Academic Director's blog - July and August

Hello! Welcome to my combined July and August blog from the International Garden Cities Institute.  I hope you have enjoyed the holiday season, and perhaps like me you are just back at work and picking up all the threads (which includes dealing with a lot of email and trying to remember all the things you said you’d do before you went away on leave). I’ve noticed everything is starting to have that late summer feel to it too, with a few early yellow leaves a foretaste of autumn, but I’m refusing to consider that yet and holding out for a bit more summer weather and sunny green landscapes.

Well, despite the idea that things slow down in the summer the world doesn’t seem to have taken that idea on board. It seems to me that plenty of things (including some rather unexpected ones) have been happening globally since I last wrote. And a busy period is coming up at the Institute too.

I have been working with academic colleagues on two research bids relating to garden cities and food – one is a globally based research project including a large number of cities and the other relates to UK experience of planned settlements – both garden cities and new towns. As you probably know these bids are pretty detailed efforts to put together and there’s still quite a lot to do to knock them into shape – I’ll tell you more when they are completed, submitted and if all goes well – funded!

Also in the ‘food and garden cities’ research area I’m very pleased to say that we have been able to secure funding jointly through the Hertfordshire Local Strategic Partnership, the good offices of my colleague Prof David Barling, and the matching contribution very kindly provided by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, to advertise a doctoral scholarship to look at food economy issues in the garden city. We recently interviewed for a potential candidate and I’m hopeful our new scholar will commence work on this four year research programme in October this year. Again more details about our scholar when everything is finalised.

On a quite different aspect of garden city research, I recently had a fascinating meeting with a Korean academic colleague, Professor Shin from the Department of Urban and Real Estate Studies at Hannam University, who is exploring garden cities internationally in relation to urban regeneration and urban economics. It was really interesting to hear more about garden cities from this perspective and I am hoping that Prof Shin will write us a think piece to convey his impressions from his visit to Letchworth and other garden city and suburb examples in the UK.

Closer to home, I have been in discussion with one of our Founding Partners, the BRE, about exploring aspects of the building technologies side of the garden city and our work stream lead on this aspect, the BRE’s Strategy Director, Building Futures, Ms Gilli Hobbs, will be chairing a workshop on this vital area in the early Autumn. There are a number of intriguing (and I think critical) aspects where we can learn from past practice and look at how garden cities might be shaped in future. These would include the potential to introduce development standards to help developers and local authorities aspire to deliver great places; to bring together practical guidance to help deliver environmentally sustainable buildings and places, and not least to understand the feasibility of retrofitting existing places by applying garden city principles to deliver town wide regeneration. I’ll be helping support Gilli on this, and reporting back the outcome of that workshop in due course.

In other news I am currently putting together two presentations about or featuring garden cities – the first is for the Urban Design Group national conference in Manchester in early September where I am talking about one of my research specialisms, food and urbanism, and will be making mention of garden cities in that regard. Along with my colleague from the Heritage Foundation David Ames, I’m also developing some garden cities related lectures for a delegation of planners from the Zhejiang area of China organised by the Zhejiang Provincial Development and Reform Commission. I’m very much looking forward to finding out more about the challenges the delegation are facing in relation to city planning, development and design in Zhejiang and hope this input can add usefully to that process.

When I last wrote I was expecting we’d post an excellent new piece on our website:  ‘Are Garden Cities good for you?’ by Nicholas Boys Smith and Laetitia Lucy from Create Streets which sets out the findings of Create Street’s research into links between urban form and wellbeing and asks if garden cities fit the model of wellbeing optimisation. In fact it’s taken us a bit longer than we intended to publish this but I do hope we will have this latest in our Garden Cities Perspectives papers on the site very soon - please look out for that as it’s a great read!