be seen how far this aspiration for development reflecting garden city principles becomes a reality. I expect this issue will be an ongoing one I will return to in subsequent blog posts.

Visitors to the Institute this month included Dr Stéphane Sadoux from the University of Grenoble and our own master’s students in sustainable planning from the University of Hertfordshire, kindly hosted by colleagues from the International Garden Cities Institute and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation. I am also very pleased to report that our Institute ‘operations group’ has grown with the very welcome addition of founding partner, Mr Keith Boyfield, to our ranks to help us work on the best ways we can practically implement our strategic ideas. It is worth noting that Keith’s recent policy paper on planning which also mentions garden city opportunities rated a positive mention in the Housing White Paper.

You may have caught up with the blog from my colleague David Ames who has recently been in China meeting representatives interested in garden city ideas. This included meeting with officials from Greentown and Bluetown development companies, based in Hangzhou. Chinese colleagues are coming over on a fact finding trip in April and we are very much looking forward to hosting them at the Institute for part of their tour exploring garden city ideas and practice in the United Kingdom. I am very keen to find out more about their thoughts on China’s garden city experience.

Finally, this month I wanted to mention that I had the pleasure of visiting the Tous a la Plage exhibition at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. I was fascinated to discover the direct linkage between the beachside architecture and urbanism the exhibition explored and the heritage of garden city principles that informed some early 20th century examples of seaside ‘therapeutic’ and spa developments internationally. The ‘Cité-Jardin’, it seems, was a strong influence on a wide variety of seaside places in France and elsewhere.