Academic Director's Blog - November 2016

Well it’s been a cold month with a sense that winter is now about to get going and a definite need to rug up for walking around Letchworth. We’ve reached the end of ‘dark Autumn’ as it shades into winter but at least the prospect of Christmas is there to cheer things up a bit. At the Institute we’ve been busy working on initiatives I mentioned in previous posts - especially at the moment a bid for research funds to look in depth at aspects of garden cities and health on which I am working with colleagues in the UK and France. I hope we can produce something really useful in this area as we put the bid together and will report back about that as it develops further.

Partnerships + Publications

One of the great aspects of working at the Institute on research is connecting with other organisations interested in sustainable placemaking. For instance I’ve spoken recently to Nicholas Boys Smith at Create Streets (which won International Network of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism’s [INTBAU] 2016 award for community consultation) and received a fascinating briefing from Nicholas about Create Streets’ work. Look out for a ‘think piece’ from Nicholas on our International Garden Cities Institute website soon. Also on the research publications front, I have been working on the Garden City Perspectives papers series and have a number of authors secured for papers in future. The next Perspectives paper is likely to be out early in the New Year and I will provide some more details in December’s research news.

Future Garden Cities

In the middle of November I attended part of INTBAU’s World Congress on the theme of ‘Tomorrow’s Cities: Building the Future’, held at RIBA’s exquisite building in Portland Place. The speakers and discussion focused on issues of making places that are liveable, resilient and beautiful, and it struck me again how important garden cities will be as part of any approach to making tomorrow’s settlements. On that basis I thought it might be worth just noting where we are up to on the ‘locally-led garden cities’ front. As you will remember the government released their Prospectus for “Locally led garden villages, towns and cities” in March 2016 and also issued additional guidance on garden villages. Their Prospectus “sets out how we can support local areas who want to create new garden villages, towns and cities. It offers tailored government support to local areas with ambitious and innovative proposals to deliver 1,500 homes and above.”

Looking round for news on this I found it rather thin on the ground but do see that the Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, has announced funding for a new locally led garden town at Otterpool Park in Shepway, Kent, alongside new ‘capacity’ funds to help expedite housing starts more generally. Supported by the local authority, the scheme is being developed on a site near Folkestone Racecourse for a garden town that it is reported could include around 12,000 houses for around 29,000 people. This initiative can be added to the ‘garden city’ at Ebbsfleet, the garden town at Bicester and garden village proposals in a number of other places. This can perhaps be described as the early stages of a new round of garden cities in reality, rather than just as a theoretical proposition. It will be interesting to see how this all develops, so stay tuned for more on all this and what the garden cities implications might be.

Looking forward, later in December I am going to ‘ENSAG” (the Grenoble National School of Architecture) on a research and teaching trip funded by the ERASMUS academic exchange programme. I will be presenting some garden cities related work on food to students there who are focusing on garden cities this year as part of their architectural studies. (I previously spoke to them about garden cities more generally).

Here in Hertfordshire, meanwhile, I am also doing quite a bit of teaching at the moment and am talking to postgraduate planning as well as undergraduate geography students about the origin and evolution of garden cities and their connections to the later development of new towns and the new round of garden cities now underway. I find it very positive that there is a lot of interest among planning students about our garden cities heritage and future possibilities which bodes well for future practice.

My new research news won’t come out until the New Year so I will end this post by wishing you a very Merry Christmas for 2016!